When did you first learn you were facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
It was February 2021, I found my own lump. I was 37 and had no risk factors or family history, so I would not have had a mammogram for another 3 years. I had just had a breast exam 5 months prior where my OBGYN did not feel anything of concern. Thankfully, I did my self-exam and followed up with my doctor. I feel very lucky that I was paying attention and decided to get it checked out.
How did that news affect you and your family?
At first, it turned my world upside down. I was afraid to tell my 7-year-old daughter because I know that the word “cancer” is scary for anyone, let alone a child. When I found out for sure what the treatment plan would look like, we explained it to her and she was incredible. She also had a teacher at the time who is a Breast Cancer Survivor. Her teacher was an absolute Godsend to our family, and especially my daughter as we navigated this road. As a Mom, we are the caregivers – we take care of our family, and I felt like I may become a burden (yes, I used that word) to my family. My husband and my mother made it clear to me that they were there to support me through every step of the way. For us, it wasn’t just my treatment that felt heavy – we also have a 6 year old son with special needs who requires constant attention and has many appointments on his own. My husband and my Mom were there throughout my treatment to fill the role that I would normally take, on days when I was either receiving an infusion, radiation or recovering from a chemo cycle.
What was it like receiving treatment during a global pandemic?
Being immunocompromised during a pandemic is very scary. Possibly the scariest part of my chemo treatment was when I learned I contracted COVID-19 right before my last chemo infusion. Thankfully, I was able to get fully vaccinated before I started chemotherapy and I believe that was why I had a very mild case. Honestly, my COVID symptoms were very similar to chemo symptoms, so I did not think I had COVID until I completely lost my senses of taste and smell. Chemo makes things taste weird – COVID takes all the taste away. That’s when I knew something was up.
What are you most proud of?
Selfishly, I am proud that I did my self exam and followed up with a mammogram even though I was terrified to find out something was wrong. But I am most proud of sharing my story publicly in hopes of helping save the lives of others. It is not easy to be open about all the ugliness of cancer, but if it helps get other women to do self-exams and never skip a mammogram, or just to know their bodies and put their health first, then I will share it all.
What are you most grateful for?
I always think this is weird to say, but I’m grateful for cancer. It has given me a chance to look at life through a different lens. During chemo, I promised myself to never take a day for granted where I can get out of bed without pain, or have energy to run in the backyard with my children. I’m grateful that I found my tumor early and have the opportunity to share my story to spread awareness to others.
Tell us about your connection to the PBCC.
I started as a Grassroots Partner for the PBCC. I have set up as a retailer at the PBCC annual conferences several times and donated a portion of my sales each time. Now, I have become a recipient of not only the Friends Like Me package and am a grateful community member of their organization as well as a Breast Cancer Survivor!
What wisdom would you share with a woman who has just recently been diagnosed with breast cancer?
My breast surgeon, Dr. Michael Reilly, gave me great advice that I have shared with many because I think it is so valuable. He said that if I could, to try to compartmentalize the days when I have appointments and treatments, surgeries – anything that had to do with cancer – I called them “cancer days”. That simple advice reminded me that I still have a life to live outside of cancer and that every moment of my life did not have to be consumed by my diagnosis. I am grateful for that advice early in my diagnosis.