Lauren Huffmaster was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Two years into treatment, she learned the cancer had metastasized. Today, she is living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
In 2014 I was a busy mom. I had two kids in preschool and one in kindergarten. Just the drop-off, pick-up, get to work schedule was exhausting. My husband and I wanted to buy our own house, and this is what it was going to take. Everything in life was scheduled, and every day had a plan. Keeping three girls under 6 happy, healthy and fed filled our hearts and minds.
It was in this season I felt a lump. I had been pregnant or breastfeeding for seven years, and I wasn’t sure I remembered how my breasts were supposed to feel. I had just stopped breastfeeding my daughter, so naturally, I thought, no big deal, this will just go away.
I have a specific memory of picking up my daughter from the after-school program and seeing a mobile mammogram bus in the school’s parking lot. I pulled over to the bus and stopped. I had the girls in the car, and I wondered if it was possible to get this lump checked out. In my head, I said, “I am under 40, so I don’t know if they will even see me. Plus, I doubt these people want to watch my kids for 30 minutes.” I sat there pondering my options and then drove home, made dinner and didn’t give it another thought.
Six months later, I was in the shower and noticed this lump hadn’t resolved itself; instead, it seemed to be pushing upward.
That wasn’t a good sign.
I told my husband, who apparently was already worried about it, and so I made an appointment.
On the day of my appointment, I seemed to know our life was about to change. It was before Thanksgiving, but I chose to hang our Christmas stockings, get all dressed up and take a holiday photo in the front yard of our new house.
I still look at that picture today, my long hair, a sparkle in my eyes, the girls’ three pink Christmas stockings hanging behind me. The image captures all of the innocence of the moment.
Years before that day, I felt something special would happen to me on November 11. Every year 11/11 would come, and I would walk around in joyful expectation. Something significant did happen on 11/11. It was the day my life changed, the day I learned I had breast cancer.
My first years of cancer came with the mantra, “This will be the most difficult year of my life, but I can get through it.” I put my head down and pushed forward. I decided to take the most aggressive treatments because if cancer grew in my first 35 years, I didn’t want any left to grow in the next 35. I was young, strong and could take anything they brought my way. And so I did.
Two years into treatment for stage 3 breast cancer, I had a PET scan that revealed cancer had spread throughout my skeletal system.
I was already scared. I was already weak. At that moment, I felt like a woman who swam straight into the ocean with all her might, racing toward a beautiful island that promised to provide her safety, certainty and life. She swam against waves and pushed forward with great resolve. When arriving at the place where the island should be, she learns the island never existed. Exhaustion, panic, fear, anger, sadness and hopelessness rise. She tries to look above the water, but no direction, no facts or knowledge can save her and she begins to sink.
For 10 weeks, I sank, with no other thought except death.
One morning I woke and I could feel the cold, isolating darkness. I sat on my bed, frozen. I considered all the days I spent preparing for death, yet I didn’t seem any more ready for that moment. I then considered another option – life.
What if I spent my days living and chose to forget about death? What would be possible? What could I accomplish?
I imagined life, a life worth living, and in my imagining the darkness withdrew. I felt my heart and mind expanding. It was as if I broke through the oppressive weight of dark waters and burst into the light of purpose.
On that day, I began to live.
It was not easy at first, I still had to tread the waters of uncertainty, but as I swam in my new diagnosis, I became stronger. The more I focused on life, and the gift of today, the brighter the world became.
Today, I share my story so others can envision a new identity. I want everyone to know a life impacted by cancer can be bolder and stronger than any life they lived before the diagnosis moment.
Choosing to push through darkness allowed me to become an island for others, a place of safety, increasing certainty and life.
Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.