I was 46 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer on December 4, 2001. On that day, my whole world was turned upside down and my life as I knew it then was never to be the same.
I first felt the lump sometime around 9/11. I didn’t think much about it right away because I was more concerned about the terrorists attacking our country. But, little did I know that I was being attacked by a terrorist—the big “C,” Cancer. A couple of weeks went by and the lump was still there, so I called my doctor. I went in for a breast exam and he sent me to get a mammogram and ultrasound.
This screening revealed a suspicious mass in the upper outer quadrant of my right breast. My doctor referred me to a breast specialist, but before I went in to see her I discovered another lump in my right armpit.
A fine needle biopsy of the lump under my arm revealed breast cancer, and my doctor did a core biopsy to help determine the type and severity of my cancer and my treatment options. All I could think about was my dad, who had died seven weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer. I thought I was going to die, too. After the results were in, I was told I had very aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. I went into a deep depression. I could not eat and could not concentrate or function normally. I had difficulty sleeping and, when I finally drifted off, I didn’t want to wake up. This way I did not have to face the reality that I had cancer.
I had CT scans and a bone scan to determine whether the cancer was in any other part of my body. Two days after Christmas, we received the good news that there was no evidence that the cancer had spread! I cannot describe the feeling of relief.
I had a modified radical mastectomy on January 9, 2002. Eighteen lymph nodes were removed and eight of those were positive. Two weeks later, I underwent the first of eight sessions of chemotherapy—one every three weeks. I was so nervous and anxious about the chemotherapy, but I made it through my treatments just fine. After completing the chemo, I had a month to recuperate before starting radiation treatments. I had 35 doses of radiation—one daily Monday through Friday. My last radiation treatment was on October 3, nine months after I first began treatment.
My doctors said that they were amazed at how well I did. Not once did I have to go to the hospital due to an infection—antibiotics took care of what infections I did get. I received shots after each treatment to boost my low blood count, but I never had to have a transfusion. I lost my hair and was fondly called “Uncle Fester” by my husband. My fingernails split and peeled, I had some nausea and loss of taste and I experienced severe hot flashes and fatigue.
Never once have I asked “why me?” Instead, I ask how I can turn this into something that can help others. I belong to a wonderful group of cancer survivors and we campaign together every year to raise money for cancer research—we are making a difference. I also lobby my state and national leaders on important cancer issues that are before Congress—we need new drugs and we need new treatment options.
Cancer is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care how old or how young you are, how rich or poor, what color your skin is, or whether you are male or female. It will strike anyone at anytime. I am the first in my family to have breast cancer, but now my daughter is at greater risk. She is my reason for fighting for a cure. I don’t want her to go through what I have. Too many loved ones are dying from this devastating disease.