I was a very healthy 46-yr old single Mom of two teenage girls when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Feb 2018. The lump was found during a routine mammogram. Even after it was diagnosed I never could “feel” my lump because of where it was located. I do not know that I would have caught it myself, so I am VERY thankful I did annual mammograms. I had a mammogram in Jan 2017 and it was clear. My Jan 2018 mammogram found a fast-growing cancer that was staged at “3” as it had already spread to a couple of lymph nodes.
I think I was in shock at first because I didn’t cry. I was very calm and was focused on “what is next”, I was ready for a plan! What I didn’t realize was there would be no set “plan” for the next couple of years of life. Being a single mom, I survived by being independent, staying organized, and in control of my life. It was very difficult to suddenly be thrown into a situation where I was suddenly no longer in “control” and had to ask for help. The “plan” evolved and changed over the next several weeks as I went to multiple appointments and tests. It was like being dropped into a country and not knowing the language! The words and terms providers were using were completely foreign to me and I was being asked to make decisions when I hardly understood what was happening. The decisions had to be made quickly, so there was limited time to research. Looking back on it now, I would have made a couple of different decisions. However, you can’t focus on the past…you have to focus on the future.
My biggest suggestion to newly diagnosed women is to find a support group of survivors. Reach out to them with questions, especially in those first few weeks when it is a whirlwind. They can help you understand the language from a layman’s perspective and give you insights into things they learned during their journey. Every survivor I have met has been more than willing to help!
The hardest part of the entire journey for me was telling my girls. One was a sophomore and one was an 8th grader at the time of my diagnosis. This is a very difficult time in every girl’s life, let alone adding a Mom with cancer on top of it all! I remember in my very first visit with the oncologist I said, “I don’t care what you have to do to me, I HAVE to be here for my girls!”. I honestly was not worried about myself as much as I was worried about what would happen to them if I didn’t get through this. Their journey through this was unique and different as well, so I hope to share more about that in the future.
My journey ended up as follows:
- Jan 2018 – Mammogram and Biopsy
- Feb 2018 – Multiple tests and appointments and Port Placement
- Mar-June 2018 – 8-rounds of chemo
- Aug 2018 – Double Mastectomy
- Sept 2018 – One incision was failing. Had surgery to take out the implant and replace it with a tissue expander.
- Oct 2018 – Nov 2018 – Radiation
- Dec 2019 – Feb 2018 – Fills to the tissue expander
- March 2019 - Surgery to replace the tissue expander with a new implant.
- May 2019 – Incision failed again, so another surgery to “beef up” the incision.
- Oct 2019 – Incision failed again
- Nov 2019 – Surgery to take the implant out and put in a smaller implant so the incision would heal properly.
- Nov 2020 – Hysterectomy
Finally, I found out during the Nov 2019 surgery that my original implants had been recalled. Since I still have one of those original implants, I will need yet another surgery to replace it. Because it is on my radiated side and it is dangerous to operate on radiated skin, we will wait another year or two for that surgery.
I honestly got through the first year pretty well. There were a lot of ups and downs and emotional breakdowns along the way, but overall, I feel like I did OK. The hard part to me was the numerous follow-up surgeries. I would just start getting my strength up and then BOOM….another surgery. Year two was by far the hardest. I just wanted my life back! I was really lonely and had a lot of dark times. I struggled to keep my “hope” going. I was stuck in survivor mode and did not realize it. I did not start feeling like a “normal” person again until about March of 2020…and you guessed it…COVID hit! That too is another story to come.
A couple of other cancer survivors I met had been through the Dare to Thrive program and talked about how life-changing it was! I decided to apply and was selected in the Fall of 2020. My main goal for being a part of this program is to learn to “thrive” not just “survive”. It might sound cliché, but it really is what I was lacking! Life will never be the same, my body will never be the same, but I can still have an amazing life! I most look forward to the ability to help other women by being involved in this program. I am by no means a blogger and sharing my story in this way makes me very nervous, however, I have a strong desire to give back and help other women thrown into the same situation. I look forward to sharing more about my journey. If just one person learns something that helps them it will be worth it!