I grew up being afraid of cancer. I was 11 years old when my Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer and was given 2 months to live. As I got older and learned more about what happened to him, the more it terrified me that I could be next. I started experiencing cancer anxiety in my 20’s when a cyst was found in my right breast. Cysts were come and go over the years and the tissue in the breast got denser and denser. It made it difficult to do self exams to find lumps, but I would go in faithfully every year for my mammograms. What I wasn’t faithful with was colonoscopies. Just the thought of it would terrify me and bring on anxiety because of my dad. No one else in my family had cancer, just Dad. My mom never had a mammogram and she passed of congestive heart failure. So I convinced myself that I got my Mom’s DNA.
I had to go see my family doctor and the nurse practitioner was asking me the standard questions. When was your last pap, when was your last mammogram, and then she asked about the colonoscopy. I told her the truth that I never had one. Her response, “well, you’re going to now.” So my first colonoscopy was Feb 9, 2018. The results were that I had a lot of polyps and a precancerous one. The doctor wanted to do a 2nd colonoscopy in 3 months to recheck that area. So May 7th the 2nd one took place and it returned. The doctor said she got a lot more of it, but wanted to go in one more time. And if it returned, we’d schedule surgery to remove that section of my colon. By now my anxiety and focus was on my colon and throw in the wedding of our son, my plate was full. The wedding was July 21st, 2018, the 3rd colonoscopy was July 30th. I was doing my self exams and noticed that my right breast felt firmer. And I started having some burning in it too. I had my yearly exam coming up Aug 7th with my mammogram. When I went in, the 3D mammogram showed a mass that wasn’t there a year ago. When my doctor checked the right breast, the look on her face said it all. I had the first biopsy the next morning, Aug. 8th. Then the phone call came in Aug 13th that I had breast cancer. My worst fear happened and I was still waiting on the results from the 3rd colonoscopy! That week was a blur of meeting my oncologist and my general surgeon. When we met with the surgeon 3 days into my diagnosis, I had my first severe panic attack. I hyperventilated so bad that my hands got cold and went numb and i couldn’t stop shaking. The surgeon was texting the oncologist telling him he was waiting for me to pass out. I had 2 more of those attacks that first month when more tests took place. One doctor thought I had PTSD because of the severity. Then I had an MRI, a biopsy on the lymph nodes, an ultra sound, a pet scan, and lots of blood work. I had invasive ductal carcinoma, a 7 cm tumor, 3 cancerous lymph nodes, and Er+ PR- HER2-, Stage 3. The end of that first week, I got the results of my 3rd colonoscopy and it was good news. I wouldn’t need another colonoscopy for 1 year. Finally some good news!
It took a month of tests for my oncologist and surgeon to come up with the plan of attack. Chemo first to reduce the size of this thing. I remember that first day going into chemo. I felt so good that we were finally going into chemo to fight this. My whole mindset changed and my husband saw it and he asked me about it. I told him, “I’m in BeastMode, let’s do this!” And flashed him big smile. He told people that he knew I could be a bad ass at times, but this was a whole new level he’d never seen before. When I shared my cancer on Facebook, all I asked for was prayers for myself and family. The outpouring of prayers was more than I ever expected. I was on prayers lists that went up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the South, Canada, and France. Across multiple religions. With chemo underway, and getting the strongest ones, my only side effect was fatigue. My oncologist and nurses were blown away by my body’s response. Then after the first 4 treatments, I’m switched to a different chemo for 12 rounds, once a week. I never got sick, I could eat anything! At the end of chemo, I had another MRI to see how much the tumor shrunk. My oncologist gave us the results and said, “I’ve only seen this kind of results once before.” The tumor shrank to 2cm from 7cm and they couldn’t find the cancerous lymph nodes! We met with my surgeon to go over my options for surgery and I had just gotten the results of my DNA testing. I tested positive for the mutant Chek2 gene that put me at a higher risk for breast cancer and colon cancer. With that information I went with the bilateral mastectomy. When the nurses at the hospital were prepping me for surgery, one nurse was looking at my file. She asked me, “did you have a lot of people praying for you?” I told her, “you have no idea!” And then I listed them all. She smiled and said wow! I got thru surgery, recovery and now its radiation.
I still have reconstruction in a year or so, but without the incredible support from my awesome husband, family, friends, classmates, coworkers, an amazing team of doctors and prayers, I couldn’t have done it. My advice to anyone who reads this is share what has happened to you and educate those who don’t know anything about cancer. And find your inner BeastMode!