On June 3, 2015, I received the devastating call that my breast biopsy was malignant, including lymph nodes, making it at least stage 3. I was 34 years old, and 26 weeks pregnant. I had originally thought the swelling was due to pregnancy and put off mentioning it to my doctor for months, but as it had rapidly grown in the preceding few weeks, I knew deep down it was something more.
Lesson 1: See your doctor ASAP if you think something could be wrong, and follow your instinct! My husband and I had two other daughters, ages 8 and 9 at the time, and that night all I could do was hug them and let fears flood my mind of leaving them motherless. The next few weeks were a blur. The doctors moved incredibly fast, which scared me (they made it clear this was VERY serious!), and within a week of diagnosis I was introduced to my oncologist, given a treatment plan, went through X-rays and ultrasounds to check for metastasis (couldn’t do any comprehensive body scans due to pregnancy), had a port surgically placed in my chest, and completed my first round of chemotherapy. As I finished out my pregnancy that summer while going through chemotherapy every 3 weeks, I was overwhelmed with love and support from my coworkers, friends, family, and neighbors. In a heartbeat I had realized how short life can be and how precious love and friendships are.
Lesson 2: Accept help from others! This is no time to pretend you can do this alone! Meals, offers to babysit, flowers and cards of encouragement were so helpful and uplifting. I also had two women who had been through breast cancer swoop into my life and take me under their wing, giving me advice, telling me what to expect, shopping for wigs with me, and generally holding my hand in every new stage of treatment. I could not have gotten through it without them.
Lesson 3: Find someone who has been through this and can “mentor” you! Throughout my treatment, my Bible and my relationship with God gave me a strong sense of peace and took away my worry. A few weeks into treatment, I found a Bible verse that spoke to me. James 5:14-15: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” So that is just what I did, and I trusted God would make me well.
Lesson 4: Trust in God!!! My beautiful baby was induced and born on August 18, 2015 at 35 weeks. She was a little small (5 lbs 15 oz) but healthy and perfect! We went home the next day, and I was able to now start more intensive chemotherapy for the next 12 weeks. I finished around Thanksgiving and scheduled my bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in early January. I had never had a major surgery in my life, but all went well and I recovered quickly. Again, I accepted help with the baby from my mom and mother-in-law, since I was not able to lift her for a few weeks. In March and April of 2016 I underwent 28 days of radiation, and I am currently still receiving Herceptin intravenously every 3 weeks until September, when I will be FINISHED with all treatments!
In a weird way I am thankful for this experience. It has made me a stronger person, and a better person, and I now have a strong sense of what matters in life. The most important and final lesson is: Don’t give up hope, and choose to have a positive attitude. I have witnessed many loved ones drag painfully through cancer treatment and others bounce through with flying colors, and the difference always seems to be in their attitude!