In the beginning

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure September 2012

In January 2012 I was talking with a girlfriend who just told me one of her friends was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I mentioned that I had felt a lump on my left breast and was not sure if I should go in to see a doctor or not.  She said I had nothing to lose and it is better knowing then not.

I went to my OB-GYN and he told me that it was probably just an “overactive lymph node.”  He and the nurse continued to tell me how lymph nodes work and that’s probably what it is but I should just watch out for it to see if I notice any changes.  Well, I was not happy or satisfied with that answer.

A brief family history, my two paternal aunts, both maternal and paternal grandmothers and a maternal uncle have all had breast cancer.  With my family history and with my doctor knowing all of this, I was surprised that he didn’t request a mammogram right away.  He said I was too young.  Most insurance companies would not approve for me to have a mammogram done, due to my age.

As a side note,  I had found out after my diagnosis and genetic testing, myself, both aunts all tested negative for breast cancer.  We were unable to test both grandparents as they had already passed away.   So, it is interesting that we all tested negative and yet, here we are with three diagnoses with possibly two more.

Proof of cancer

When I got home from the doctor, I started feverishly doing research on breast cancer.  One little, simple rule of thumb I kept reading over and over again was if you press in the spot (or tumor) and it leaves an indention then you have cancer.  Let me repeat- if you can press into the spot, or tumor, and it leaves an indent YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER!!  Well, I immediately tried that and I had a huge indention.  I called my doctor again and demanded a mammogram.

On April 16, 2012 I went in for my mammogram.  The technician immediately saw something she didn’t like, they did both breasts twice then they took me straight in for a biopsy.  They took several different samples out of the spot and explained to me it was just routine “probably nothing to worry about and it could just be an overactive lymph node.”  Again, I was not happy with that answer but I wanted to stay optimistic.

You see, I have been very active for the majority of my life.  Was a swimmer up till freshman year in college, ran track, lifted weights and just overall loved being active.  Also, I was a vegetarian and truly never strayed from that lifestyle.  Doing self breast exams was just part of my shower routine because of my family history, I never did not do them.  I was just an active, vegetarian who enjoyed life!

The phone call

What I was not prepared for was the phone call I received Tuesday April 17, 2012.  I was driving to work, the nurse at the lab called and asked me to pull over because she had something to tell me (I did not pull over – rush hour traffic). Then she said, “Amanda, you have cancer!”  My car started drifting over to the medium – I immediately started bawling – how I did not get in a wreck I have no idea.  I was all over the road after that.

I was diagnosed with Stage-2 invasive ductal carcinoma ER/PR+ and HER2+.  Translation, ER= estrogen and PR= progesterone.  Being positive means my breast cancer is energized, fueled, nourished by estrogen and progesterone.  HER2 is a gene that controls how the cells grow.  I was treated with chemotherapy and herceptin.  Have been taking a drug called Tamoxifen (an anti-estrogen pill).  5 of my lymph nodes in my left arm were removed.  My tumor was in my left breast.  (I will go in further details of chemo and the other medicines in a later post.)

When I got to work I was numb; literally walked in like a zombie went straight to my directors office (I work for one of the hospital systems here in the Upstate) and just said to her “I have cancer.”  After that I remember her calling my boyfriend (husband now but we were just dating then) told him, he immediately left work came to pick me up so I could go inform my family.  I wanted to do this in person this wasn’t a text or phone call conversation.

Telling my Family

First person we saw was my father, I told him I had something to tell him and he asked if I was pregnant (thanks dad) I explained I really needed to see him.  He said he had a few minutes to spare, side note, it was also tax day.  So he graciously saw us and while standing in the kitchen of his house and I told him I had breast cancer

We all started crying.  My father had just lost his sister to cancer a year earlier.  This was very scary for him and very close to home for him.  Because both of his sisters have had breast cancer, one passed away and now his youngest daughter.  Not the best scenarios going through his mind at the time.  I told him we were on our way to tell the rest of the family and that I would keep him abreast of everything going o

We next went to see my mother.  She was another hour away from my father, whom was an hour away from our home. But, it was all worth it instead of doing this over the phone.  When I told my mom, the first thing she said was she didn’t want to bury me.  I think at that moment I realized it wasn’t a death sentence and I was going to beat this and thrive!

We then went to see my sister, she happened to be at work but I had to tell her.  She cried, said she was going to shave her head when I go bald and if I was going to do a double mastectomy?  I had always said if this were to happen to me that I would but I never thought I would actually be faced with that real-life scenario.

The Plan 1

Two days later on Thursday, April 19, 2012, my whole family came and we met all of the doctors that would take care of me.  More or less these people would be my team.  It was awesome!  This way we did not have to go to all of these different appointments.  We just showed up and stayed in one room and for the next two-three hours we saw doctors.  Some would definitely help me and then others came to see us just in case we may have needed them.

We set the surgery for Saturday, May 12, 2012.  Here I was a 36 year old unwed, childless woman about to have surgery to remove my breasts!  To say I was slightly scared is an understatement but, I also had a very calming effect on me because I knew God was going to take care of me I knew I was chosen and blessed to have been given cancer.  I knew I could use this for good.

The Plan 2

I told my doctor I wanted to do the double mastectomy.  This was my plan, I would remove both breasts and possibly go up a size (I mean I was young and well, why not).  The morning of my surgery my doctor suggested again just doing a lumpectomy.  I told her NO, I was too young with too much history to not do this with the possibility of doing it again later.  After the 6 hour surgery and I was in recovery, my doctor told me that she was happy for me for LISTENING TO MY GUT.  When they went in and removed my right breast THEY FOUND CANCER CELLS that all of the tests did not pick up.  If I had not listened to what I wanted, I would be telling a completely different story now.

I am not saying to not trust your doctor; I was fortunate and was given the best team at the hospital (in my opinion).  Truly have the best Chemo-oncologist and best plastic surgeon in the Upstate.  But, I know my body and I listen to it.  Even now, 6 years later, if something does not feel right, I get it checked!

Just the beginning of a new life

I will keep saying this, cancer is a BLESSING!  So much has changed and so much continues to be positives in my life because of it.  I am now part of the best club ever “SURVIVOR!”  I am proud to talk about my experiences, especially because I was a young, active individual. 

Just proves that cancer does not discriminate and only affect certain populations.  Even living a healthy lifestyle can still give cause to cancer.  Just trying to be the best you can be and love and appreciate your body every day is key!!  Having a positive attitude has definitely helped me through the whole process and continues to this day.

Will continue…

Last day of Herceptin!! I will get my port out several weeks later. Hair is slowly growing back 🙂

I will continue to share my stories in other posts.   Will discuss chemotherapy, fertility (pregnancy), food, drugs and how my ulcerative colitis has effected my remission.

Thanks for staying and reading about my breast cancer story. I hope you continue to follow.  If anyone has any questions or needs help, please message me.  I would love to chat.

 Blessings, mandy k