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My Breast Cancer Journey

On June 3rd 2021, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve been wanting to share my story here to help raise awareness and to be a comfort to anyone going through the same. 2021 was the roughest year. There were many moments where I didn’t want to talk about the “c” word at all, and other moments where I just didn’t know what to say or where to start. So I’ll just start at the beginning.

In March 2021, I was laying in bed one evening reading on my phone. I happen to lightly move my hand across the top of my chest and felt a lump that I knew didn’t feel right. My heart sunk and I had the biggest pit in my stomach. As my heart pounded, I prayed myself to sleep. I didn’t want to wake my husband so I waited until the morning to tell him. After sharing my concerns with him the next day, he agreed it didn’t feel normal. The lump I found felt like a hard and tiny green pea. I immediately got on the phone and started trying to make an appointment to get it checked out. Our local cancer center didn’t have any openings for months, so they suggested I meet with my gynecologist first and get a referral for a sooner visit. When I would meet with my gyno previously, she would tell me I’m getting closer to 40 and to think about getting a mammogram done. It was always in the back of my mind to do so, then Covid happened and I just put it off that year. When she examined me, she could feel the lump, but she wasn’t as concerned as I was. She agreed she would send a referral to ease my mind. I am so glad I listened to my instincts! I had been taking birth control for nearly 18 years at this point. She told me that day that oral contraceptives can cause these kind of nodules in your breasts, which is why she wasn’t alarmed. Since that day, I tossed my birth control and I will never ever take it again. That was enough to scare me off. Upon doing further research on my own, I have read that women taking birth control for just 10 years have a 50% higher chance of developing breast cancer. I wonder why this has never been a topic of discussion before during any of my annual visits?!

I got a referral for a mammogram for the following month. That was the longest month. I couldn’t shake the anxiety and worry I constantly felt. I did a lot of praying during that time! Finally, the day was here. I went in alone and scared. My husband and daughter were outside in the car because they weren’t allowed to go in with me. I went through three different waiting rooms for each process. It seemed like the entire appointment lasted forever. I met the sweetest elderly woman who was sitting next to me in one of the waiting rooms. She assured me I’m young and didn’t have anything to worry about. I somehow knew that she was wrong, but I still prayed that she could be right. They finally call me back to be seen. I had never had a mammogram before so I really didn’t know to expect. I stood there deep in my thoughts and just did everything they told me to. By the way, mammograms suck. My breasts were so sore for weeks after. Since I have very dense breast tissue, they required an ultrasound right afterwards. I laid on the table as still as I could, my arms were falling asleep as I had to hold them over my head, and I’m pretty sure I annoyed the tech multiple times by asking questions I knew she couldn’t answer. She was a bit snappy with me, which I didn’t care for. After she finished, she left to return with the radiologist. He came in and quietly looked at what she had found for a few minutes, then he sat back and calmly said, “I just want to prepare you, this is most likely going to come back as cancerous.”. He was blunt. He was sincere and comforting, but very blunt. All I could say was “Ok” and nod along. They determined my tumor was 1 centimeter in size, and they spotted a fibroadenoma the same size on my other breast that could have the potential to become cancerous. I couldn’t even feel that one myself – even after I knew it was there. He proceeded to tell me what the next steps would be but I couldn’t focus. I just sat there in shock and nodded. I wanted to get the hell out of there. Once I was free to leave, I fought the tears back that were welling up in my eyes. I rushed to get my belongings, get dressed, checked out at the front desk, hustled down the elevators to the bottom floor exit, and then stood on the sidewalk as my husband pulled up. I got inside the car and I lost it. I sobbed and could barely get any words out to tell him what had just happened. Neither of us could believe the news. We went home and I made my round of phone calls to family members that had been waiting anxiously to know how my appointment went. With sadness and hope, they all assured me I’ll get through this. My in-laws came over as soon as they could that day to be with us. It meant the world to me that they were there. We needed their hugs. Two years prior, my MIL went through breast cancer as well so unfortunately this was familiar to our family. I never would have imagined I would be diagnosed too such a short time later. Praise God that my strong, brave, and beautiful MIL made it through her journey. I’m more than proud of her! She remains an inspiration and a big comfort to me.

After the shock of it all, I had to move forward with a plan. I scheduled a biopsy on June 1st so I would know exactly what I was dealing with. My results showed that I had stage 1A cancer in my right breast. It was ER/PR+ and HER2-. Negative means it was slow growing. My doctor told me if you have cancer, this is the type of cancer you want because it’s much more treatable and I caught it very early. After my gyno heard about my diagnosis, she personally called and apologized to me for being wrong. She genuinely felt so terrible. That phone call meant a lot to me that day. It also reassured me that I needed to keep advocating for my own health. With my biopsy samples, I had a test done that shows if chemotherapy is beneficial and the likelihood of recurrence. I’m so happy to report that I did not need chemo and my recurrence rate is low. I was terrified at the thought of chemo so to hear that news was a huge weight off of my shoulders and something I had been praying specifically for.

Going forward after that, it was a whirlwind of one appointment after the other. I joined my dad two days later after being diagnosed and went to see our holistic wellness doctor here in my town. He’s an applied kinesiologist and chiropractor who is helping me stay on a healthy and natural path. I’ll continue to see him in addition to receiving care with my surgeon and oncology team. If you know me personally, you know I prefer a natural route when I can.

The next major step for me was to get these tumors out by lumpectomy. Throughout the next month, I was scheduled an MRI, x-rays, an EKG, lab work, and meetings with my surgeon and my oncologist. Thankfully, the MRI showed there was no spreading, and no additional tumors. I also took a genetic test that confirmed breast cancer does not run in my family. They tested for a total of 8 hereditary cancers and all were negative. Praise God! I met with my surgeon to schedule my surgery day for July 20th. He advised me that a lumpectomy paired with radiation is like getting a mastectomy and fully removing the breast entirely. I agreed to the procedure, but was very cautious about radiation. I prayed and prayed about what to do, but I pushed it to the back of my mind and just wanted to get through the lumpectomy first. My mom came to stay with us during my surgery. I loved having her here with me! I’m so grateful that she could take time off of her busy schedule to be by my side with my husband. My favorite memory from her stay was just talking with her the night before the big day. We all prayed together, laughed together, listened to music to encourage our spirits, and she held me for a long time while I just cried. It had been many years since I was “babied” by my momma and I didn’t know I needed it so much. It was such a heartwarming moment that I’ll never forget. This was my first surgery ever. I was terrified. We drove to the hospital early the next morning where my mother and father-in-law were waiting for us. I’m so very blessed that I could be surrounded by my family on this day. My dad really wanted to be there but his job was pressing at the time. He was with me in spirit! They each took shifts to visit with me while I was being prepped, and then sat in the waiting room the entire time. I remember being wheeled to the surgery room, the nurses joked with me as they shifted me to the table, then I was out. The next thing I remembered was waking up in a recovery room. The tumor and fibroadenoma were both removed with all clear margins, along with 3 sentinel lymph nodes that all tested negative of cancer. Thank you, Jesus! After they released me that afternoon, I did better than I expected to at home. I was able to get up and move around. My family had to get on to me a few times because I tend to overexert myself when I should be resting. I couldn’t help it, the mom in me can’t just sit down! I had a follow-up appointment the next week with my surgeon and have healed up nicely since. I really liked him a lot. He prayed for me at my first meeting with him, and again before going into surgery. That comforted me so much. I love when doctors ask if they can pray for you. He’s a very kind man. And, he was the one that operated on my mother-in-law when she had her double mastectomy. I knew I was in good hands.

With the surgery over with, my mind didn’t have time to rest. The topic of radiation was weighing heavily on me. August was full of more appointments with my oncology team, my kinesiologist, and my one month post-op surgery follow-up. When I sat down with my radiation oncologist, he explained everything to me about how radiation will work. I had the biggest list of questions for him. After that day, I went back and forth about what to do. I spoke to his nurse for over an hour on the phone with even more questions, I researched a ton, dove into story after story of other people’s cancer journeys and protocols… I did everything I could to find out the ins and outs, possible side effects, ect. I was pretty dang diligent and educated on the topic enough to know that the benefits outweighed the risks for my case. In September, I went in to map my radiation. I was emotional and shed some tears that day too. This whole cancer process is so overwhelming! But I had two amazing nurses that got me through it. They gave me three tiny permanent tattoo dots across my chest. One on my left and right sides, and one in between my breasts. These markers ensure that you’re always lined up the same way when getting the treatments. I did 21 sessions of radiation on my right breast every day Monday through Friday. I started September 13th and finished my last treatment on October 12th. The sessions were shorter than I thought they would be, most lasting no more than a minute. Once a week, I would get x-rays in addition to the treatment so those appointments were a bit longer. When I completed my last session, the entire nursing staff gave me a certificate of completion that they had all signed with the sweetest well wishes. It was such a relief to be done and put that step behind me. I did well throughout my treatments, I didn’t feel overly tired, my skin didn’t burn too bad at all, and no blistering or peeling. I drank at least 72 ounces of water each day. I really think that helped a lot and kept my skin from being too dry. I was prescribed the steroid cream Triamcinolone that I used daily on the area after each session, and every night. Before radiation each day, I would spray green tea on my breast that the nurses advised would greatly help. All of those combined made radiation so much easier. I was told that long term effects would be minimal. That includes a slightly more brittle rib cage on my right side, a little skin discoloration (mine is hardly noticeable), and possible shrinkage to the breast. My oncologist told me that can happen within the first 6 months. As of today, it’s been almost 5 months and no sign of that yet. I have noticed there can be a bit of tightness in my armpit area, but stretching and exercise help with that. I sometimes get a tingly numbing sensation around the edge of my armpit area as well, but that feeling goes away after taking some homeopathic tablets that help with nerve damage.

I learned so much through this experience. I’ve never done more research about cancer than I have this past year. I often had to take a step back because too much information would cause way too much useless anxiety. It’s been an absolute emotional roller coaster, for sure. I spent many days in tears and being fearful, but I tried my best to turn it off and remained encouraged and faithful. God has led me through each moment knowing that my life was fully in His hands. I could feel it. Every step along my journey from start to finish, I would pray for very specific things. And let me tell you, God answered each and every one of those prayers. I’m eternally thankful for that. Prayer has always comforted me because in my heart, I know that it works.

To ensure that I stay cancer free and live a healthy life, I’m exercising regularly, eating more cruciferous vegetables and whole foods in my diet, and taking supplements that help me specifically for my diagnosis. I will forever read labels when it comes to food, cosmetics, toiletries, household items.. anything that goes in or onto my body. I avoid dangerous ingredients and carcinogens, and keep my “junk food” intake low. I’ve made quite a few lifestyle changes as can be expected, but those changes have been a blessing! I will continue to pray that cancer never infects my body again, and I’ll be checking regularly with quarterly to biannually appointments for at least the next five years.

One of my sweet friends gave me this bracelet by Joycuff. It’s Morse code for f**k cancer, and I love it! I’m so thankful for my family and friends that continue to stand by my side. They are my biggest comforts. Having a solid group of supportive people in your life makes all the difference. Please stay on top of checking your breasts! Don’t wait until you’re 40. I’ve read countless stories of woman getting breast cancer in their early 30’s. The current statistic is that 1 in 8 woman are diagnosed with breast cancer. You never know! If you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll be so grateful if I can help even one person!

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