Throughout October I'm showcasing breast cancer survivor stories from CafeMoms for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hope that these stories not only raise awareness but also provide hope and comfort to women who have been diagnosed or are being treated for the disease.
Today, Ariel91, mom of two, shares with us her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. I chose to post her story today in recognition of her last scheduled radiation treatment, so as you read this, please be sure to send good thoughts her way!
My story starts back in April 2007 when my doctor found a very small lump and wanted me to get a digital mammogram—at the ripe old age of 29! The mammogram came back clear. So, when my doctor found another lump in the fall of 2008, I put off getting the digital mammogram until after the new year.
When I went in, the radiologist talked to me, showed me what they were looking at, and explained that he was going to have my doctor send me in for a biopsy. The lump wasn't showing as an obvious cancer, but it also wasn't showing as a cyst. My doctor ordered a biopsy for me at the Piper Breast Center in Minneapolis, MN.
I went in for the biopsy in January of this year and wasn't overly surprised when my doctor called me at home on Jan. 27, to share the findings of the biopsy. I had joked around a lot with my sister that we would probably end up with breast cancer because our mom had it and died, and her three sisters had all been diagnosed with breast cancer. That didn't make it any easier. But it wasn't a complete shock either.
I didn't tell anyone for more than a week. I wanted to really accept it myself first, then let others know. I let my fiance know first, because I figured he would probably want to go to my appointment with the surgeon to find out all the details. In some ways, I think it was harder for him than it was for me. I always assumed I would end up with "the family curse" (just not at the age of 31!).
Because I found it easier to think about having it and deal with it then to actually have to tell someone face to face, my fiance ended up telling my dad and sister. I had no problems writing about it. Over time, I started to let people I knew online know about it. I felt it was a great reminder for them to do their checks.
My age did not play well with this as younger people tend to get Stage 3 breast cancer, which is the fastest growing cancer. So, I had to make decisions—and the sooner the better!—because my doctors could already tell that it was growing between appointments. I decided that I only wanted to deal with this one time, so I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. I also decided to forgo reconstruction because it wasn't a big deal to me.
I had my surgery Feb. 26. I let the surgeon know that if I could, I really wanted to go home that day. I went in for the different tests and then the surgery and came out pretty good. Because I was feeling good, the doctor gave the OK to go home if I really wanted to. She was quite surprised when she showed up to do her rounds the next morning, and I wasn't there!
I met with my oncologist a few more times as we started to discuss what kinds of options I had for when I was completely healed from the surgery. We decided to treat it as aggressively as possible, and there was a study going on that matched what the oncologist was thinking about for my "cocktail", so I willingly signed up.
Picking my start date for chemo was an odd feeling. I knew that after that things were going to be very different in my household for a while. And, my kids were going to have to adjust (they had been doing great so far!). The doctor also recommended getting a port placed [port infusion] for my chemo, so I had to think about another surgery! After I finally got started on my chemo schedule, I decided to go ahead and get the port placed. I went in and had that done two days before my second treatment and the day before I turned 32! Happy birthday to me...here take some more chemicals and get sick!!
I was lucky, though. I didn't have the horrible sicknesses that most people get. I think the hardest part was knowing that I was going to be losing my hair. My hair is/was the one thing that I really liked about my looks. My oncologist wanted to cry, too! He even took a picture of my hair before starting the chemo (I had my hair cut off before it started to come on its own, and it was over 3-feet long!).
My chemo wasn't that bad. The first set of treatments were harder then the second set, but I was able to work through it. After five months, I finished my chemo! My family had decided to go on vacation, so I decided it was my "I survived chemo" trip! We (my fiance, both my daughters, my sister, my dad, and his wife) all flew out to Hawaii where we met up with my brother and nephews. I was so very thankful for this trip, but it also meant that I was only half-way done with my treatments.
In September, I started my radiation treatments, and I will be done with those on October 22! Now, I am thinking about my next step and contemplating yet another surgery. My treatments will continue for a number of years as my oncologist wants me on Tamoxafin, but that will be my last treatment, and I can handle taking a pill a day! That will be a lot less stressful then all the scheduling and running all the time. I have also gone in for genetic testing, and found out that I am a carrier (which didn't surprise me, especially with my family's history of cancer). I am concerned about my girls, one is 13, the other is 4. This is something that they will probably have to look forward to.
After I was diagnosed, I started looking for info online but didn't want the technical junk, I wanted real life experiences with it, so I started to think about the social networks that I participated in and looked for support groups. I found a couple here on CafeMom—including Breast Cancer Survivors—and they have been great in terms of being able to ask questions and get some responses as to how their experience with the drug was. It is also nice to be able to help those just starting and see how well those that are done are doing.
Most people have been quite surprised by how well I have done so far. I just take it and keep going. Why dwell on it or feel sorry for myself? That isn't going to change the fact that I had cancer. Just deal with it and move on! A good summary that I have seen (front desk at my radiation center): Cancer is a word, not a sentence. That is so true.
Do you have a story to tell? How has breast cancer touched your life?