In May 2013, I had my mammogram. The radiologist noted something suspicious and wanted to investigate further with a biopsy. That was followed with a stereotactic biopsy, then an MRI. I was home alone when my doctor called me and confirmed that I had stage II breast cancer.
I was stunned, but surprisingly calm. I thought about my situation as "garbage in, garbage out" and immediately researched everything about breast cancer and treatment options, including worst case scenario. I met with my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon and was assertive in my request to have my mastectomy done as soon as possible. Again, "garbage in, garbage out!"
A month later, I had a single mastectomy with a diep flap reconstruction of my left breast, an eight-hour procedure. I was in a lot of pain and my body looked "grotesque," but I felt happy because I was free of the cancer. After a week in the hospital, I was sent home, only to return to the hospital the following day due to a staph infection. That kept me in the hospital for another week.
I remember clearly the intense pain, nausea and complete discomfort, especially when the veins in my right arm were pummeled from the constant prodding for blood draws and IVs. They couldn't use the veins from my left arm at all, because my lymph nodes had been removed with the mastectomy of my left breast.
My cancer treatment was Tamoxifen, no chemo or radiation — YAY! And despite my weakened condition, my spirit and my faith were strong. I engaged everyone I could in conversation, creating positive energy from our interaction. I truly believe that helped me recover nicely.
But in January of 2016, as my gynecologist performed the usual manual exam after my pap smear, he felt a tumor. After some tests, he informed me that I had stage II ovarian cancer.
Although I was stunned, I felt I could be objective and started asking him questions to find out facts, like treatment options, survival rate, etc. Again, I researched everything I could about the disease, including worst case scenario. I not only wanted to understand what I had, I also wanted to understand what I was going to have to go through to beat it! For me, knowledge helps me better cope and heal.
I had a radical hysterectomy in March, which I had an extremely tough time fighting, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy. When my hair fell off from the chemo, I had a fun head-shaving party with my loving family and friends. I told them that I didn't want any sadness. I didn't want cancer to take away our joy or peace or anything positive. I wanted us to create positive energy for positive memories that will make us smile, not cry. So, we had a blast. To this day, I laugh when I watch the video of my head-shaving party.
After my third chemo infusion, my CA-125, a biomarker used to detect ovarian cancer, was still high (361.5). An enlarged lymph node and fluid were found in my right lung, another enlarged lymph node was detected in my right breast and I had unidentified tissue in my abdominal area. My doctors believed that my cancer had metastasized and ordered a PET scan.
My boyfriend and I were prepared for the worst and braced ourselves. When we met with my oncologist to discuss results of the PET scan, he quietly looked at me and slowly said, "I can't believe this... your PET scan was completely clear! No evidence of cancer at all!"
We were all ecstatic and hugged each other. For me, it was a true miracle, especially since my CA-125 drastically decreased from 361.5 to 69.0 during the time I had no chemo infusion! To complete my treatment, I still had to go through the last 3 remaining rounds of chemotherapy.
To date, I remain in remission and continuously grateful to my God, my ever-loving family and friends for all they've done for me in my time of need. I feel that I survived for a reason and am on a mission. I still suffer some treatment side effects, but that's just par for the course.
I have gathered 19 other cancer survivors (many of whom also suffered more than one cancer) and I'm working on putting our stories in a book, with practical tips on coping and living with cancer, titled "Been There, Done That: Practical Tips & Wisdom from Cancer Survivors for Cancer Patients."
I move forward with total gratitude, very motivated to share and reach out to whoever is suffering from cancer.