I was once told by doctors that I had less than a year to live. Thirteen years later, I am cancer free!
I was 36 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had three children who were 13, 11 and 2. I was a devastated young mother who could not believe this was happening to me. I had no history of breast cancer in my family. I was a thin woman who worked out three days a week doing aerobics. I didn’t smoke or drink, and I always had lumpy, tender (fibrocystic) breasts.
After my two-year-old, Khari, was born I decided to try breastfeeding, which was recommended by my OB. I breastfed for 14 months, and a couple of months after I had finished breastfeeding, I noticed a small lump in my left breast. Of course, thinking it was fibrocystic, I kept waiting for it to go away; however, it only got bigger and extremely sore. I had three appointments with my OB, and I canceled all of them because I was too busy with my personal life.
At the time, I understood that these OB appointments were important, but they didn’t seem pressing. Then one day it became pressing when I collapsed on the kitchen floor and couldn’t pick myself up. I was so very tired, with a fatigue that I could not explain. I knew something was seriously wrong, but I didn’t know what. Meanwhile, my son’s school nurse called home. She said he had an earache and needed to come home. I called my OB’s office to let them know that I would be running late. They wanted to reschedule me again. However, I insisted that they see me that day, even if it meant that I had to sit in the waiting room until his last patient had been seen. You see, I knew I was in trouble since I hadn’t seen my OB since my two-year-old was born.
When I finally arrived at my OB’s office around 3 p.m., they took me right in. He knew immediately that I was in big trouble. He wasted no time calling St. John’s Mercy Hospital to see me. I arrived at the hospital by 4 p.m. It all went so fast, and I didn’t even have time to let my family know what was going on.
I was so scared, but determined to stay strong. They did a mammogram first and then told me that I would not be going home soon. They had found a large mass, the size of a grapefruit, in my left breast. After the mammogram, they sent me upstairs to meet with the surgeon, Dr. David Mieners. He then told me he was 99.999% sure that it was breast cancer, he just didn’t know what kind or what stage it was in.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer the next day on my son Jake’sthirteenth birthday. There was no time to get a second opinion or to think. Two days later I had a mastectomy. Everything happened in a week’s time. The bad news was that they took 17 lymph nodes and 13 had cancer. Not only did I lose a breast, but I also faced a very high probability that it had spread to other organs.
When I went to get my stitches taken out, my surgeon was out of town, so his intern took my appointment. He asked me if anyone had talked to me yet, and I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I asked why, and he then told me that I had one year to live. I can remember this day like it was yesterday. I stood straight up and looked at him and said, “You might think I am crazy, but I have three kids and I plan on raising all three of them.” He looked at me like I was crazy and then called my sister, Debbie into the room. He said that I was in denial and needed to get my affairs in line before I passed away.
My mind was racing with this horrifying news, and then I received some hope. By a miracle and lots of prayers being answered, the cancer had not spread to my organs. If my doctors hadn’t reacted as fast as they did, I would not be here today. Dr. Burton Needles, my oncologist, told me that if I had waited even minutes more to have my mastectomy, I would have had a different story to tell. He also told me that, without intense treatment, my chances of survival were slim; however, he believed in me, and he was going to fight with me. I knew and felt then that I had a second chance to live, and I had to fight hard.
Dr. Needles put me on a Paul Hoskins Experimental Program. It was a new experiment 13 years ago, and I was the first in St. Louis who qualified to go through the intense program. They said that I was the perfect candidate. The program was a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, plus Tamoxifen treatments.
Dr. Needles told my husband Gary and my sister Debbie that I would feel like I had been hit by a freight train after the treatments, and I did. They pumped one year of chemotherapy in my system in only four months, and two months of radiation once a week. I was in the hospital most of that time, while five types of chemo were passed through my body. The doctors told my family that the chemo could kill me before the cancer, so I had to be watched closely.
During my treatment, I could only think of my two-year-old Khari, and how she wouldn’t understand if her Mommy left this world. My oldest daughter Jamie had to grow up quickly and be “Mom” while I was away. Despite the trauma, my family pulled together and became my life support.
After being told that I had less than one year to live, I am standing here 13 years later, walking in the Race for The Cure®. With all of my wonderful, positive doctors, the unbelievable love and support of my family and friends, and my faith in the Lord, I was able to fight for my life. My second chance in life is being used to reach out to all of those who have been diagnosed, and give them HOPE!