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The Moment My Life Flipped

Alli Coleman was diagnosed with stage III, ER-/PR+. HER2+, invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. This is her story in her words.

Life was hectic, but good. My husband, Kyler, and I were balancing life with our 2-year-old daughter and our 2-month-old son. It was an exhausting, joyful time in our lives.

I was breastfeeding our son, but it wasn’t working out very well. I decided to switch to formula, so I was trying to let my milk dry up. The right side went away fast, fine. It was good. But the left side wouldn’t go down. I didn’t know why. I started to experience pain in my left breast, then my armpit.

I reached out to my lactation consultant and my obstetrician. They suggested it was mastitis (a breast infection), but the symptoms weren’t right. The pain in my left breast got worse and my breast started to look like a traffic cone. The nipple was inverted. My mother encouraged me to call the doctor and explain what was going on. The person on the other end of the phone asked if breast cancer runs in the family.

I started crying, because yes, it does.

I was diagnosed with stage III, ER-/PR+, HER2+, invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Even though my grandmother had breast cancer, tests showed my cancer was not due to genetics.

In the beginning, it was just too much. I just knew the cancer was in my armpit, in my lymph nodes. I was convinced it was too late because the pain was so bad.

I had such negative thoughts—a surprise to those who know me best. I’ve always been the positive one, the one who could find a silver lining no matter what. But in the beginning, when I was first diagnosed, there wasn’t any of that. I wasn’t positive at all. I bought books to fill out for my kids. I thought, they’re so young, they won’t know who I am. That bothered me the most.

The day I received the results of my PET scan, my husband was at work. My dad was at home with me and the kids, and the phone rang. I just knew they were going to tell me I had stage IV breast cancer. I just knew it in my heart.

But it wasn’t stage IV. The cancer hadn’t spread. I fell to my knees, sobbing. My dad came running in, fearing the worst, but I said no, no, it hasn’t spread, just crying.

That day was like a switch was flipped.

I realized you don’t have to wait until you’re past treatment to start feeling better. Once you have the knowledge, once you know where you stand, no matter how bad it is, then you can start to plan. And once you have a plan, that’s when you can put energy into something else.

There are still difficult days. Some days I have not been able to pick my son up, some days it’s my daughter who comforts me. But someone said to me, you get to choose faith or fear, but you can’t have both. So, I chose faith. I have my faith, I have the bigger picture, I have my family beside me.

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 health care provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.