Tracy’s Story

Hi! I’m Tracy, and here is my story.

Tracy selfie

In May of 2017, I went to the doctor for a yearly mammogram. I have gotten a yearly mammogram since I was 30 due to my paternal grandmother having had breast cancer. At that appointment they decided I would need a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound. Within 2 hours of this appointment, I was sitting in my doctor’s office and he was telling me that I would need a biopsy.

That was on a Wednesday. On Friday I had the biopsy. The doctor called me the following Monday to say it was indeed cancer. He called me while I was at work, with no family around.

After getting this news, my daughter and I went to see him.  He thought having a lumpectomy would get it all, and that a mastectomy would be a bit too extreme. So a week & half later (June 2017) I had the lumpectomy and my lymph nodes were tested.  He confirmed that it had not spread. I was ER/PR+ HER2- Stage 1B Ductal carcinoma in situ.

My doctor sent me to an oncologist who wanted to perform 33 radiation treatments and 4 chemo treatments without testing the cancer. I was not comfortable with this opinion, so I requested a second opinion and the doctor refused my request. I decided to send my information to a doctor in Franklin TN, who is also a breast cancer survivor. After reviewing my information, she scheduled me for a MRI, ultrasound, and a biopsy.

They found another cancer spot 1″ from where they performed the lumpectomy. She said the golden rule is, when there are 2 spots in the same breast, a mastectomy is recommended. I told her that if we’re doing it to one side, then we are going to do both sides.  I scheduled my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction so I would have 4-6 wks recovery because I had a granddaughter coming. In September 2017 I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. 4 weeks after my surgery,  my granddaughter was born. She has given me even more reason to fight.

On December 2017, I had the surgery to have my expanders replaced with implants. I went from a DDD to a C.

Throughout this journey my family was very supportive. I had just started dating a guy 3 months before I was diagnosed with cancer.  He stayed with me and took care of me and my daughter for 6 weeks while I recovered. I went to a new oncologist who did an Onco Type testing in the cancer and it came back a 5 meaning I did NOT need chemo. I am now taking Tamoxifen (which is a hormone blocker) for 5 years.

Tracy family

 

 

Jocelyn’s Story

It was Monday May 14th 2018.  I had been thinking I was pregnant for about a week.  I finally took the at home test (okay more like seven of them!) and they were all positive!  I immediately called the doctor’s office and I got an appointment for the next morning at 9 am with my good friends OB.  That in itself felt like a miracle!  Now knowing that I was pregnant I thought for sure that the lump that I had been feeling on my right breast HAD to be from pregnancy.  That night, two days before our three-year wedding anniversary I told my husband we were pregnant.  We were both super excited and nervous.  He continued to say “I knew it” “I just knew it!”  The next morning, we went in to confirm the pregnancy and got to see our little babe on ultra sound.  They said I was about six weeks along!  *Side note* my cancer timeline goes by my pregnancy weeks and how far along I was at the time!  The weeks and trimesters are very important when it comes to cancer treatment and surgeries during pregnancy. Towards the end of my appointment Dr. Kyzer (my OBGYN) had asked if I had any other questions.  I told her about my lump.  She felt it and said that it felt like a fibroadenoma but wanted to send me to a breast specialist to be sure.  Now looking back and also seeing so many other moms’ stories of their lumps being brushed off as nothing…I am so thankful to her for sending me to Dr Whitworth.

A week later at about 7 weeks pregnant I had my appointment with Dr Pat Whitworth.  I was only nervous because he was a male and I always had a female doctor.  I even told my husband not to come with me because they would just look at it and tell me it’s a clogged milk duct or something.  After looking at it on ultra sound he said he wanted to do a biopsy right then and there, and that’s when I felt like I knew it was cancer.  I called my husband and he rushed to be by my side while they did the biopsy of my tumor and a lymph node.  If you know me, you know I am terrified of needles.  I was very nervous about the biopsy.  Dr Whitworth said oh don’t worry we numb you up and it just sounds like the sound that the ear pierce gun makes.  I look at him terrified and said “I’ve never had my ears pierced!!”  That was the joke we made throughout the whole journey.

At 8 weeks pregnant we went in and got the news.  You have cancer.  I didn’t cry.  I just sat there and stared at them and my husband.  I felt I had already prepared myself from the biopsy.  My husband is a warrior.  He was my patient advocate, best friend, and personal assistant starting right then.  We had not even told family or friends that I was pregnant yet.  My husband Ted took on the task of calling all our family and friends and letting them know we were pregnant but that I was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

I sat around for a couple weeks with our dog by my side Pic2feeling very tired from the pregnancy.  I binge watched Impractical Jokers (I highly recommend!) and laughed a lot.  Ted was always out on the phone calling doctors and friends to get opinions of doctors and who was the best.  Sure enough we ended up with the BEST team of doctors who had a solid plan.

We found out that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, triple negative, stage 2 with lymph nodes clear.  Most dread the thought of triple negative but for treatment with me they felt best about that type as any hormone therapy while pregnant would be difficult.  At 10 weeks pregnant on June 5th I had a lumpectomy and one lymph node removed.  If I was not pregnant they would have done the double mastectomy but since I was pregnant I could not be under anesthesia for that long.  June 5th is technically my cancer free day but we decided to attack from every angle in case there were any stray cells.  July 2nd I had my port placed.  It may sound silly but that was the worst part for me.  Being pregnant I could not have any anesthesia only local numbing.  I felt most of it, plus could not take any pain meds after.  On July 5th 2018 at 14 weeks pregnant and the start of the second trimester I started chemo treatment.  After the first trimester the chemo is too big to cross the placenta so it is safe for the baby.  If you are pregnant and fighting cancer I urge you to reach out to me and/or an organization called “Hope for Two”.

Pic3I did A/C first.  Every three weeks instead of every two because my oncologist did not feel good about giving me the nuelasta shot (which brings up your white blood cells) while pregnant.  My counts surprisingly all stayed very high during treatment until after I delivered, which just proves that Charlotte had my back and was fighting too!  I am an artist so I brought some things to paint to help the time pass.  I recommend bringing books, crosswords, painting supplies or whatever you enjoy doing. Thankfully I had very little side effects until the fourth and last A/C where I just got extremely tired.  I did start to lose my hair after the second treatment.  It was very itchy and hurt so I had my husband shave it.  We got an amazing wig from HPI hair partners here in Nashville, TN and no one could tell It was a wig! People would always say how much they loved my haircut!   We made it a funny experience since he is bald also, and it brought us that much closer together.

I then started Taxol.  Taxol can cause neuropathy so my oncologist Dr. Vandana Pic4Abramson suggested icing my fingers and toes.  It is not fun.  I REPEAT NOT FUN, but it is worth it because I have no neuropathy!  I suggest wearing two pairs of latex gloves and two of the super fancy puke bags on your feet!  I iced them for 1.5 hours every Tuesday for 9 Tuesdays.  I am thankful for Vanderbilt 100 Oaks private infusion rooms so I could curse the ice without anyone knowing other than my husband and Jerry Seinfeld.

At 32 weeks pregnant we did the Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk here in Nashville TN benefiting The American Cancer Society.  I could not walk the whole thing but it made me feel so empowered!  Until then I had not really put myself out there as fighting cancer.  I wanted my journey to be all about my pregnancy.  It was not until then that I decided it would be about both and I was okay with it!  Being with other women, men and their co-survivors who have gone through it was so helpful.

Then, on November 21st 2018 my high risk OBGYN told us that Charlotte aka Charlie had stopped growing as she should and that I needed to deliver via C section on Friday November 23rd.  It was the day before thanksgiving so I was admitted to the hospital so that I could receive a shot to help her lungs develop.  On Friday Charlotte Rae Limmer was born at 8:15 am weighing 2lbs 9oz and a little over 15 inches long.  She did not come early and small because of the chemo treatment, this was due to the umbilical cord being attached to the placenta on the side instead of the middle.  That day was also Apple Cup which is the biggest rival game of college football season.  We joked that mommy was talking so much about it that she just had to come and cheer them on herself!Pic8

Of course we won the game!   She was and is the strongest girl I know.  She is so brave and helped her mommy kick cancers butt.   Charlie spent three weeks in the NICU at St. Thomas Midtown.  It was hard leaving at the end of the day but I knew she was in the best hands.

I don’t think I could have done it without her.  After she was born I decided to finish my last three taxol treatments to push out the time I could have at home with her before Pic5surgery.  Charlotte came home on December 18th and got to spend Christmas with us!  It also meant that she got to come and celebrate with us at our last chemo treatment.  There was no better feeling knowing that she got to be there by my side as I rang the bell, after all she fought too!

I then had 5 weeks to either start radiation or have a double mastectomy.  For me there was no question.  I wanted to have the surgery.  I would always worry about it if I didn’t.

February 4th 2019 I had my double mastectomy.  I don’t remember much until getting home the next day from the hospital.  My family came in to help and recovery went quickly with not too much pain.  Getting comfortable in bed was the worst part.  I would recommend an over the bed table as I found it very helpful!  The drains to me were uncomfortable and grossed me out but my husband did all the cleaning and emptied them for me!  It was devastating not being able to hold our baby girl but her being so small had its advantages.  After surgery I had a 10-pound weight limit which meant I could still hold her and about a week later I could lift her.  I had tissue expanders placed during surgery and went in for four fills.  The needle looks scary but the fills don’t hurt, they just are a little tender that night.  I had the final surgery on April 25th 2019 to replace the tissue expanders with the implants.  I thank my plastic surgeon Dr. Jacob Unger for making me feel and look normal again!  He was so great through the whole process.  He made me feel so comfortable and his bedside manner was so calming. I would HIGHLY recommend him if you are in the Nashville area.  It took about a year, but boy (or should I say girl) did it go by fast.  All of my breast tissue from surgery came back clear and Charlotte, Mommy and Daddy are doing great!

My biggest take away would be to STAY POSITIVE!  I found out that I had the best humans in my life and I promise you do too.  So many positive and helpful people right here in my community with family living so far away.  I am so thankful to my family who made many trips down to help after surgeries.  If you surround yourself with positive people it makes the journey go by easier and faster.

The second thing is to be your own advocate!  No matter what.  I was one of the lucky few that had so many advocates for me.  My husband and my doctors were all so great and made me feel comfortable and informed about every decision.  However, that is not always the case.  I hear time and time again women saying they get brushed off by doctors saying they are too young, or new moms where doctors say it’s just a clogged duct.  It makes me so sad to say but it does not matter how young you are, just get it checked!

Lastly ask questions, and take notes.  NO QUESTION IS STUPID! My husband would always walk in with a long list of questions and walk out with a sheet full of notes.  It is so helpful to have everything written down and in one place.

It’s a tough journey but you can do it! It won’t be easy but it’s worth it.  I love this quote and I am not sure who said it but I lived by it and I hope it brings hope to you!

“YOU WERE GIVEN THIS MOUNTAIN TO PROVE IT CAN BE CLIMBED”

*My husband and I also did a podcast with Jake Owen about our journey that I would love for you to listen to.  His podcast is called “Good Company” and its #20 “The journey of Jocelyn and Ted”

Through it all my faith and trust in God has gotten me through.  My church and all of the prayer warriors have brought me so much peace and hope.  Trusting Gods plan for me and my family and what he has in store for us!

Jocelyn Limmer

jocelynlimmerart.com

 

 

Asha’s Journey

I’m so excited for you guys to meet this beautiful lady. Her instagram page is one you definitely should go follow. Her words are so raw and beautiful.

Meet Asha!

“Everything looks fine”

That’s what 4 medical professionals told me before I was diagnosed with Stage 3, grade 3, ER and PR positive, HER2 negative breast cancer.

The 1 cm “bump” that I felt was so insignificant and tiny that people could barely feel what I was talking about, but I KNEW. Why? Because I learned to know my body and had started advocating for myself when it came to my health, and thank God I did.

I am married to the most incredible man who I call my Husbandman, and we’ve been married 14 years, this year, and parent 2 of the most insanely wonderful little humans.

This cancer battle has been hardest on them, especially our almost 10 year old son.

Our 5 year old daughter weaves in and out about talks on death and it bring tears to this mama’s eyes to see my babies battle through this as well and how their faith has grown.

People will tell you about how “brave and strong” you are on days where you’re barely holding on. That’s when I see God’s power! I also have learned that we are all so much stronger than we give ourselves credit! Thank your phenomenal body today!

The future seems a bit crazy since after chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, lots of radiation, and a ton of clean eating and detoxing, the cancer is still not all gone and continues to spread.

I’m exhausted & frustrated.

I’m blessed and so grateful.

How can I be all four of those?

Because life is a beautiful contradiction.

Because my life is God’s capable hands.

Because I am STILL here to live it,

and for that I am so insanely grateful!

Breathe it ALL in, warrior sisters & brothers!

We’re in this together!

Love you all💕

You can follow Asha’s story by going to her instagram.

Instagram name: dearcancer_itsme

Angela’s Story

Oh hey!  I am happily the other half of the team of Tata to Cancer with Laura and like the other women we share stories of, I am a young breast cancer Survivor.  Today I am going to share my experience with you, and like the others who have shared, I hope this helps other women who unfortunately may encounter something similar until we find a way to prevent this disease.

My story all started with an itch. Yes, literally, an itch. It was the first day in my new house in Nashville on November 1, 2017 and I woke up to an itch on my breast which led me to feel a large lump. When I took my shower that day I performed a self-exam, which I am so grateful to have learned in college, and it is then when I realized this was something I needed to get checked out as soon as possible.  That morning, at 34 years old, I called my doctor whom I had just seen less than 6 months earlier where I received a clear bill of health.  After a couple of days of trying to get an appt I found another OB/GYN who could get me in and then my process quickly progressed. IMG955219

In hindsight I know how lucky I am that the first nurse I saw took this seriously and I went from finding a lump on the 1st to my first appt on the 6th followed by 3 days of appts to where I had an ultrasound, mammogram, MRI and biopsy which all led to my diagnosis on November 13th, it was a total whirlwind.  When my doctor told me it was cancer I was in total disbelief, I really thought it was not possible.  My friend and I sat in shock while my doctor quickly moved into surgical options and scheduling blood work and additional x-rays which I would be getting a mere 30 min after I heard the news.  I found out quickly that this was no joke and in that moment my journey began.

The next few weeks progressed at the same rate – after my diagnosis I saw all of the specialists I needed within days; oncology surgeon, oncologist, plastic surgeon, and fertility specialist.  I had genetic testing which yielded a full negative panel and therefore no indication of why I would have breast cancer so young.  The first two weeks were an onslaught of information and decisions which at the time you know are serious, but how serious and what your decisions mean for the rest of your life you cannot even comprehend.

After reaching out to other breast cancer survivors (who gave me the best advice!), I decided to get a second opinion – which I believe is well worth it and highly recommended.  While it could be an added expense and it does take time, for me having a third party validation gave me the piece of mind I needed at a time when everything I was hearing was not only foreign, it was crazy talk…there was no way I was a healthy and active 34 year old with breast cancer.  My denial was put to bed with the confirmation of the exact same diagnosis from two full medical teams – I had triple positive (ER/PR/HER2 positive) breast cancer which required surgery, chemotherapy and years of follow-up care.

Once I started to accept the reality, I chose to enact my standard businesslike approach and get to planning.  My family, from Detroit, and friends banded around and all IMG_20180923_165936_345ensured I never had to go to an appointment alone no matter what resistance I gave.  I now totally recommend having a note-taker in every appointment through the process, we had a notebook which we could use to do our homework after the appointments since 90% of what was happening did not get absorbed on the first pass.  It wasn’t until months later when I reread all of my paperwork that I started to understand my diagnosis and all of the notes helped me greatly in sorting through the medical jargon.

Within days of my diagnosis I started fertility to get ahead of the chemotherapy.  (Side note: Fertility treatment is an important question to ask your doctor if you don’t yet have kids and was something I would have never thought about.)  The egg removal procedure would be followed closely by the tumor surgery. While I was given an option for the type and extent of surgery, a double mastectomy was the overwhelming recommendation.  There are a few types of mastectomies – skin/nipple sparing, skin sparing, or full removal.  How and what is removed is based on the stage/type of cancer and location.  In my case the location of the tumor required I had a skin sparing surgery which removed my nipples and all breast tissue.  On December 14th I had my surgery and with the removal of the tumor, clean margins and clear tests of my lymph nodes, I was then cancer free!  While that was the official case, I surely did not feel cancer free as I was preparing for chemotherapy to start in less than a month.

Like many cancer patients, I decided to keep working through my treatment.  My work has always been a huge part of who I am and I felt that if I took time off then the cancer would have won.  Luckily, I work for an amazing company and have a very supportive
Chemo_Round2 with Nurseleader as well as an incredible team who made the hardest days of my life possible. While my mom and friends and family showed up for my treatments and to sit with me on the hard days (the 2-4th days after the chemo), my work family kept me uplifted and feeling useful – albeit I wasn’t always able to do as much as I wanted.  My first chemo treatment was the second week of January, 24 hours after having my chest port placed.  I went through 6 rounds, 1 every 3 weeks, of the hard stuff which was then followed by 7 additional months of Herceptin to treat the Her2 positive diagnosis.  I lost my hair, which I shaved before it fell out, and decided to go bald for the majority of the time…wigs just were not for me. One of the things that got me through chemo, aside from work, was staying active.  I got a trainer to help me get my mobility back after the first surgery and then joined a fitness group.  Staying busy was hugely beneficial for my recovery.

_DSC3553Once I finished chemotherapy I was able to get the second reconstructive surgery.  This surgery, while hard to recover from due to the skin grafts of my new nipples, was a mental game changer – it helped me feel a bit more like myself.  I was hesitant to have the reconstructive nipples, where the doctor makes nipples out of skin from another part of your body, but after strong recommendations I opted in and am today beyond thankful.  While this isn’t for everyone, seeing myself look more similar to my “old self” helped me move forward and accept my new body.

Following chemo I continued Herceptin IV treatment and started on Tamoxifen in addition to Lupron (both of which I am still on today) to manage my hormones and prevent reoccurrence.  While I take these medications, I have found that making lifestyle changes has helped me the most with my recovery and I expect with my long term health.  Cancer has given me way more than it has taken from me and I am oddly grateful for the journey it has taken me on and the path it is forging for my future.  I am more aware of my body as a machine I need to take great care of than ever before.  My desire to learn more about how I give myself the best outcome and in turn help to spread awareness to others has become an everyday passion. Advocacy, fundraising and being a part of a community of survivors has given me an entirely new outlook and I am excited to see where this path will lead.1103180719

The last thought I want to share and leave you with is in regard to mental health.  For me the physical side of cancer, while unpleasant, was the easier part.  I don’t believe my recovery really began until after I was months out of chemo and fully healed from my last reconstructive surgery.  I was still getting treatment and had my chest port while my hair began to grow back and I started to feel normal, gaining my energy and living a normal routine, this is the point when I realized what had actually occurred over the last year.  Reflecting on what had occurred and how much my life was changed hit me harder than the actual diagnosis and has taken more time to process than I could have ever guessed.  If I can share one piece of advice it would be to take the time you need to reflect and feel all of the emotions cancer can bring on.  Love yourself through the good and the bad and when you don’t have energy, have the courage to let someone else’s love hold you up. 

IMG_20190420_175944_724Writing my story and sharing with friends and family was therapeutic in my process.  My full journey and more about life beyond cancer can be found on my blog at www.courageforgoodbetterbest.com or you can find my story on Instagram @sparty_ang.

I look forward to being a part of sharing more stories of survivors and thrivers as we all band together for support and a drive for a cure!  Tata to Cancer!

Toni’s Story

Toni is one of my Nashville Breasties! So excited for you guys to meet her!

I found my “lump” myself in 2016. It was small and about the size of a pea. I brought it to my Nurse Practitioner’s attention and she decided I should get a diagnostic mammogram. When I went for the test I was told I did not need a mammogram due to my age, so they opted for an ultrasound instead. I was told they were sure that my “lump” was nothing more than a fibroadenoma (benign tumor). I had these results sent to my ob/gyn who also confirmed there was nothing suspicious.

Fast forward to August 2017… I was at my next routine ob/gyn visit, and my doctor completed his breast exam and said everything looked fine. I questioned the lump again that now seemed like it was the size of a marble and pointed out that it was growing. Since I felt that it had grown he sent me for another ultrasound that confirmed it had doubled in size. The radiologist was still certain that it was just a fibroadenoma, but recommended a biopsy since it had indeed grown.

I was then sent to a surgeon to see about having a biopsy. At this point I was not alarmed at all! The surgeon gave me 3 options; I could do nothing and monitor it every 3 months, a needle biopsy, or remove it. I was at the surgeon’s office alone and of course asked him what the best option was. He told me that if I was his wife and had a painful lump that was “nothing” he would recommend removing it, so I was in agreement. To be honest, I wanted it gone as well. It was on my bra line and hurt so bad some days!

Surgery day came, Daniel, my husband, went with me and I had it removed. Again, I was not nervous. I was not scared. I thought they were going to remove it and all was going to be alright (the C word didn’t cross my mind, so naïve!). After surgery the surgeon told me to call and make a follow-up appointment within 2 weeks, I checked my work schedule and made the appointment closer to the 2 week mark due to convenience. His office called me later and asked if I could come in earlier, I was so annoyed with them, but went. Still I thought nothing about it! In hindsight, I think of how naive I was, but I think for my mental health I am happy that I was not worrying all of those days! I went to the appointment alone, again because I had nothing to worry about, right!?! (WRONG!) When he and his Nurse Practitioner came in and said those words, “I am sorry it came back cancer,” I was shocked. Total disbelief. How in the world at 30 years old did I have cancer!?! I cried. Not ugly cry (yet), but I sat there and just let the tears flow. The NP was AMAZING, she hugged me and I am pretty sure shed a tear for me as my life was instantly changed. She shared her personal phone number with me and said she wanted to be there for me if at all possible. They both told me they wanted to tell me so badly to bring someone with me, but knew I would be alarmed.

When I left the surgeon’s office I immediately called Daniel and told him that I have cancer. He cried with me, but he had the instant mindset of “we’ve got this” and he continued to use that phrase throughout all of my treatment. In that moment normalcy is all I wanted, he suggested we go eat and get ice cream to take my mind off of it. I just wanted to go to the gym and follow though my normal routine! Looking back, I realize how crazy that probably sounds. But I instantly knew I didn’t want cancer to take over my life. My mom goes to the same gym and she knew as soon as she saw me that something was wrong and I told her. From there, I text a few of my close friends, but I didn’t want people to know at first. I am not sure why, but once I had the final diagnosis and treatment plan I knew there would be no hiding it and decided to open up about it.

I got my final pathology back that my cancer was Her2+ ER/PR-. I was told that chemo was a must, due to my positive Her2 status, and that I would be doing 6 rounds of TCHP (Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta) followed by a total of a year of Herceptin infusions. I would also need a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy (I ultimately went with the double mastectomy). My MO then ordered a breast MRI to confirm the cancer was only in my left breast, the MRI showed a tiny lesion on my sternum and a couple slightly enlarged lymph nodes. I was sent to a breast surgeon who did a biopsy of my lymph nodes which confirmed I had one positive node. Due to the sternal lesion I then had a CT scan and bone scan to see if the sternal lesion was cancerous. The CT scan revealed yet another lesion on my iliac crest (hip), now requiring a PET scan. Praise the Lord, the sternal lesion and hip lesion didn’t light up! I remember when I got the call that those did not light up, I cried! Throughout all of this, in my naïve mind this whole time I was hoping that they removed the tumor and I was done. Again, how was I so stupid!?!

The thought of chemo shook me to the core. I did not want to LOOK sick; I know that sounds vain, but I truly didn’t want pity from others! I did not want the world to know I was sick. What did I do? Google how to save my hair, found out about cold caps and Daniel was on board with helping me do this if I truly wanted to. I talked to my MO about it at my next appointment and was told to “embrace being bald,” he said that cold caps are painful, expensive, and not guaranteed. His office gave me lots of info on wigs, but was not supportive of cold capping! I am stubborn; I talked to many different companies and decided to try it anyways and got my caps through Arctic Cold Caps. At my first treatment everyone laughed when I rolled in my Coleman cooler full of dry ice and caps. Everyone was so interested in the process! Cold capping was hard. My first treatment I had them on 10-11 hours (you start 45 min before, during, and 4 hours after). It was a lot of work for Daniel, he had to change the caps every 20 minutes and make sure the caps were maintaining the correct temperature. He never complained! I am sure I complained more than him about the discomfort! Overall, I would say I lost 25-30% of my hair, it thinned overall, but I didn’t have visible bald spots. Many people say that I never looked sick, but I look back at pictures and they are just being nice! LoL.

Chemo was HARD, but it was doable! I expected to have no life other than cancer while going through chemo, yet I was able to maintain some normalcy most days. I still worked full time, only taking off the day of treatment and was still able to go to the gym and do low impact workouts. I think the biggest surprise was a loss of friendships. One thing many people don’t consider when you’re diagnosed, especially at a young age, you may lose friendships. Your “friends” may not be able to relate to you anymore and become distant. I wholeheartedly don’t think it’s on purpose, but as I’ve talked to other survivors it seems to be a pattern. Although I’ve grown apart from friends, I have gained some friendships that I’m forever grateful for! One of my now closest friends is someone I’ve met in a Facebook group. She messaged me back in December 2017 stating that I looked happy and healthy and that I gave her HOPE. Just knowing I gave one person hope made me happy! She was newly diagnosed and I shared all the information I could about Cold Caps, chemo, etc. We formed the best friendship and last June I was able to travel to Georgia and meet her in real life! It was AMAZING!


If I could give anyone going through this journey tips, it would be to be your own advocate! I cannot express this enough. Nobody cares about your own health as much as you do and nobody knows your body as well as yourself! If I would not have been persistent that my “lump” was growing who knows how much longer it would’ve been before diagnosis! Also, stay away from Google! It is not your friend and will just terrify you even more! Take it day by day and don’t compare your cancer journey to anyone else’s!


I would like to give some advice for those going through chemo. Listen to your body, if you feel like you need to rest, do not over do it! Stay ahead of the nausea meds. Tell your oncologist about any symptoms you are having a difficult time with, they can’t help with relief if they don’t know what you are going through. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help with anything! Whether it be housework, helping with the kids, emotional support, anything!

Don’t be afraid to cry! Don’t hold your emotions in, express yourself. It is ok to have bad days! Find you a “breastie!” Someone going through the same treatment, it is so nice to have someone to relate to. Share stories with. Ask for advice.

Daniel from day one has always told me, “we’ve got this!” I think his positive attitude throughout this tragic time impacted mine and helped me stay strong during chemo, recovery from surgeries, and everything else!

You can follow Toni’s journey on instagram!

@tonir24

Jewel’s Story

So excited this beautiful lady is sharing her story with us. I love her attitude. And can we talk about her infectious smile? So beautiful!
Meet Jewel!
Health has always been my burden. I was born with Sickle Cell Anemia Disease, a genetic blood disorder that has kept me in and out of pain and hospitals my whole life.
In 2017 I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative Breast Cancer at the age of 30. I was completely shocked as I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family nor did I test positive for the BRCA1 gene.
I endured 8 rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and lymphadenectomy (removal of lymph nodes) and 6 weeks of radiation. At completion of treatment, in February 2018 I was declared to be in remission.
It wasn’t 7 months later did I spot a white mass growing under my armpit, at the site of my last surgery. I immediately knew that it was back and sure enough a PET scan confirmed that it was. The cancer had come back with a vengeance spreading to the lung, brain, liver and bone- this was Stage IV Cancer. This time it also manifested on the outside of my breast causing a large wound. I currently have no skin on my right breast.
So, I’m back in the fight! I receive chemotherapy 3 times per month and wound care once every 3 weeks. I know the Lord is healing me. 
One thing I have learned in this fight is that my burden makes room for my blessing. I knew that the Lords intent was to be glorified through my illness and that His people be loved, encouraged and blessed. My burdens is what launched Jewel’s Rhema, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources and encouragement to young breast cancer patients. We provide chemotherapy care packages to clinics for their patients. 
To all my Warriors in the fight: Keep the faith- you CAN beat this. You WILL beat this.”
-Jewel

You can follow Jewel’s story on Instagram.

IG: @jewelsrhema

Amy’s Story

Hello! My name is Amy Cox and I live in sunny California – Orange County to be exact. I am a wife to an amazing husband who was my primary caregiver through cancer and I am a mom to two amazing daughters who are ten and six. When I was 35-years-old, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. My cancer was ER+ Pr+ HER2-. Currently I am on Tamoxifen for hormone therapy, and I am waiting on a second opinion for other hormone therapies that may be available.

Today I am 37, thriving after cancer, and living my best life! Here is a snippet of my story:

The possibility of cancer was something I didn’t want to face. Being the granddaughter AND daughter of two very badass cancer survivors and thrivers, I knew it was a possibility. Never would I have guessed it would happen when I was in my 30’s. I had my second baby in 2012 and nursed her for about a year. Six times during that year, I developed mastitis (infection of the milk ducts). It was so painful! It was a little ball on the side of my right breast. I really didn’t put much thought to it then.
Fast forward a few years later. The mass was still there, and it was getting bigger. I was still in denial. Had this cancer been with me all this time? I found out later that there was no direct correlation between the cancer and the mastitis. It was explained to me that the two are not brother and sister, but maybe 2nd cousins. Maybe there will be more research about this subject in the future, but for now, it’s anyone’s guess.
A frightening fact is that four years ago (roughly two years before my diagnosis, and two years after my second baby was born), I posted an image on Instagram telling other women what to look for in their breasts during a self-exam. But I was too scared to even look at mine. What? That is a scary thought!

I finally decided to face my fears, after about four years of ignoring the growth, and go to the doctor. I didn’t tell my husband I was going until the day before my appointment. A mammogram confirmed an abnormal mass. A core biopsy confirmed it was cancer. It was a huge starburst-shaped mass, about five centimeters. I’ll never forget the look on the face of the technician who did the ultrasound before my biopsy. She was about my age, and she could tell that it was cancer. She told me later that during that ultrasound she had wanted to cry with my husband and me. In fact, after we left, she did cry. I was officially diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer on October 31, 2017. Happy Halloween!

We decided to tell our girls about the cancer that day, but we were determined to keep up with a normal life for them and took them trick or treating with our friends. Later that night, my husband and I did some (okay, a lot) of self -medicating! We decided not to tell anyone else until we knew exactly what we were dealing with. Our family and friends knew something was happening because we had so many doctor appointments, and they could also sense our overwhelming emotions. The hardest thing was having to tell my sister over FaceTime since she had recently moved to Arizona. She was always my sister/mom, so I really hated that I couldn’t tell her face-to-face.

I was initially told that I had triple negative breast cancer, so I really didn’t have a choice on treatments. Triple negative does not have any targeted treatments, and that’s freaking scary! I was told that I needed the strongest chemotherapy available — I ended up doing the AC-T regimen — and a double mastectomy after chemo. My breast surgeon was wonderful! She walked through all of the details with us and calmed any fears we may have had.

My oncologist was a different story. She never explained much, never gave me options. She just said this is the only way. It wasn’t until I got the final pathology report from my oncologist that we found out I was in fact NOT a triple negative breast cancer fighter, but that my cancer was ER+ PR+ HER2-, a cancer that I knew nothing about. I had been researching Triple Negative cancer the whole time. Knowing what I know now, I would have requested a new oncologist. If I can make one suggestion for cancer fighters it is to find a doctor who gives you his or her cell number and assures you that it’s okay to use that number, and is a doctor who answers questions.

Treatment sucks, no matter what. I honestly can say that nothing surprised me. I knew it was going to rock my world in a way I can’t explain properly. I knew I was going to be sick. I knew I’d just have to put my head down and do work. Okay, maybe one thing surprised me: I didn’t have a complete response from chemo. I was hopeful that I would, but that wasn’t the case. Now I know that some people don’t fully respond to chemotherapy, and that’s okay. For some reason I thought that chemo was going to take it all away magically and I wouldn’t need a double mastectomy. Basic life lesson: No two people are the same. We all know that, but do we always believe it? Hell no! We all desire to have the best outcome, but we need to prepare ourselves for when it’s not.

The outpouring of love and support from friends and family has been endless, and continues even now, almost two years since my diagnosis. My parents, my husband’s parents, my sister and my husband’s sister were all there to offer any help and support we needed. We have the best friends who were always there to help with the kids as well. We have some amazing people in our corner! One awesome event was a huge fundraiser at my old place of work. I was a figure skating instructor for many years, so my amazing rink family came together and planned a skate night in my honor. It was pretty spectacular! If you have cancer, get yourself an amazing village, and don’t be afraid to lean on them.

My advice for new cancer patients

When someone is newly diagnosed, it is my pleasure and desire to help them! I want to be there for anyone and everyone who needs help. which is weird, I’ve always been a people person, but I mostly kept to myself, especially with health and female issues. Now, after cancer, I have this burning desire to put myself out there and just help. So, here are some very practical and honest thoughts about what I went through and some advice for you. I hope it helps.

100% would say to get a second opinion. Don’t go with the doctor you were sent to just because you feel rushed. There is time. My breast surgeon (whom I absolutely adore) told me this. She said we have time. I wish I had taken that advice seriously. I wish I had gotten a second opinion. I wish I had gotten another referral and checked out a few other doctors. Even though the process of getting a referral is a big ole pain in the butt, just do it! And if you are one of the lucky ones who don’t need a referral, go see ALL of the doctors until you find the perfect fit. You will be spending a lot of time at the oncologist’s office. You want to be comfortable with that person. Your oncologist will be your doctor, your therapist, and if you’re lucky, your friend by the end of your journey. You also want to be comfortable with the office staff. I unfortunately had major issues with the staff. Crazy to think that they didn’t have empathy when I was just so scared. Can you imagine getting a bitchy attitude from the staff and having to say to them, “gee, I sure am sorry that YOU’RE the one having a bad day!” That is absolutely unacceptable for an oncology office. If you don’t like the office because it doesn’t seem clean enough, request another doctor. You won’t be judged by that. I thought I would sound like huge a biotch if that was one of my reasons. I wish I had said something. It’s your life, your health, and you have the right to control that! BELIEVE THAT! You do have control. But I would also say, just breathe. The time right after diagnosis is scary. Deal with it how you need to. If you need to self-medicate, do it! If you need to work out your fears and frustration by working out, do it! If you need to sleep all day every day, do it!! But most of all, remember that “this too shall pass”. Just BE BRAVE! And seriously… ask Jesus to “take the wheel”. He really helps.

Chemotherapy

The actual process of chemo is really boring! Make sure you always have a ride to and from. The pre-meds are lit! Haha! A little pre-party before the heavy drugs are given! What is it about Benadryl in an IV? You will walk out feeling great, like a perfect little buzz from a nice night out. But this hangover is way worse than any you’ve had before. So make sure you have all of your anti-nausea meds ready. Keep up on them. Ask for dissolvable Zofran. If you get super sick like I did, you won’t be able to keep a regular pill down. And if the nausea and vomiting get so bad, ask for a suppository. If you need more tips on those bad boys, hit me up. I’m a pro. There weren’t any anti-nausea meds that worked. Trust me, I TRIED THEM ALL! I was so sick. If you are that sick and you throw up a ton, get to the ER as soon as possible for IV fluids. Don’t make the same mistake I did and end up in the ER almost in kidney failure and needing six bags of fluids! It’s rough, and not glamorous at all. During chemo, always have hard candy or cough drops to suck on! I used TheraBreath dry mouth lozenges. I put the link below. And I had Biotène spray on hand daily for the constant dry mouth! Don’t be surprised when it takes FOREVER for the dry mouth to go away! They say to bring a book, or movie or something to occupy your time, I honestly had more fun people watching! There was a guy there each time, and he kept me and my favorite nurse so entertained drinking about five Mountain Dews during his chemo, eating nasty sandwiches that reeked of raw onions, flossing his teeth in front of all of us, yelling at people over the phone, and disappearing for an hour at a time. ALWAYS entertaining! Bring a blanket! It’s freezing in there! But mostly, just try to relax! Key word… TRY!

Fortunately, I was able to forgo radiation. Praise the Lord for that one. I’ve heard that it’s a lot harder on some than chemo. So I really don’t have any tips for that! Except if you really feel like you don’t need it, find a doctor that will look into your scans and give you a straight up answer and one that is not just looking for the $$.

Emotions
The emotional part of this journey is almost harder than the physical part. I journaled and put it all out there. It really helped a ton. But there will be dark days. That’s unavoidable. Let yourself sit in the darkness for as long as you need, but always try to pull yourself out of it. Find a community of women going through the same thing. Better yet, find one person you can text at any hour of the day. Having even one person who knows exactly what you are going through is key. I found my soul sister in the midst of this fight. She was going through leukemia treatments at the same time. Having her to message was what I needed. She got it. Even though she was all the way in Texas, she was and is always with me. We got to meet in the middle of our treatments, and it was amazing. Lots of tears shed with this girl, happy and sad! I get to see her in July, and we cannot wait! Love you so much Kelli!! #soulsisters

Which leads me to this: I wish that I had known from the beginning that I wasn’t alone. I felt incredibly alone. Unfortunately, breast cancer is perceived as an older woman’s disease. All of the informational pamphlets you are given only show women with wrinkles and white hair! That wasn’t me! I was a 35-year-old young and busy mom. I was scared and felt alone. But that’s not the case at all! During my treatment, I had no clue about the wonderful community of young cancer thrivers and survivors. I would look at my healthy friends and family and be incredibly jealous of them. I thought I was the only 30-something out there dealing with cancer. It wasn’t fair! But I was so incredibly wrong. I wish I had reached out sooner! Don’t wait!

Just one more thing: Let’s take a minute to thank Walgreens for their newest ad about breast cancer. It shows women of all ages and backgrounds. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. I linked the commercial on the bottom of the page. Reach out, find your tribe of warriors and hold onto them!

https://news.walgreens.com/video_display.cfm?video_id=15239