In October 2013 I did my annual mammogram. A week later, they asked me to come in for a re-check. As I waited for them to read my new slide, a woman popped her head in to tell me she would be doing my ultrasound. I instantly knew this was not good. Sure enough, the ultrasound showed a big black hole in the image; a mass. The doctor at the imaging center immediately told me that they would biopsy the next week, but that it’s going to be cancer. That was a Friday. I spent the weekend thinking: I have cancer. How? Will I be here to raise my (then) 3 and 4 year old? How bad is it? How big is it? Will I live? See, my grandmother had breast cancer twice, my aunt died at 42 of metastasis breast cancer (leaving three children), and my baby sister was 29 when she was diagnosed. I had a lot to worry about.
I fought – through nine months of surgery, five months of chemo, more surgery, six weeks of radiation, more treatments, and several reconstructive surgeries and procedures. I look back on our journey as a family and wish I could say, “Oh, but we’re stronger for this,” but I feel like that would minimize just how hard this has been.
In January 2015 I woke up feeling like I was getting the flu – achy, feverish, tight muscles. I was looking forward to returning to work in a new year, stronger than I had been, but that wasn’t to be. As that day progressed, I started feeling worse. I had just had what I hoped was my final surgery the month before, and suddenly my incision was opening. I had a fever of over 102 degrees. Four days later I was admitted to the hospital with a staph infection for the first of the year’s major hospital stays. The infection destroyed my reconstruction, and I found myself needing not only what is essentially another mastectomy but this time the tissue was so damaged we needed to use my stomach to reconstruct in a procedure called TRAM flap.
I’ve lost count of how many surgeries I have had; I’m pretty sure we’re now at ten. I had a scare last year when I found a lump in my arm pit. So far it’s still clear, but it’s a fear that remains right under the surface. It’s something that only another survivor really understands.
Two years+ post cancer and I continue to be blessed with great friends and family. The kids (now 6 and 7) continue to not miss a beat; they’re healthy, happy and seem to not have any idea that this isn’t “normal.” My oldest seems pretty preoccupied with what my hair is doing. My youngest wants to know why I have lines all over my body (from my scars). My husband continues to live through it all with as much stamina as he can muster. For my part, I have been back at work full time, finally feeling more like my old self and can say that I am a survivor. And the best update of all: my little sister is now a 10 year cancer survivor and finds herself with a new title. On September 14th, 2016, my sister became a mom.