"I am praying my way [through]”
Life isn't easy by any means. I used to be a girl that would run constantly, have so much energy, but that has changed!
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in November of 2015. I saw an indent on my left breast, and all that ran through my head was my bra did it, since I sometimes wore it when I was sleeping. I had asked family members and friends in October, who are RNs, and they told me to watch it and call my doctor if I see any change. All I thought was it would go away in time. I even sent a picture to some family members, just so they were able to get a visual of what I was talking about. At that point in my life, I made a job switch, and I was in my second week of training in November of 2015.
It had been less than a week when I noticed that my indent was longer, and I freaked! And that is when I went to see Dr. C. I was late on my yearly check up by a few years; life got in the way of making that appointment. With kids, planning a wedding, school, going around my husbands schedule (work and ball) and my husband's funeral. I made all the excuses. But, I couldn't make an excuse any longer.
I knew that I had to get in to my OB-GYN immediately. So I got in the very next day, called in while I was in training (which is frowned upon), but I knew that I needed to know that was happening with me. The moment Dr. C came into the door, he knew I was scared. And believe me, I was! He knows I am strong! But during my exam, he had a face that I could sense something was wrong with me! He said I needed to go to the hospital and get a mammogram immediately. He couldn't tell me anything more at that moment. I was lucky that my mother-in-law and father-in-law came with me.
We got to the hospital, and my heart sank because I needed all this. Obviously, I kept this to myself. I tried to look strong on the outside, like I would do with so much. After the mammogram, I was told to wait for the results. I waited, it seemed like forever! It was to me! But it was a 10-minute wait. They showed me the results with Dr. G. My OB referred Dr. G as my surgeon. I didn't know that I would be meeting him that soon, but I am thankful that he took the time at the last minute to come to the hospital to look at the mammogram scans. They again couldn't say anything, but as I was looking at the mammogram slides, I knew something was wrong with my left breast. And that is when they told me that I needed to do a biopsy. They didn’t wait another day, let alone another moment! And damn the biopsy hurt (lots of cussing and crying was had), but I knew I needed to do it.
I started to pray and talk to my dad and Scott, asking this to be nothing. Scott was my late-husband, he passed away unexpectedly 15 months after we got married. And now this is all occurring 14 months after his passing. All I could think was that our kids (twins) and I couldn't handle anymore.
Following my mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, I then had an appointment with Dr. G the next day, and that's when I found out with Ryan and my grandmother that I had breast cancer. The tumor was 4.5 cm. at that moment. I didn't even understand all that I was told. I heard tumor and 4.5 cm. and then dazed off. All I could think in my mind was I want it out. Take it out! That was the plan. I even saw a plastic surgeon for implants. I had a plan in place. I was getting a total mastectomy, implants, total hysterectomy. I wanted to be proactive with all this and since I have twins, already had my tubes tided, I figured let’s take it all out.
But, then the pain in my lower back wasn't going away. I told Dr. G and he was concerned about it since it was going on since August 2015. So, I went for another scan that ended up being another biopsy. This biopsy was now happening on my L3 on New Year’s Eve. What a way to end the year, right?
January 2016. My 8-hour surgery was set, and I was prepped, waiting to go in with my mom by my side. I hadn’t heard about my biopsy yet. So, I was thinking no news is good news. Things didn't go as planned in the morning. Five a.m. was too early to call Dr. G, so when I saw him 30 minutes before surgery, I was going to ask, but then I saw Dr. T behind him. Dr. T was my oncologist. I met him once to figure out a plan of action. So I knew something wasn’t right! I knew it! Even with the happy juice.
That was the moment I was told that the cancer moved to my L3, and we weren't doing the BIG surgery. I was going to get my port put in and start chemo the next day. That is what happened. So it didn't go as I planned. I started my chemo treatment that has put me in the hospital, had my bathroom be my best friend, kept me in bed, and ultimately made me sicker than I ever thought I could be in my life. My priority was always the kids first and then myself. But at times I had to put ME first.
It was painful to see my kids go through and see me the way that they did. They knew mom was really sick and I was getting better. All I thought about was I have to get through this for them! They've been through enough with losing their dad and some of their family on that side, and now me having breast cancer! So I am fighting hard! I have my moments that I didn't want to fight anymore. I wanted it to end, but I look at them, and I know that is not an option. Never will that be an option.
Throughout the months of chemotherapy and radiation, I have realized how important it is to be your own advocate, have a voice for your health. As I stated prior, Dr. T was my oncologist. Never once did he mention that I was Stage 4, but the thing that got under my skin more that anything was when I would see him on the days that I received chemotherapy. He would always ask me how my back pain was but would always touch the middle of my shoulder blades saying that is my L3. Not once did he touch where my L3 actually was, my lower back. So, I went to get another opinion.
Too many red flags with Dr. T, and I needed someone in my corner for life, not just for a few years. I went to Froedtert Medical Hospital. I was relieved to learn that I was on the right treatment plan, but my oncologist should have had me on a bone strengthener from the beginning since my cancer is in my bone. So, I went back to Dr. T and advised him of the information. His look was priceless. After that talk, he then put me on Zometa every six weeks. This was on top of my Herceptin + Perjeta and Taxotere. I did the max amount of round of Taxotere.
Then I wanted to get a total hysterectomy. This was a proactive thing that I elected to do, as I am triple positive. Dr. T told me that I didn't need to do a total hysterectomy. But that is what I wanted. He said that he would be in touch with my OB-GYN to get this scheduled. Two months went by, and I hadn’t heard anything about the surgery. I asked Dr. T, and he brushed it off. But through others at the Cancer Team, I heard that was something that Dr. T was good at doing. So I called my OB-GYN and made an appointment with him. I scheduled it myself. That is when I had enough. I was looking into changing oncologists for awhile and doing research on the ones at the Cancer Team. And with oncologists leaving, retiring, etc., I waited for the right time.
It was about 1 week after I met with my OB-GYN that I called and switched to Dr. M. I knew that I need to have an oncologist in my corner, one that would listen to everything that I had to say, one that knew exactly where my cancer was in my bone, one that would be straight-forward, one that would help me thrive. Not one that didn't follow through.
The last time that I saw Dr. T, I called him out on where my L3 was. I explained I am not going to play dumb and brush off the fact that he doesn't know the facts of my cancer and was not in my corner. I explained to him in a very stern voice that I have a medical degree, and I will use it when I need to. People with a medical degree sometimes don't use their voice — they don't advocate. They make excuses for their physicians, and that is not right. I was told several times that since I have the degree, I should sit back as though I don't because doctors won’t tell everything that I need to know — they will give only that bare amount of information that you need to know.
Well, that is not how I work. And that is not how I want my TEAM of doctors to be. I couldn't be happier with the change. My oncologist is in my corner all the way. With the radiation that I received, it was on my L3. After the 10 rounds were completed, my tumor on my L3 and breast have both shrank more than half. And now, I'm on maintenance chemotherapy for a little over 2 years. I've found out that my life will never be the same, but that's okay with me because I am here!
I think the hardest thing that I have had to deal with is the loss of family members and friends. Some of my family members give the excuse that they don't know what to say to me since my diagnoses. My friends don't call/text like they used to. Or there are some that make so many excuses that they don't even make the time. All I can say is that I may have lost my hair (which is growing back), I was very sick in the beginning, but I am still the same person. So, why treat someone different when they are diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer? Why give the excuses? In life, you make time for those you care about, without the excuses. And this is something that I know first-hand. When I have been sick, tired and hurting, I have still made time for those I care about. I stay present. I don't treat others differently. When you are diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer or anything else, you don't want to be treated differently. You want to be treated as you always have. AS YOU.
Through all this, I couldn't have gotten through everything without my amazing kids, Riley and Hailey, my loving boyfriend, Ryan, and my family and friends. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope that the awareness of Metastatic Breast Cancer will become something that I see and hear more and more.