June is National Cancer Survivor’s Month. How do you survive cancer or better yet, never get cancer? Mammograms every year? Never smoke? Yes! Yes!….but not always. I am a non-smoker who went from having annual mammograms with good results to cancer the next.
It felt like a bruise under my arm. I tried to think about what I had done to give myself a bruise under my arm. It didn’t go away and I finally felt deep to find out where the bruise was coming from and felt a lump. As a Nurse, I first thought it was a swollen lymph node and I must have an infection; give it some time and it will pass. A month later, I went to my primary doctor and three days later, I was receiving a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. By the end of the week I was receiving the results, it was cancer and not only was it cancer, it was the worst breast cancer a person can get- the most aggressive. As the weeks continued I learned I had tumors in my breast, several different locations in my lymph nodes and they were big; stage 3. I went from 0 cancer to stage 3 in 1 year- from mammogram to mammogram.
Now let me tell you something about myself; I like myself. I like my loud laugh, my hair, my boobs; I had no plans with parting with any part of myself and now I was hearing I had cancer. My tumors were too big to have surgery; when that happens you first have chemo. Last July 4th, I asked my beautician to cut my 22” long, blonde hair off for a wig donation to children with cancer. I imagine some little girl running around with my hair and it makes me laugh. She has an awesome wig! They started me out with four chemo meds which tells me I am in for the big fight. Three weeks later, I’m bald. Not a pretty sight, I’m wearing hats and holding my head up. I still have my loud laugh.
The raw truth of cancer and chemo is vomiting, diarrhea, and ER visits because of the vomiting and diarrhea; repeat. I didn’t lose weight haha, I eat good when I can so I haven’t lost weight even with cancer. I’m the only cancer patient that can gain weight. Okay, so I did chemo for five months and then they are ready for surgery, a mastectomy. My oncologist was hopeful that the chemos would have removed all of the tumors. The mastectomy went as well as it could, except the tumors were not gone from the chemo. In surgery, they found tumors in my breast and five lymph nodes. This meant we needed to go for round two of radiation. If you aren’t sure what happens when a person has radiation, you go and receive a sunburn that runs all the way through your body. Then the next day you go and have another sunburn that runs all the way through your body. Repeat for twenty-five treatments.
I’m a tough cookie with a positive outlook, but I was crying before my appointment in anticipation of the pain and cried all the way home. I was burned on the front of my body and the back of my body. That was the month of January 2020. I know cancer returning is always a possibility. Radiation made me make the decision to have an elective mastectomy on the other side. I never wanted to go through radiation again. Chemo needed to continue only this time it was a different chemo. A better chemo that would kill the cancer cells that did not die from the other four chemos.
Good news is my hair would get to grow back (a huge thrill when you are bald!). Bad news is my body did not like the chemo. More ER visits, lots of vomiting, and then the neuropathy. My neuropathy was so bad that I could not wear shoes, no socks, even carpet hurt my feet in a crazy way- like walking on sharp rocks and having Russian Thistles poking all over into the bottom of my feet. I had to stop the “better” chemo.
Back to taking two chemos, which is the path I am on now. The two are not as effective as the one chemo, but the side effects are better, the neuropathy is about gone, and I still get to have hair. I will be on chemo until July, 2020; 13 months after my cancer diagnosis. I have not had elective surgery yet, COVID 19 stepped in and this surgery will flow when the time is right.
So now what? I laugh loud, I love harder, I have new hair, and cancer has shown me I am stronger than ever. I’m not a cancer survivor, YET, but I am a fighter. I will keep fighting the cancer inside of me and I hope that in a few months I will get the official title of survivor.
At Heart ‘n Home we applaud the many brave men, women, and children who have fought, and still are fighting, cancer. Stay strong and lean on the support around you. We have the same wish for you that we have for our dear teammate, Doris; that you find the strength to fight and that you keep your hopes high. You’ve got this!