Breast Cancer Knows No Age
By the age of 33 years old, most people will have known at least one person who has had some form of cancer. Whether it is a family member, a co-worker, a friend of the family or a close personal friend, almost everyone has been affected by it in some way.
Everyone does their part, they wear pink during the month of October, they run or walk in races held in their cities but most people are only really conscious of it during the one month that the world tells you to be aware.
My name is Jessica, I am 33 years old and in my lifetime I have been affected a lot by this disease and have been fighting this battle alongside my family members for years now. I saw my grandmother battle breast cancer, which eventually spread to her brain—a fight she unfortunately lost. I also saw my mother fight a seven year battle with breast cancer and go in and out of remission after a bilateral mastectomy, many surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, stem cell treatment as well as some non traditional treatments. Unfortunately, despite all of this, her fight ended in 1999.
Fast forward to today, and here I am six years into getting mammograms and ultra sounds as well as MRI’s, testing positive for the BRCA 1 gene in 2009 and on October 19th 2011 I was diagnosed with Grade 3 Breast Cancer. I thought that I had done everything I was supposed to do, I was proactive and diligent in my screening every year, I ate fairly healthy and exercised on a fairly regular basis yet here I was getting the news that I really did not think I would ever hear.
I went in for my routine appointment just like I had done every year for the past six years. I knew the drill: go into the room and put on the lovely waffle robe then wait in the small quiet room with 5-7 other ladies who are just as nervous as you are for your name to be called, go and get squished and pulled a little, go back to the quiet room and wait for them to look at your films and hopefully go home.
For me there was always one additional step: an ultrasound to further check that there was nothing there that the mammogram did not see. On October 12th, it started out the same as it always had—mammogram was done and clear and now off to get the ultrasound.
Here is where my journey took a turn that it never had taken before – there was a lump detected which was not there 10 months ago when I had my MRI. I was in the chair in the office being told that I need a biopsy to test a 2 cm lump in my left breast. Immediately, I was a basket case and the tears were flowing.
At this point, even the thought of needing a biopsy had me in tears. I pulled myself together enough to be able to schedule the procedure. I then had to hurry up and wait. I had to wait a week for the biopsy, a week that felt like a year! All I did over the next week was talk to my friends and family who just knew that it was not going to be cancerous but it was the scariest week of my life or so I thought.
On October 17th, I went in for the biopsy. As scary as that was, it was a pretty quick and painless procedure. A small incision, a few samples taken guided by the ultrasound machine then a band aid and I was sent on my way. I was even given a souvenir: a small metal clip that would show up in the mammogram to be able to see the tumor.
I went home to try and rest, as I prepared for what was going to be the longest 36-50 hours ever (after the longest week ever that it took to get here of course). Two days pass and on October 19th, 2011 I got the call that my results were in. It was 9:30 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk at work trying to figure out how long before I could leave and go to the doctor’s office to get the news that I just new had to be good.
Just like all of my previous appointments, I drove myself there, although I had thought about taking someone with me on this particular day. The anxiety in the pit of my stomach was out of control. I had never been so nervous to go to the doctor’s office. I walked in and registered just like I always did, and went to the 2nd floor. I then patiently waited for them to call my name.
I walked into the office and sat down, not entirely sure how the process worked or what I was going to hear. The next 30 minutes were a complete blur. They were talking and I looked like I was listening, I may have even been nodding my head but I checked out as soon as they said the word Cancer. The dreaded six letter word that I hoped never to hear in relation to my health.
With tears streaming down my face I tried to focus and listen to what was being said, I went in and out and certainly only retained parts of the conversation. I remember being told that it was a small tumor and had only been there 10 months max. I remember them saying it was really aggressive. I remember being told we caught it early but that is honestly about it. The doctor told me that I was going to be okay, and she left but the patient coordinator remained in the room as I sat there with a blank look on my face and no idea what came next. I had to call and tell my family and friends, I had to tell my job, I had to schedule appointments, I had to figure out my plan of attack on this fucking disease.
Shelley the patient coordinator left me in her office to start making some calls so that I could try and process what happened. Calling my aunt (my mother’s sister) was one of the hardest calls I had to make out of all of them. How do you call someone who fought for years as hard as if it was her own fight for both her mother and sister and lost them both and tell them you have cancer?
Unfortunately there was no easy way to say it. There was no other way to be except blunt. So between tears and sobs I called to let her know that they had diagnosed me with breast cancer. For every person I told, it came out of my mouth easier but by no means did it feel any better. I spent what seemed like hours in that office telling my family and friends who loved me dearly the news that would ultimately change my life and theirs forever.
I tried to pull myself together to drive myself home but that clearly was not going to happen so I called my friends to come pick me up. I spent the remainder of the day talking to friends and family and crying. I was physically and emotionally exhausted but I gave myself ONE day to be sad and depressed and then it was time to start the Fight of My Life!
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of appointments with new doctors, second opinions from doctors, doing my own research on the internet and listening to every story from every person who had a friend that beat breast cancer. My family also had a lot of advice to offer regarding treatments and what my next step was going to be. I thought that hearing I had breast cancer was tough, figuring out what to do next made everything else seem easy. I had always said that if I was ever diagnosed I would have a bilateral mastectomy so that I would hopefully only go through this once. I was now forced to make that decision and literally make the biggest decision of my life, a decision that would determine my quality of life from this point forward.
The process is certainly exhausting, I have seen more doctors and been examined or ‘showed my breasts’ (without receiving ANY beads either!) more times in the last few weeks then I have in my entire life but have finally found a doctor I like and made a decision for the betterment of my health. I have chosen to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery first, which was the recommendation of all the doctors I have spoken to since this began.
Post surgery the doctors feel that I need about four months of chemotherapy and this is where I am undecided. Four months of subjecting my body to this toxic drug that will kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind, make me nauseas and sick, tired and BALD (although I think I could find some pretty fierce wigs in Miami) or taking the non-conventional path and healing my body from the inside out.
Jessica – BC Warrior