I was built to be competitive. It didn’t matter what it was I was going to win, and I was going to give it my all. Here is my story of where I am going to win yet again. I am Nikki, I was diagnosed with stage 3A breast cancer November 9th, 2018.
My journey begins on a day where I was so naïve to my body, or was I? My husband and I had taken our two boys to the beach for fall break. I love the beach, I could sit at the ocean all day long with my feet lingering in the water. We came in for the day and we were all showering. When I got out, I was getting ready just like any other day. As I went to put deodorant on, I noticed when I raised my left arm that my breast looked odd. I raised my right arm up, nope nothing – that one looked normal. So, as I continued to play the game of up down up down, I pulled back the curtain asked my husband to look. He shook it off as not a huge deal. Looking back now he knew something was not right. That day I will never forget October 2nd, 2018. So, what do I do next – Yep Dr. Google, I went? I looked up signs of breast cancer right away. Nothing looked like this so that was somewhat comforting to know and see. The next morning, I called my OBGYN asked for the next available appointment, 2 days later I was being seen and being told “I really think you are ok. I think this is Fibrocystic disease.” Many women have this as they get older and closer to 40.” I was thankful that my OB took the next step, he ordered a mammogram and ultrasound to rule anything out. The scary part of all this was there was nothing to be felt, seen and nothing hurt! I later found out that most cancerous tumors do not hurt. 2 weeks later was the mammogram, nothing was showing up that was profound so ultrasound time it was. You know it’s a bad sign when all the other ladies go in for their mammogram and come right back out. The radiologist who was giving the ultrasound couldn’t see anything profound yet again, but there was a dark shadow. I could tell by her mannerisms something was wrong she just was not at liberty to say. She suggested I see a breast surgeon who specialized in this type of imagery. So, another 2 weeks go by and more waiting.
November 5th, 2018 was the appointment with the Breast Surgeon, who by the way ended up being one of the coolest doctors I have ever had. As she comes in to examine me and I was playing the up down game again with her, she too said, “I really think this looks like fibrocystic” and she wasn’t concerned. I asked her “have you seen this before and what can I do to make the breast look normal again”. Imagine an orange with a huge dimple in it on one side. Only the other side of the orange completely nice and pretty. That is what my left breast looked like, ONLY WHEN I RAISED MY ARM. We talked more and more, and she suggested we just watch it for 3 months or so and revisit after the 1st of the year. Something inside told me NO keep pressing. I frowned upon that when she told me, and she asked me “what do you want to do “and I said, “I want to know why I look odd and I would like to know now”. She said ok, I can do a biopsy. I asked how long that took to schedule she told me we will do right now. As she and the nurse left the room, I asked my sister will that hurt as she too has had a biopsy as well. She assured me that it would be fine and nothing too crazy. Well boy! Was she wrong! I was like a fish out of water on that table as they cut my breast open to collect the tissue to be sent off to pathologist.
So here goes another round of the waiting game.
As I was told weeks before “we will call you with the results.” You cannot even relax your mind over thinking do I or don’t I have cancer. That was a Monday afternoon, and that Friday November 9th, 2018 would change my life forever.
I got the call late Friday afternoon on my way home from work. When I answered I was shocked to hear the doctor’s voice, I was expecting the nurse. She proceeded to tell me that indeed that was a small spot of breast cancer. (Remember small). I asked her what the next step was, and she said meet with the plastic surgeon about surgery and they would get everything lined up for me. Before we hung up so told me she was sorry and that breast cancer survivors have a high survival rate and that I would be just fine. She also apologized for wanting to watch it and praised me for being my own advocate on pushing her to find out.
What do you do when you hear, you have cancer? A million things ran into my head as I continued to drive home. It was like I was numb to the news. I called my husband as I was on my way to pick my kids up from school. Of course, I was broken this wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was relatively healthy. He assured me we would do whatever needed to be done to get me through this and told me he loved me. We hung up so he could meet me at home. Upon arriving at home, I just fell into his arms and asked why me? We cannot ask why, I now know that but to be mad and sad were both understatements. I made the dreadful calls to my other family members and just thought wow I have cancer. I couldn’t even bring myself to say that aloud. I can remember telling my husband and my sister I am not ready to die. I was 36 years old I have so many things I wanted to do, to see and most of all I wasn’t ready to leave this Earth until I saw my boys grown. I was not ready to let my husband do this along. He needed me just as much as I needed him. But telling your kids, wow that was tough. At the time I had a 5- and 12-year sons. They didn’t grasp the magnitude this was about to take place. Our world was about to be rocked. I remember my oldest crying not really understanding what cancer was, how was this going to affect him. My little one just cried because everyone else was crying, he had no idea what was going on. But I was very open with them both whether they knew what was going on or not they were going to know what was going on every step of the way and could ask me anything they wanted to.
A double mastectomy was recommended right away with reconstructive surgery per the plastic surgeon and breast surgeon. They both thought it was best to do both breast at same time and have peace of mind that this would not travel elsewhere with removing both. I was not told that chemo or radiation was needed, it was surgery and you should be good to go. It was a small spot of cancer remember? I met my Oncologist for the first time 2 days before my big surgery, she suggested that I try this trial for 5-6 months to see if the tumor shrinks. I asked if the same outcome would happen as far as taking both breasts and the answer was, “yes.” I opted out of that trial and straight to surgery for me. I was already mentally prepared to have two body parts removed from my body, I did not want to back track.
December 13th, 2018, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Surgery went well and that “small” spot of cancer was a tad over 5 centimeters, as big as a Kiwi. I had 14 lymph nodes removed and 10 of them were diseased. I came out with 4 JP drains that were attached to my sides. 2 on each side. Sleeping was a pain and walking made you drain blood more so staying laid up was the best for the drains. The goal was to get those suckers out. I was able to get them out in less than 4 weeks. Needless to say, the next real shower was amazing, no more drains and no more sponge baths!
Then the fun started January 29th was my 1st chemo treatment. I would end up having 6 treatments that would last over 18 weeks. It was quite aggressive and that 1st treatment not sure I have ever been so sick. But I managed to make it through all the treatments and continue to work and I never missed my kids’ activities. I told my husband the boys’ lives must remain normal. I didn’t want their lives turned upside down anymore than what they were about to see. 2 weeks after my 1st chemo treatment my hair was gone. My hair follicles hurt so bad, as it started to come out by the handfuls. I was done with it, I wanted my head shaved so bad.
I was blessed enough to have my dad buy me the best wig possible for all to carry on like I was still me. Looking back now that saved my sanity more than anyone will ever know. It didn’t affect my appearance for my boys, they knew my hair was gone but to physically see that they never did. I was still just mom to them. April 23rd, 2019 was the last chemo treatment for me. As the treatments continued the more and more tired, I was. Going and doing normal things were tougher for me. My husband made sure that I would get out and go places, it was so easy to just want to lay around my body was beat down. I was sore and nothing tasted good so why go out to eat when you can’t taste it. As chemo ended, I was ready to continue to the next step. Although my doctors gave me a break, I was ready for radiation. I wanted to continue and not miss a beat. Radiation would be 25 treatments every single day for 5 weeks. Treatments consisted of the breathing technique, hold your breath so radiation could penetrate right to the cancerous area and not affect your lungs or heart. Some days were great some harder. The more treatment I received the more tired I would get. By the end of the 5 weeks I was subconscious laying on that table trying to stay awake. I swore by CeraVe lotion and used the medicated cream as directed and didn’t burn too bad. The team there was awesome and blessed yet again to have them caring for me. June 27th, 2019 was the last radiation. It was bittersweet for me. I knew I needed that treatment but was so ready to have that time every day back. They gave me a certificate of completion and a small guardian angel pin and I just sat in my car and cried knowing that I was done. I was so proud of myself for getting through chemo and radiation and knew that I was going to win once again!
July 27th,2019 we celebrated with a huge party for Tata to Cancer! I was finished with all my treatments and now I get to let my hair down and be surrounded by the people who supported me and helped make this journey as easy as possible. I was showered with warm hugs of you did it and we are so proud of you. Little did every one of those people know they had a piece in it all just as much as the next to make me feel beautiful and loved.
Fast forward to August 27th, 2019 I had my tubes and ovaries removed as my cancer was hormonal so that was going go be the next step to make sure this nasty disease doesn’t cause issues elsewhere. I am not even a year out and I have had 4 surgeries and one to go. The last one is the good one though, I am gaining something back from cancer. It may have taken my God given breasts, but God will put me in the hands of the best plastic surgeon to give me something back and make me feel like a woman again. To be honest I cannot even hardly remember what I looked like without my breasts. I would remove them 10 out 10 times if that mean one more day on this earth with the people that I love.
I have remained as positive as I possibly can. I have had the best supporters surrounding me and people that don’t even know me pray for me. The power of prayer is real and felt so many days when I was falling into those ugly thoughts and rabbit hole of dark moments. Until you are afflicted with cancer you will never understand what it does to your mind, body and soul. I treat everyday now as if it’s the last. I make sure to pray for people when they might need it, I make sure that I laugh a little harder and cry often, and I always make sure the people I love, know that I love them and mean it. Going through the motions for me is never an answer. I am forever grateful to all my doctors who helped me get through this and still care for me today. They all had their hand on helping me win.
I was blessed to have people come clean my home, take care of my kids, cook us dinner. The calls, the text messages, the emails and cards all carried a piece of my healing and helped keep my spirits up.
My family, each and every one of them have remained constant in supporting me every step of the way. They made this journey easier and as fun as possible. We have laughed more than we have cried, and we have held each other just a little tighterbecause none of us are promised tomorrow.
My husband, Justin, has been my biggest rock. There hasn’t been a day go by that he has not told me how beautiful I am, with hair with no hair, with my breast or just with these expanders I have today. I have always felt special to him. To him I am no different I am just the girl he married 16 years ago. Through the good times and the bad we have continued to laugh and cry along the way and never lose sight of the end goal, WIN!
My boys have been a huge bright source for me healing. They’ve continued to make me laugh and keep things in perspective. Battling through the good and bad times I hope they know how special they are to me more and more each day and I hope that they know we get up each day to win and giving up is never an option.
I am now a part of a sorority that no one wants to be in but of once you are chosen the support and friendships will last a lifetime. I want to be able to be ray of hope to the next woman in need. When she finds herself in my shoes, I hope she knows she is not alone. If you take anything from my story it would be don’t be naïve to your body, listen to it. Press the doctors for more answers.
If I had not pressed, my outcome might have been a lot different,but I am here, and I did win, and I will continue to win the rest of my life.