My name is Taylor Frankford and at the time of writing this I am 23 years old.* The story of how I found out that I had breast cancer is a very interesting one.
In December of 2018 I gave birth to my second son Andrew and chose to breastfeed him as I had done with my first son Alan. The next month, my mother sent me an article that told of a young woman who developed breast cancer while breastfeeding her child and urged me to start checking myself on a regular basis. Honestly, I ignored her because I was a 23-year-old with two children under the age of three and “ I wasn’t going to get cancer.” Fast forward to the middle of March 2019 and as I was in the shower I thought about what my mom had said and decided to humor her by doing an exam. I felt a lump. I started panicking and crying and immediately called my doctor. She said that it was probably a clogged duct and told me what to do. Fast forward to April 1st, 2019 and after pushing for an ultrasound that revealed a mass and a doctor telling me that there was only a 5% chance of that mass being cancer, I was sitting in the breast center at Hershey waiting for a core needle biopsy because I tend to worry and I needed to be 100% sure that nothing was wrong. Looking back I knew in my heart of hearts that it was cancer. A few days later, I got a call and heard the words “ you have cancer.” My boys were 2 ½ and 3 months old.
I received the genetic testing for BRCA1 and 2 and that test came back that I am BRCA1+. Because of this, along with my age, my doctors, my husband and I decided on a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. After surgery I was deemed stage 2 because there was no lymph node involvement, but my OncotypeDX score came back at a 45 with about a 50% chance it would come back with no chemotherapy intervention. So I had my port placed in my chest and started chemotherapy. Due to complications that caused delays in the regime I ended up doing 5 months of chemo instead of 4.
My Support System
I had the best support system in the form of my husband of 5 years, Josiah, my parents, my brother and his wife, my best friend Tara and the many members of the church I attended at the time Carlisle Christian Fellowship. My husband took off for every one of my chemo treatments and helped me keep about 50% of my hair by applying the cold caps needed for cold capping therapy. My parents let us move in with them for almost 6 months while I was recovering from my mastectomies and battling the side effects of chemo. I could not take care of my boys on my own. My church family cleaned my house, brought me and my family meals, watched my children for all of my doctors appointments and infusions, sent cards and flowers, and prayed for me constantly. I watched some of the most beautiful acts of love I have ever seen and am still humbled by the fact that they were for me.
What I want Women to Know
The one thing I want to share from my experience to other women out there is this. Cancer is a horrible, ugly, and life changing diagnosis. You will never get to be who you were pre-diagnosis again… but don’t let cancer become what defines you and who you are. You are more than the mass or masses of abnormal cells in your body. You are more than your hair, more than your breasts, more than your scars, more than your eyebrows and eyelashes. YOU ARE MORE. As all of the outward things that you feel define you as a person and a woman are stripped away by this disease, please remember what I say next. Cancer does take those things away from you and I cried so so many tears as I lost each and every one of the things I listed above. But cancer becomes a megaphone for the intangible things about you. Your hope, your faith, your courage, your fighting spirit and your will to live. And to the people around you who love you and are fighting for you, I promise that you will be the most beautiful that you have ever been to them as they see you fight and thrive and shine through the darkest storm in your life. Don’t let cancer take away your identity, use cancer to grow the best parts of yourself and make the weak parts stronger.
My Advice for Helping Newly Diagnosed Women
To the friends of the women who have just been diagnosed. Take your friend out for a pedicure and dinner. Buy her a Starbucks. Let her forget, or let her pour her heart out. Cry with her, laugh with her, but just be there for her. Don’t let her go to doctors appointments alone and if you go with her take notes for her. Text her EVERY DAY. Love her harder than you ever have and louder than you ever have. And my one piece of practical advice – buy her a beautiful blanket. She will be in hospitals and waiting rooms and probably the emergency room at least once. Those places are freezing and being able to wrap up in something warm and bright and beautiful makes everything seem just a little less scary.
Resources from the PA Breast Cancer Coalition
I want to thank the PA Breast Cancer Coalition. Without them and the information they provided for me at the beginning of my diagnosis I would have felt so much more alone. Knowing that there was a source close to home that I could call and receive help and information from was so comforting!
Facing my Diagnosis with Small Children
Facing breast cancer with two small children was really, really hard. It is hard to explain to a 2-year-old why mommy can’t get out of bed. It is even harder to hear them say they “want chemo” because they want to “be like mommy.” It is hard to watch them cry because of your port scar. It is hard and painful and gut-wrenching to have to wean your 3-month-old in a week. I agonized over their development and well being every day. But having them there on the bad days, taking their naps in bed with me, having picnics in my recliner, watching movies together, walking and going to the park on my good days, it made me fight harder than I ever thought possible. I am so blessed that I have my two little men. I wouldn’t change one thing. Coming out the other side and knowing that I have the rest of my life with them and my husband is my greatest blessing and the joy of my heart. I am living life every day knowing the gift I have been given and I refuse to waste my second chance!