My journey with cancer started long before I was diagnosed with it. For most of my twenties, I was my mother’s caretaker while she fought breast cancer at age 38 and then later ovarian cancer at age 43. I made the hard decision to leave nursing school and move back home to Texas to be there for her while she went through her treatments For ovarian cancer. I cherish the years I got to spend living with her, loving on her, and being her caretaker until she passed away in February of 2007.
My mother had the Breast Cancer gene 1 (BRCA), and I knew the likelihood that I also had the gene was high. But I was afraid to get tested. The laws about insurance and pre-existing conditions were unclear to me. I was also unsure about the preventive surgeries’ impact on having more children. So, I talked to my gynecologist, and he decided to treat me as if I was BRCA positive. Starting in my twenties, I had a mammogram and ultrasound annually.
In January 2020, while standing in the shower doing a self-breast exam like I often did, I found four large lumps along the side of my left breast that weren’t there before. In spite of my husband trying to reassure me internally, I was going into panic mode. All the memories of what my mother went through rushed through my mind over and over again. I quickly got an appointment to see the doctor, and within a few weeks, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Stage II. It was also two days before the anniversary of my mother’s death. I felt like my whole world was crumbling around me. The thought of my children and my husband having to endure what I went through with my mother’s illness was overwhelming.
My healthcare team decided to throw everything at my cancer. I had chemo drugs so toxic that I could only have them once in my lifetime because they cause damage to the heart. The drugs had to be inserted through a port, or the chemicals could literally melt through my veins. Halfway through chemo, my white blood cell count became too low even to have another treatment, and I was sent home. The very next day, my entire family tested positive for COVID-19. This was July 2020, when hospitals were filled with COVID patients, so we were told to stay home and only come to the hospital if one of us had trouble breathing. It was truly terrifying, and I wasn’t sure if we’d survive. But we did. And I was cancer free.
In March of 2021, my tumors were back in the exact same place as before, along the side of my implants. It took some convincing to get my surgical team to believe the tumors were actually back. They were almost certain that what I felt had to be scar tissue; it was too soon for the cancer to have returned. But I knew my body. I found my cancer the first time by self-breast exam right after a normal mammogram; this time, it felt exactly the same. I’m so thankful that I listened to my body and didn’t ignore the signs.
In April 2022, I finally rang the bell finishing radiation. But a couple of weeks later, I ended up in the hospital with a major infection in my chest from the radiation. It seemed like one major setback after another. While treating the infection, doctors discovered nodules in my lungs. An attending physician came to my bedside to deliver the devastating news that I was now considered stage 4 with metastatic breast cancer. That meant that doctors were no longer discussing curative treatments but rather how to keep me here as long as possible while maintaining a decent quality of life.
I chose to stop fighting to save my life but instead, find more ways to give it away and be more intentional about where I focused my energy. I learned to find joy in the smallest of things and to try even harder to find ways to serve others. I wrote a children’s book for my son and other families going through similar struggles. Whenever I’m able, I try to share my challenges and triumphs with other survivors in hopes that seeing someone else thriving in spite of their diagnosis will encourage them not to lose hope even when things get tough. Those were stories that helped me keep pushing through. And so, my prayer is that I can help strengthen someone else the way other survivor stories have helped strengthened me.
I feel empowered to share this story and give voice to the family members who often suffer in silence and remove the masks we survivors often wear to put on a brave face in hopes that someone will be inspired to shed light in some of these areas and make things better for the next person or family that has to take a journey down this very difficult road.