"Metastatic cancer has been the worst thing that has ever happened in my life, but at the same time, I can tell you, as weird as this sounds, I'm thankful for it."
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2013. It was 4 days after my 37th birthday. Six months before I had an emergency hysterectomy. I would find out many months after my breast cancer diagnosis that my uterus was "full" of tumors. But, they weren't biopsied. They were described as fibroids. A forensic specialist at MD Anderson believes that my cancer actually started in my uterus. So, in essence, my breast cancer was my secondary cancer. My gynecologist never felt my breasts. When I questioned him about why he didn't biopsy the "fibroids" he said I didn't have any symptoms. Another lie. I had been going to doctors for 6 months trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with everything from mono to depression with anxiety.
And then....one night I had such a terrible hot flash that I woke up in the middle of the night in January and opened my window to cool down. It was probably in the 30's outside. I was restless that night. I woke up and didn't want to go to work (I never wanted to miss work). I knew I needed to rinse off because I had sweated so profusely through the night. I had washed my hair (about waist length) the night before, so I just needed to do a quick "splash and dash." I had large breasts. Probably a size double D. So, I lather my body and am in the process of rinsing off and because of the size of my breasts, I have to physically lift up my left breast with my left hand. My right hand is rinsing under my breast and that's when I felt "it." It felt about the size of a large marble. It was hard. It was palpable. I could move it. My heart sunk. At that moment, I knew. I knew what it was. I got out of the shower and called the last person you would think I would call--my ex husband. I knew he would be in the carpool line as it had been his night to have the kids the night before. The elementary school was literally less than a block from my house. I told him he had to come over immediately after dropping the kids off. He wanted to know why. I just told him I needed him. So, I continued to get dressed, fully put on make up, but left a robe on my upper half.
He showed up about 10 minutes later and I explained I had found a lump and I wanted him to feel it and tell me if he could feel it. It was awkward for about a second and then he felt exactly where I told him to. And then he started to cry. At that moment, I begged him not to cry. I needed him to be strong for me. He told me to call or text my gynecologist immediately and I did. The doctor told me to be there ASAP. I was there by 8am. He brought me back. He felt the left side at length. (Where I felt the lump). He felt the right side at length. There was an awkward silence. I knew something was wrong and I knew that he knew something was wrong. He asked me to leave the room and go wait in the waiting room. So, I did. He had the nurse come get me and I was brought back to the exam room. He told me it was probably nothing, but I needed to go have a STAT mammogram and possibly a diagnostic ultrasound. So, I headed to the Women's Center in the next town to have this done.
I waited anxiously in the waiting room, by this time, my best friends sister was with me. My best friend couldn't leave work, so she sent her sister. (Thank GOD). They called me back. I put on the paper shirt and waited my turn. The mammogram wasn't near as bad as I was expecting. The technician was kind and gentle and reassuring. I was told to wait in a chair while the radiologist read the mammogram pictures and that then it would be decided if I would have an ultrasound.
They come back out, and confirm, yes, I need a diagnostic ultrasound. So, I go and lay in a dark room. My technician for this is a man. A very kind man who is trying so hard to make awkward conversation with me. The original mammogram technician was in there with me as well. And then it was quiet. In that moment I saw him look at her and I knew. I just knew. They told me to hold tight that the doctor would be in to see me.
The doctor came in and asked me if I had anyone with me. I told him I did. He sent the technician to get my friend. She came in with our drinks from Sonic, purses, magazines, etc. He looked at her and said, "I'm going to need you to listen to every word I'm about to say because she will only remember the first five words." BUFFY, YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER. And it's bad. Your tumor is 2mm smaller than a regulation softball. Blah blah blah.....I'm starting to feel faint. His voice sounds like it's slow and warped. I'm crying. My friend is crying. The technicians are crying. The doctor is trying to use a white board to explain that it looks like a shotgun shell full of cancer has exploded all over my left side and into almost all of my lymph nodes that they could see. BLAAAHHHHHHHHH, HOSPITAL, MRI, INSURANCE, TIME OFF WORK, ONCOLOGIST, SURGERY. Everything was soooooooooooo confusing. I was in shock. The greatest shock of my life in that moment.
It was so bad that I was not allowed to go home. I was immediately admitted to the women's health floor and the next morning had a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed their belief, that I definitely had cancer and it didn't look good. The tumor was too large to try and do anything about it with surgery. So, I was sewn up and met with an oncologist that night. My "team" became my best friend, and my two ex-husbands. Why them? Because I needed them to take care of my kids more than ever at that time and I trusted them. I will forever be able to call my second ex-husband my hero because he immediately moved into my house so that we could be considered a "common law" marriage and I would have VERY GOOD health insurance. I owned my own business and did not have health insurance. Without health insurance, I have no doubt I would be dead by now. Not only did he move in to help with the kids, he held my hair back (while I still had it) while I vomited. He cooked me anything I could possibly try to eat, he encouraged me, he made me walk, he gave me tough love, he made me fight to live when I just wanted to give up completely.
The next day I had a port placed and went home two days later. I had a weekend at home that we pretty much just made sure that the house was sparkling clean, we had lots of visitors and we had a "family meeting" in my bed to tell my kids that I had breast cancer. I didn't know how to tell them. The flu had been especially bad that year and so I explained it like this..."Mom's boob has the flu." The boob flu. So, I have to take lots of medicine and it will make my hair fall out and then my boob will be better. The next day, my son, who was in 3rd grade came home to explain to me that I had cancer. He said, he googled it. And then went into a very knowledgeable explanation about how two cells meet and multiply and so on and so forth and that my boob didn't really have the flu. I wish it had been that easy. It wasn't. It was hell. Chemo was hell. The recovery after chemo. The blood transfusions. The trip to MD Anderson in Houston where they told me that there was NOTHING they could do for me and I should just go home and die surrounded by my friends and family. The double mastectomy. The month I spent in the hospital because of a staph infection when I almost died because of a STAPH infection. My ankles being the size of my thighs. All of it. It was HELL.
In the midst of this, I lost my car because I couldn't make my car payment. About a year into treatment I lost my house to foreclosure for the same reason. We truly lost everything except each other.
My cancer had since spread to 27 of 29 lymph nodes that we have tested on the left side of my body. It has now spread to my liver, and just recently....my brain. I started falling. I was diagnosed with two concussions in one week. And finally a neurologist said, what else is happening. There is a reason why you're falling. We have to get to the bottom of this. And they did. Lots more testing....and it's a tumor in my frontal lobe.
I'm mad. I'm so mad. I've lost so many friends. And I think it's for several reasons, people get tired of being around sick people. I'm not the fun girl I once was. They can't stand to look at their own mortality in the eye. They know it could be them, but it's not, it's me. Moms at my kids school stopped even making eye contact with me. Like, what? If you look at me...will I give you cancer? It was the most bizarre thing I've ever witnessed. The people I thought would always be there, no matter what? They're gone. My sister never came to see me. My Mom left. I found out via BRCA testing that the man I grew up believing was my biological father was, in fact, not my biological father and after meeting with him face to face and telling him, I never heard from him again. The people I have left are still those two amazing ex-husbands, my kids and a handful of friends. I don't talk about my health like I used to. I've found it scares people off. So, I just don't talk about it.
Metastatic cancer has been the worst thing that has ever happened in my life, but at the same time, I can tell you, as weird as this sounds, I'm thankful for it. I live life much more intentionally now. I notice sunrises and sunsets. I ask people how THEY are. I look people in the eye. I always say thank you and mean it. I'm more passionate about women's health and funding for that.
I HATE OCTOBER. I hate pink. I hate the pink ribbon. I think the country as a whole is fully AWARE of cancer. Why do we need to "raise awareness?" What I want to raise is money to help women pay electric bills, car payments, school picture fees, buy groceries. As an unmarried woman, I lost it all. Everything I had, I lost. I think people should pick a person and not just a charity and give to that person and their family. Every family going through cancer needs financial assistance, I can almost guarantee that. It's an expensive disease. It's disgusting how much money it costs to fight.
I have met amazing women through my journey that are on the same journey I am. I have traveled across the country for funerals when we lose one of "us". I'm thankful for every single one of them. They get it. People think that because my hair has grown back and I had reconstruction that "I'm fine." I'm not "fine". I'll never be "fine" again. I'm just trying to make it through everyday. I've been suicidal. I've had massive anxiety. I have PTSD. This disease has ruined me.
I want to see more charities truly helping women and their caregivers in need. That's what I want to see. If PINK RIBBON CHARITIES are going to use "my story" to get donations....I think pink ribbon charities should PICK A FACE and help a person and help them pay their bills.
That's my wish.
Right now, I'm feeling well. But, that may change tomorrow. Or later tonight. Or five months from now. That's the hardest part of having metastatic breast cancer. You never know when you're going to feel awful and want to die again. It's the cruelest disease.
But, I will get up tomorrow and fight another day and love my kids and be thankful for what I do have. I have a lot to live for. I want my voice to be a beacon of hope for others. I'm honest to a fault. It's not going to be easy, it's going to suck, but it's going to be worth it. I promise...
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- New York
- New Jersey