Hey, my name is Judy and I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer while on maternity leave with my third child. It was March 2019, and at the end of the day I always take my bra off and give my tatas a little massage. I found a small lump that felt like a Skittle. I had my husband feel it and he thought it was unusual as well. I was 9 months into my maternity leave so I figured maybe it was hormones balancing out but my mind was racing that night. I got in to my doctor’s office 2 days later and saw my friend who is a nurse, she felt it and had the doctor in the office that day feel it as well. I was expecting them to give me all the right words to diffuse my concern. I was hoping they would say that it felt totally normal but that we would do tests to be sure, or better yet, to stop my worrying. This was not the case. They had concerned faces, and I got the requisition for an ultrasound and biopsy. I move through these steps but the thoughts of “why me, why this, and why now” were toxic and overwhelming. That and a two month wait for results were perhaps the hardest of all the days with no direction, no diagnosis and no plan.
We had a road trip to Disney World with our entire family planned during that month. It kept me busy but my mind was still very much consumed with wonder. While on vacation I was very much living in a “what if?” state of mind. It was somewhat of a blessing because it forced me to go on rides at Disney I would have never gone on with my oldest. My mind frame each day was “what if this is my last time here, or last time on a family vacation…I’m going on the ride, I’m buying any souvenir my kids want, or I want!” It was good in a way because we did everything and we went all out! It will certainly be a trip we will never forget. But hard because so much of the risk taking and moment loving came from a place of worry and fear. It had a sobering way of making me seize the moments and ferociously love my family.
My doctor called while we were on vacation (about 2 weeks after the biopsy). She said the results needed a second opinion. I had a complete meltdown, it lasted about an hour. I called a friend from home who works in the medical field and she shed some light on why it might need a second opinion and she totally settled me down. About a week after we got home my doctor called me into her office. That’s the first time that has ever happened and I knew it couldn’t be good. When I arrived the nurse (my friend) came out and asked if my husband was coming in, it was like a rush of adrenaline hit me, I knew why she was asking if he’d be there….he wasn’t, he was returning later because he was out of town for work. A few minutes later they called me into the office. I could tell they had been crying, both my doctor and nurse are friends. “You have invasive ductal carcinoma” is what she said. The word “invasive” seemed so scary to me at the time. I had a million questions flood my mind and knew they couldn’t be answered then but I started babbling them off anyway. “Am I going to die? How will I tell my oldest daughter? I don’t want to see my parents cry…what’s going to happen? What does this mean?” Then I cried. Then I drove home and my parents were there waiting for me. I went for a drive with my mom, it was like a pep talk. “We got this, we will do whatever it takes, it’s ok”. When we got back home my husband was there he gave me a hug and I could tell he’d been crying. Then I felt like the adrenaline had left my body and I could finally breathe. But then I wanted to search the internet “invasive ductal carcinoma” but I did my best to leave that to my husband. At this stage the words felt foreign, the diagnosis didn’t seem real and the next steps felt like someone else’s path and not my own.
I updated my friends and family with my news. Each time I said it out loud it became a little more real. And then in a moment of vulnerability to this new reality, I started sharing my story on my Instagram account and the support was overwhelming. It was so helpful. It kept me focused. If I was feeling down or sad I’d open my messages and I would read encouraging words from family, friends and even old friends I’d lost touch with. It was incredible. It was a big and hard step as a normally quite private person but I quickly realized what an important role sharing your story is when it comes to the acceptance, battle and healing from this disease. Then my best friend who lives in Nashville shared the Tata to Cancer site with me. I felt like I connected with so many of the women on the blog. It was the best thing for me to read. No more searching the internet and reading horror stories, I read about these brave women and their journeys. I started following many of them online and it encouraged me to do the same and share my story.
My husband and I told our oldest daughter I had breast cancer together. We said “I have a small lump in one of my breast (pointed to it), it’s cancer. I’m going to get medicine that may make me sick, and then I will have surgery to cut the cancer out. But because I take care of my body the rest of me is still very healthy and I am going to fight this.” She said “you are so strong Mommy, you will fight this and win, I will help you”. She gave me the best hug and I cried and she told me “it will be ok”. I have never felt so ready to fight in my life. In that single moment, I saw my 7 year old girl as a young woman, a supportive, brave, empathetic young woman and I was both sad for what we were about to go through as a family but so proud that she was mine.
An appointment with my surgeon was scheduled for 3 weeks later. 3 MORE WEEKS of waiting. The waiting was incredibly hard. I could no longer hold back from searching online. It was the worst thing for me. I would read awful stories and negative comments…it felt never ending. When I would stop I would be crying and my husband had to talk me through everything we knew about MY situation, not everyone else’s situation online. It was hard.
I met my surgeon and I ended up needing another biopsy which delayed the process a bit longer. But after that and a few more mammograms I was so over people telling me what was going to happen to my body I went and got my hair cut short. This was very empowering. I finally felt in control. Then a couple weeks later I went even shorter. I was finding it comforting taking control and playing with new styles. My hairdresser was amazing, she and her husband and brand new baby welcomed me into their home at any time just to help me through that difficult stage. It was so good for me. My surgeon told me I’d lose my hair, there was no doubt it would fall out, so I wasn’t worried about doing it too soon.
I had my first round of chemo 3.5 months after finding my lump. As nervous as I was I was ready, I wanted to start this fight and move on. I had chemo on a Monday afternoon and by that evening I was incredibly nauseous and exhausted. This lasted for 3 days. Then from day 4-5 I was able to leave the house for an hour and come home and have a two hour nap. By day 6 I was feeling like myself again. I was so happy to eat solid food and feel like myself. I knew if this is what it was like I could handle it. I could do 6 days of feeling like crap and 15 days of myself for a few months.
I had docetaxel for my 4th and 5th round (#6 to come this month). At first I thought this is great, I was sore but it was manageable. But it lingered for days. I was sore, achy, had nose bleeds, headaches, bruising, pain in my fingers and joints and I couldn’t taste anything. I wasn’t myself after this and that made things hard for me. But I only have 1 round left and then surgery and radiation. I’m over the half way point of chemo, knowing that helps.
My family, friends and community have been my inspiration. They have been incredibly supportive. My family has received cards, food, gift cards, money, babysitting, visits, gift baskets and more. This journey has brought us closer to our family, friends and community. I have my down days and during those times I read through the cards and emails people have sent and it brings me back up. My husband has been AMAZING. He’s always one step ahead of me, lifting me up, bringing me a treat or picking up the kids early and taking them out when he knows I’m just too tired. He makes staying positive easier. The kids make it easier. Reading about other women and their journeys make it easier. I hope that sharing my story can help at least one person or a family member get through a tough moment. xo