Fast forward 6 years, in July 2017 while on vacation in Florida I kept feeling a small tender spot under my right armpit. It mostly felt like a small bruise that was persistent. I would feel around, look in the mirror for a bruise and saw nothing. The more I felt around, I felt a small lump in the arm pit, similar to the size of a marble. Immediately when we got back from Florida I made an appointment with my OB/GYN. I saw the nurse practitioner and she didn’t seem concerned in the appointment. Before she even felt of the lump she told me she was going to refer me to the Comprehensive Breast Center for further testing because if I felt a lump chances are she will feel a lump and you just cant be sure what it is. I wasn’t able to get an appointment for several weeks and during these several weeks I almost cancelled this appointment numerous times due to lack of time, thinking it was a waste of a $40 copay and I was sure it was nothing JUST like the last time 6 years ago (what if I had?!?!– y’all that’s GOD).
On August 10th 2017 I had an ultrasound of the lump I was feeling and of the entire right breast. Neelie (my 5 year old) came with me to this appointment, it was our “Last day together before Big Girl School.” She was absolutely precious in the appointment. I was laying on the table and she was in the chair beside me holding my hand so tight just like she was a concerned parent. She whispered in my ear so the tech couldn’t hear with the biggest grin on her face “it seems like I’m the mom.” After the ultrasound I met with Dr. White a surgeon with the Murfreesboro Medical Clinic’s Comprehensive Breast Center. Dr. White came in as sweet and kind as she is and felt the lump I had felt but focused more on the lump in that right breast that had already been biopsied 6 years earlier. She didn’t say much but had the intern come and feel the lump too. She started asking several questions of when I had it biopsied and how much it had grown in that time etc. She stated that we would for sure biopsy that lump again and the other lump which she stated proved to be a lymph-node. She stated that either way due to the sheer size of the mass in my right breast we would remove it surgically. I of course was concerned with removing the lump and if I would be left with half a breast. That’s when she started talking about getting plastic surgery involved for reconstruction. So then my mind as innocent and naïve as I was in that moment was focused on getting the “new boobs” I always wanted. But I couldn’t help but pick up on Dr. White’s concern and urgency. She then took Neelie and myself to the scheduling office and told them to get me scheduled for a biopsy ASAP and to move her schedule around if needed. Those words when I heard them from a Dr. “Move my schedule around if needed…” At that point I started to feel the seriousness of the situation.
On August 24th 2017 I had the biopsy of the lump and the lymph-node. Dr. White performed this procedure and it was a core needle biopsy and an F/A (no-clue what it is). Essentially they stuck needles into the lymph-node to retrieve tissue, and then did a core needle in the lump that sounded like a vacuum or a drill. My mom went with me on this appointment. She was nervous and says she almost passed out watching- I just kept my eyes shut! It was semi painful but not as bad as the first biopsy 6 years ago. After the tissue retrieval was finished I asked Dr. White to be honest in what she thought the lump may be or why the lymph-node was enlarged. Again in her calming, sweet voice she said that I was puzzling because I had the benign biopsy 6 years ago yet this lump had nearly tripled in size and now I have an enlarged lymph-node. I then asked her what is the youngest she has ever diagnosed breast cancer at and she said 26 (WHAT?!?). She stated that she was also puzzled because I was only 30 and presenting with a mass this large. Dr. White stated that the results typically take 2-3 business days and that I would probably hear something early the following week.
On August 25th 2017 I got the call from Dr. White unexpectedly at about 4:25pm on this day. I was just sitting at my desk chatting with some co-workers when I got the call. Dr. White said CANCER. My name and cancer were in the same sentence. She stated that she had not yet gotten the lump tissue back but the lymph-node results showed cancerous cells. In this moment I was in shock, started to cry but honestly didn’t know how to feel. It all seemed like a dream. I tried calling my husband Jeff a million times it seemed but of course his phone was on silent this one particular day since he was trying to sleep (he worked night shift). All I can recall at this point were my legs shaking while I was trying to press on the gas pedal and get home to tell Jeff. I ran in, he met me at the door just now awake and all I could say was “its cancer.” I remember seeing his legs buckle beneath him and him just getting angry and crying. This day is blurry, but it seems like it was the longest day.
In September of 2017 I started chemo almost immediately with Dr. Means at TN Oncology in Franklin. I did 12 rounds EVERY week for 12 weeks of Cisplatin and Taxol. Chemo was ROUGH but having the support from girls my age going through this same terrible disease got me through. My #1 piece of advice for chemo- use the port numbing cream on your stomach prior to the nausea shot! Haha no really… you’ll thank me later. I finished up chemo in November of 2017 and had a bilateral mastectomy on 12/28/18. I am very happy to say that the nearly 5.5 cm tumor I had growing shrank to non existent at the time of surgery! I had immediate reconstruction with Dr. Tarola. He allowed me to try one of the newer products for expansion which were the AeroForm Tissue Expanders. Link for more info here—(https://www.medgadget.com/2018/04/aeroform-tissue-expander-for-breast-reconstruction-interview-with-scott-dodson-ceo.html) These things are GENIUS! So instead of having to go in his office every week to have the expanders filled, I had my very own remote that I placed over each breast 3x per day. The benefits in my opinion were a more gradual expansion where I increased 10 ml 3x every day for 2 weeks, as well as not having to go into the office and being stuck with a needle! Once fully expanded it was time for radiation! I had 28(ish) rounds of radiation EVERY SINGLE DAY! This part of the journey was very difficult for me. There would be days I would cry in the parking lot debating on whether to call it quits with radiation because what if it was doing more harm than good? I had followed and read way to many holistic cancer blog posts that I was scared to death of any further treatment. Even though, I pushed through and my sweet Dr. let me cry on his shoulder any time I needed to and we kept moving right along. I didn’t have many issues with radiation and didn’t burn like some women do. The worst side effects I had were fatigue (holy cow was I tired) and my skin was temporarily very dark on the radiated side. After finishing radiation I waited 6 weeks and was in the OR for expander to implant exchange, fat grafting, port removal, and partial hysterectomy on May 10th 2018! This was by far the easiest part of the whole process! I was so eager and excited to get my “squishy boobies” as my daughter so kindly let her whole school know. Shortly after the reconstruction I was left in panic and anxiety as so many survivors face when an entire year long worth of treatment has just stopped. I felt like I was left just to “wait and see” if it comes back. A couple months later I was having a lot of breast pain and ended up having an additional PET scan where at the very bottom of my skull there was a mass seen on the scan. I had multiple brain MRIs and saw a Vandy neuro oncologist who couldn’t be sure that the cancer had not metastasized to the brain without surgery. I faced a lot of mental battles during this time and turned to research. I found some Japanese studies that had been testing triple negative patients with the oral chemo Xeloda after regular chemo therapy to improve odds of not having a reoccurrence. There were mixed reviews and data however my Dr was willing to allow me to try. I got through 2 rounds of that oral chemo and the side effects were so terrible it put me in the hospital for nearly a week! So needless to say I didn’t continue that trial. Fast forward and I had several repeat MRIs of the brain every three months and the mass never grew or changed in any way so they believe it is just a benign hemangioma! So.. here I am now just a 32 year old, social worker, wife and mom of 2, trying to figure out how to live a normal life after nearly 2 years of mental and physical rollercoasters. Because of cancer I now have diagnosed anxiety and PTSD and navigating that can be challenging at times, but I stay grounded in my faith and my family. My most important piece of advice for anyone going through this is to pray like you never have before and find those going through similar battles and cling to one another. There were days I would be on the bathroom floor crying and couldn’t go any further when all I had to do was reach out to my “breasties” who would pick me up and keep me going. There were countless people who rallied along side me praying day in and out, bringing food, caring for my babies, paying medical bills, and I truly believe it gave me the strength I needed to get up and fight each day. I’m by nature a private person, but God helped me to open up and be vulnerable in this journey and it was the best decision I could have made.