Kara’s Story

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A little bit of background about me…
I am a military wife and my husband and I have been married for 13 years. We have 2 daughters ages 6 & 4. My husband and I married when we were 18. We have moved 7 times. Our most recent move was from KY to PA in November of 2018. Our goal is to get back to our home state of Ohio and build a home. I have worked as an insurance agent for the last 7 years, but since our move I am now a first time stay at home mom. And I’m really enjoying it. After going through my cancer journey, it is nice to slow down and focus on my family and myself.  I enjoy being active and living a healthy lifestyle. I also enjoy reading and also helping people with their finances. My husband and I recently paid off almost $70k in debt.
I like sharing my cancer story to help other people and lift them up.

I found a lump by doing a self exam at home in the shower. My youngest daughter was born in January 2015 and I breast fed her until she was 6 months old. October 2015, I found the lump. It took me ONE YEAR AND A MONTH before I was diagnosed. I went to 3 different doctors and they all said “it was normal” I even had ultrasounds done and a mammogram. Nothing showed anything out of the ordinary. They just kept saying it was normal. One doctor said it was “scar tissue”. Finally in November of 2016 I was referred to a breast surgeon and she gave me 2 options in the office that day 1) I could get an ultrasound every 6 months for the next 2 years to keep an eye on it or 2) do a biopsy that day and she would get it sent off and tested. I opted for the biopsy because I was tired of not knowing what it was. I got a call the day after Thanksgiving and the doctor asked if it was okay to tell me the results over the phone. I said yeah, still not even thinking the worst. But unfortunately, I heard the words “You have breast cancer” I was diagnosed with stage 2, HER2 Positive, estrogen & progesterone negative.

 I went to my dads and then we went to my Grandma’s house. She had breast cancer 20 years ago, so she is the one I wanted to talk to the most. I told the rest of my family at a Thanksgiving dinner. 😦 I then started a blog post for everyone to keep track of what was going on. karakickscancer.wordpress.com.
After they did the biopsy they also did a biopsy of my lymph nodes to see if it had spread, I did another mammogram, and a MRI. The MRI is the only thing that actually showed my cancer. My surgeon said that we were going to do the Mastectomy 1st and then start Chemo and then radiation after that. The cancer was just in my left breast but it had spread to my lymph nodes. So they removed those as well. I opted to do the double mastectomy because I didn’t want to risk it coming back on right side. And plus I didn’t want the visualization of what I used to look like compared to what it was now. 
The side effects. The worst for me was the first round of chemo I had horrible nausea. But then they adjusted the nausea meds and I was fine after that. I was surprised that I actually had cravings, like when you are pregnant. One treatment I would crave sour stuff, the next treatment it would be sweet, and then salty. I also experienced horrible nose bleeds which I was surprised about. To the point where I ended up going to the ER to have them cauterize it, because it bled for 3 hours before they did that.
DO NOT RESEARCH ON THE INTERNET! It’s so scary when you first find out. But just try to wait until you meet with your doctor to find out what type and the stage. You are already so emotional that the internet will be a dark hole you don’t want to travel down. I also treated my cancer journey like a job. I went out and got a notebook, folders, a journal, and a tote bag. Every appointment they were giving me brochures and so much information that it was overwhelming. I would get home and write in my notebook questions, I wanted to ask the DR. And I journaled how I was feeling.
As a mom and wife, my biggest concern was my kids and husband. So my friend started a meal train for me. Kind of like a GO FUND ME, but for meals. They could go online and choose what to send and Omaha steaks would send the meals frozen in a cooler. All my husband would have to do is stick it in the oven. I would eat if it sounded good. Or I would eat whatever I wanted. Donuts, candy, cereal, chips and salsa.. whatever I was craving. Because I didn’t know if the next round would kick my butt and I might not be able to eat anything.
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My husband and oldest daughter cut and shaved my head. 
My tips for radiation. I don’t know if it actually help, but I believe it did. It’s called Miracle II. You can order it online from certain sites. I would rub that on the radiated side every night before bed. I did 28 treatments of radiation. Monday-Friday. But with radiation, I just got red and it felt like a bad sunburn. I didn’t end up with the blisters or rash like some people get and I attribute that to that Miracle II gel.
The best book I read, was Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr. It was funny and informative. It made a very scary time in my life be a little easier as I was able to laugh at some parts. For me I wanted to get through treatment as fast as I could. I envisioned myself as a locomotive and I was just trying to get to my destinations (cancer free). I continued to try to live a normal life as much as possible. I went to a wedding, a concert, out to eat, lunch with friends, shopping. There were days that I couldn’t, but I tried my best to keep my life as normal as possible. For myself and my kids. They were 1 and 3 when I was starting all my treatments.
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Me today!
There is always someone that is going through more than you. You can do this. God’s got you.

Dena’s Story

denaI’m Dena. I’m a 45 year old single aunt and dog mom. My mom is a 30 year breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at 40 and underwent a single mastectomy and chemotherapy. Because of that family history and my own very dense breasts, I have been getting screened with yearly mammograms for over 10 years. In hindsight, I wish I had done more, because what good are mammograms with very dense breasts anyway. In December 2017, at my appointment with my nurse practitioner, I showed her a small lump in my left breast that I had felt. She sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. I had those tests done on February 14, 2018, and I remember being so relieved when the radiologist came in and told me there was nothing to worry about it, the mass was just a mound of very dense but normal breast tissue. It had probably even been there for some time but was more noticeable to me now because I had lost 100lbs in the prior three years so a lot of fat was gone from my breasts.
Over the course of 2018, I continued to work on my fitness and lifestyle changes and didn’t think much about the growing lump in my left breast. I didn’t really seem to notice how progressively  bigger it was getting, until December 2018 when it started becoming painful. When I had my annual with my nurse practitioner that month, she was alarmed at how much it had grown and said she wanted it looked at again and that she wanted me to see a breast surgeon regardless of the radiology results. Somehow I still wasn’t overly concerned about this lump that I had been told was normal breast tissue. I went through Christmas, my first trip to NYC, a bad cold, and then finally made my radiology appointments at the same facility I had been to the prior year. On January 18, 2019, I had bilateral 3D mammograms and bilateral ultrasounds. A different radiologist came in the room this visit and palpated the mass herself with the ultrasound wand and confirmed that this was still just a dense mound of normal breast tissue and there were no suspicious findings on either report. When I got the official report back a week later, it mentioned further evaluation by a breast surgeon given family history and I remembered my nurse practitioner saying the name of the doctor she wanted me to see. I called to get an appointment with Dr. Reed and was told that due to the doctor’s busy caseload I would have to have a referral. My doctor’s office put the referral in and I was able to get an appointment with Dr. Reed’s PA, Cindy, on February 20, 2019. I went in that day, not super concerned, just ready to establish a relationship for more thorough screening with a breast surgeon. Cindy and I went through the motions of setting me up as a patient that would be followed regularly and she offered for their office to do another ultrasound of the mass that day which I wanted. I went to the the ultrasound room with the tech, Amanda, and everything changed forever. Amanda saw what she thought was a mass. This elevated me to the top of Dr. Reed’s charts.
Coincidentally, Dr. Reed and my sister-in-law, Shelley, were high school classmates and are still friendly. Shelley immediately messaged Dr. Reed to be on the look out for my chart and that I was really scared. Before the end of the week, we got the call to come back in for a biopsy on Monday, February 25, 2019. Cindy said she still wasn’t overly concerned about the mass and there were a number of benign conditions it could be. Monday morning, Shelley met me for the biopsy. Dr. Reed’s reaction to the tissue extracted was “this is not normal breast tissue, this is funky” and that did not leave me with a good feeling about the direction we were heading. Two days later, on February 27, 2019, she called with the results, “it is positive for cancer.” Invasive Ductal Carcinoma to be exact, ER/PR+ HER2-. She said it was the good kind to have and that she felt it was treatable and even curable. We scheduled an appointment for the next day at her office to discuss everything. My mom, my two brothers, my sister-in-law, my best friend and I piled into her office to discuss the details of my diagnosis. I remember being completely overwhelmed and sad. I was so sad and so scared for days. I was desperate for surgery to get this thing out of me and desperate for the testing to give me more information about the extent of the disease. I could barely eat for days. That weekend was my best-friend, Cameron’s, birthday, and I know it was miserable for her. We spent the day together, but I was just a shell of myself. I struggle with OCD and anxiety and all of the thoughts and fears in my head were overwhelming me no matter how positive I tried to be. She kept reassuring me that I had a good prognosis and needed to focus on that but I just couldn’t wrap my head around anything positive. It certainly didn’t help that two weeks before my diagnosis, a friend my age had lost her battle with colon cancer. Thankfully, the genetics testing, CT, bone scan and breast MRI were all scheduled for the next week and each test came back with a good result. The breast MRI showed one lymph node with a suggestion of cortical thickening so I prepared myself for lymph node involvement. The next step was to get a surgery date and fast.
With those tests behind me, I started having a better outlook. The best thing I did for myself between diagnosis and surgery was continue to work and continue to go to the gym and/or yoga every evening. There were days when I couldn’t eat all day but exercising made me feel so much better that I’d be able to eat a full meal afterwards. I have a made great friends at both my gym and my yoga studio and just being in their company helped my spirits tremendously. I also really wanted to prepare my body the best I could for surgery, so I kept plugging along. My last yoga class was the night before surgery and she let me pick the playlist – reggae. The day after I was diagnosed, I also made an appointment with my psychiatrist’s office. While I take an anti-depressant regularly for my mild depression and OCD symptoms, I needed something more for anxiety and for sleeping.
The plastic surgeon’s office initially gave me a surgery date of April 24, 2019 and I immediately contacted my breast surgeon with concerns about this being too far out from diagnosis. She agreed. Because of her friendship with my sister-in-law and because of what I had been through with the delayed diagnosis of a year, she pushed the plastic surgeon’s office and kept a close eye on the hospital’s surgery schedule. She was able to get me a surgery date of March 20, 2019, the first day of spring. I elected for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using silicone gel implants. I only had five days notice for the surgery, so I didn’t have much time to research and gather the things I’d need post-op. I think I did really well with what I did find. Those few days, I stayed so busy, readying myself, and spending time with friends and family, that I had no time to dwell on the actual surgery. It was just something that had to be done.
My best-friend, Cameron, picked me up at 7am on the morning of surgery. I had to be at the hospital early for the sentinel node biopsy. That was done and we were in pre-op by 9:30am where my dad met us. I got to spend some time with him before the rest of my family arrived. At around 11:30am, I remember saying good-bye to Cameron as she walked out of the pre-op room and a nurse saying to me she was going to put a little something in my IV. Next thing I know, my eyes slightly open and I hear my plastic surgeon over me saying “okay, everything went great, lymph nodes were clear” and I could see a wall clock that read 4:30pm. I was stunned. It was over. I missed it all. I couldn’t wrap my head around the clear lymph node, I had convinced myself it had spread. I was moved to my room and visited with my family until around 9pm. I was comfortable overnight but didn’t sleep much due to constantly having to get up and go to the bathroom because of the IV fluids and the nurses emptying the drains. I was awake at 6am when the doctors started making their rounds and they both cleared me to go home. I ate breakfast at the hospital and was out of there by 9:30am. I brought a small pillow with me for the car ride home to hold against my chest and I do think that was helpful for the first few car rides.
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I felt much better than I expected I would in the days after surgery. I had full range of motion in my arms immediately and slept pretty comfortably with the wedge and u-shaped body pillow I purchased. My 12 year old niece came over and helped me out the first weekend and my sister-in-law set up a meal trains with meals brought to my mom and I every other day for three weeks. The Saturday after surgery I went on a short trip to the grocery store with Cameron that nearly wore me out but it was good to get out. On Sunday, my niece and I spent a little time outside in my herb garden. I settled into my routine of carrying my body pillow from couch to bed, bed to couch by Monday and was in good spirits. I had a lot of visitors the first week and doctor’s appointments on Tuesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, I was even able to get out for lunch with my mom, my aunt and my 97 year old grandmother. By the following weekend, I was exhausted. I have stayed exhausted. I can’t seem to get my strength back. It is very frustrating.
Week two has been a very different week. A week and 1/2 after surgery, the drains started to become so worrisome I could hardly stand them. The stitches in my arms were pinching and the tubes in my chest were painful. I had long run out of pain medications and was strictly taking ibuprofen. I can maybe handle one activity per day and then I’m completely wiped out. This is making me feel down. I want my stamina back. I have loads of endurance normally. I want that life back. This constant run down feeling is causing my mind to wander and make me sad. I just feel crummy. The drains finally came out yesterday much to my relief and I expressed to my surgeon how I’ve been feeling. He said I’ve had major surgery and need to take it easy. I asked a friend who’s been through this if what I’m feeling is normal and she assured me it is. She is also my yoga instructor and I’ve made plans to go sit in at her beach yoga class Monday evening even though I can’t participate. Another friend of hers will be there who had surgery the same day as me, so we’ll just be sitting there soaking in the vibes and lifting each other up.
I’m also planning to go back to work some next week. I’m a paralegal with a pretty light desk job. My boss is very supportive and does not expect me to do any more than I am able or to be at the office any longer than I am comfortable. I will play it be ear through the week and do what my body allows me to do. Yesterday, Cindy, from my breast surgeon’s office called with my Oncotype DX score. It is 18. 18, right in the gray area. That is not what I was praying for. I will meet with the oncologist soon and discuss the best options for me with regard to chemo. I already know that at least seven years of tamoxifen is in my future.
I have too many friends who are survivors. I was lucky to have so much support and guidance prior to surgery and after. With that said, this can’t be a 1 in 8 disease because I can look around me and see at least six, my age, under 50! What they told me when I was first diagnosed, was that those first few days would be the worst. They were right. The unknowing is so hard.  I’m new to this journey and I’m learning as I go. I’m doing the best I can to arm myself with knowledge and hope so I can cope in the healthiest way and handle each curve ball thrown. I realize this is a marathon and not a sprint and I’m trying not to be bitter over what I have lost or the fact that I lost 100lbs and got myself into the best shape of my life only to get cancer. What everyone says to that is, thank God you got you are in the shape you are in now, or how would you be dealing with this? Which is true. I also was able to get nice underboob scars because of all of the extra skin from weight loss, so there’s that little silver lining!  I was supposed to go visit a friend in Boulder on Memorial Day this year and run the BolderBoulder 10k. Not happening. But I will push to run in the other races I’m signed up for later this year. I’m planning to walk a my first post-surgery 5k next weekend on the 13th. I’m going to give my all!
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Much love, Dena
aka auntdstrong / ovaunt

Casey’s Story

casey chemo shirt

Hi! My name is Casey. I had Stage 2B Breast Cancer Hormone receptor (HR) Negative. I noticed my nipple was inverted last year (2018), and thought it was nothing. I didn’t have insurance, and put it off. Then I noticed it just kept sinking in, and also felt a small ball behind my nipple that I could almost grab.  I went to the Planned Parenthood and the Dr. did a “feel test” and felt what I felt. She told me to go straight to get a mammogram. I couldn’t get in until a week later. A week after that I had to get a biopsy. And the week after that, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

When we were told that I needed a biopsy, they kind prepared us for the worst- Cancer. I knew in my heart that I had Cancer. My family is in Oklahoma, and I live in Texas,  so I called them and told them about the biopsy …and we all waited together until the day I found out it was in fact Cancer.

From the biopsy, to scans of my heart, full body, brain, and bones…they found out it was an aggressive form, and wanted to start Chemo right away. I did 4 rounds of the red devil(AC), and continued every 2 weeks- totaling 28 rounds. Followed by a double mastectomy, with expanders and then radiation. I still have reconstructive surgery left.

casey dog

Something that surprised me about treatment is that, not everyone’s body reacts the same way to treatment. And  what might have worked for someone else, might not work for you.

If I could give one advice to someone going through cancer/cancer treatments, it is to listen to your body and don’t be afraid to tell the doctor’s when something doesn’t feel “right.”

If you are going through chemo , sleep when you can. Rest. rest. rest. And stay away from germs, wash your hands and don’t put your hands to your face. And drink a beer or 2 when you feel good enough to do so!

If you have to have radiation, keep the area moisturized at ALL TIMES and cover with a pad. If you don’t have a pad that the doctor provides, than use a women’s menstrual pads.  The bigger -the cheaper– the better.

To deal with the emotional side, Cry. Cry whenever you want to. Let it allllll out when you feel the need. There are no rules to getting through Cancer. I would cry, pray, drink a beer, and sing. I am singer and would just sing whatever I could find on YouTube……cry and sing.

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Celebrate the small victories. Even when you don’t think treatment is making a difference, and you are exhausted from it all.  God has you in every step. And the small steps—they still move you forward.

casey and gf

My Mantra was “Power On, Power Through.”

Jess’ Story

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Hi there, my name is Jess McDonald and I’m from New York. Normally when I tell someone I am from New York, they think NYC, but we actually live about 5 hours from Manhattan in a very rural area of the state referred to as the Finger Lakes, well known for our wine industry. My story starts on New Year’s Day 2018. I was home alone with my two children (then 3 and 8 months old) when I ran upstairs to put a bra on. I got to the first landing of our stairs and to this day, I have no real reason why, but I happened to touch the left side of my breast where I found a small hard lump and thought to myself “hmm, that wasn’t there before.” Since I had just had my son that April, I had recently had a breast exam in September where I had no abnormal findings and was sent on my way. After finding the lump I instantly panicked and sent a text to my husband, who had run out quickly. When he came home, I made him feel the lump just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. He too felt the same lump I had felt, we both agreed the next day I would call my midwife. I like many women who have shared their story here was not expecting much to come from it. I was only 33 at the time, and had no family history of breast cancer.

The following day, I returned to work, went about my day, putting off the call. My husband texted me to ask if I had made an appointment. I decided I probably should get it out of the way so I called my midwife’s office. My midwife was unavailable, but another provider was able to get me in that afternoon. At the appointment, the provider suggested a quick breast exam to confirm there was a lump, when her exam led her to the area, her face instantly drained white, and our casual conversation turned, it was at that moment I knew in my heart something wasn’t right. She suggested I be seen for a mammogram and ultrasound as soon as possible and I was able to schedule an appointment the following day.

My ultrasound was determined to be suspicious and I was scheduled for a follow up biopsy. The day of my biopsy came and I met with Dr. O’Connell. She entered the room with so much energy, a thick English accent, and a striking resemblance to one of my husband’s aunts. I thought to myself, “maybe this will be all right!” Dr. O’Connell completed the biopsy and told me I would receive results in a few days. Those few days were hard, I returned to work, but I am pretty sure I just stared at my computer until my phone rang on January 11, 2018. Dr. O’Connell was short and to the point, she told me I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma, it was ER/PR+ Her2-. For whatever reason, I stayed calm throughout the call. She told me that it was highly treatable and gave me some sound advice that I carried throughout my treatment. She said, “whatever they ask you to do, you do it!” Dr. O’Connell asked me where I would like to receive treatment and I remember saying to her, “I have no idea, I don’t know anyone who has had breast cancer!” Dr. O’Connell referred me to the Pluta Cancer Center. At that point, I collected my things and left work. I drove straight home and spent what feels like an eternity on the phone making and receiving calls. In the 20 minutes it took me to get home from work, Pluta had already called me and started coordinating  my appointments. By the end of the day, I had scheduled with my breast surgeon, Dr. Farkas, I had made arrangements to have a follow up MRI to ensure that cancer had not spread outside of the area we knew about and I had let my parents, siblings and in-laws know.  I unfortunately was diagnosed on my sister’s birthday and had to share the news with her that day. Those few days following diagnosis were a whirlwind, I cried for a good 3 days straight. Waiting for the staging and progression of your disease is unbearable, so much fear and doubt can take over your mind. After a few days of feeling sorry for myself, I picked myself up and told myself whether I had 3 days to live or 30 years, I wasn’t going to spend another second mourning and was going to live my life as if I had never heard the words “You have cancer.”

Sometime in late January I met with Dr. Farkas at Pluta. Dr. Farkas was everything I needed and more to start my cancer journey, she was just a few years older than me, in fact if we grew up in the same town, we probably would have been in high school together. She was a ball of energy and sarcasm. She met me with a few curse words, a lot of humor and a very hilarious drawing of what my cancer looked like. The location and aggressiveness of my cancer prevented her from advising me to have a lumpectomy, the outcome of a lumpectomy would leave me looking like I was bit by a shark. I was okay with this as I had made my mind up as soon as I was diagnosed that I wanted a bilateral mastectomy.  My first set of breasts were trying to kill me, why would I fight to keep them. Once that was out of the way, Dr. Farkas reviewed my options for implants or for a procedure called diep flap, this was a procedure where they would remove my own tissue to recreate my breasts. Because I had two children, stretch marks and a couple extra pounds from my pregnancy, I agreed that diep flap would be my best option. Dr. Farkas gave me the information for Dr. Vega and encouraged me to see him and get on his schedule for surgery. Dr. Farkas thought chemotherapy would likely be avoided and at most, I would require radiation after surgery. Because of my age and non-existent family history of breast cancer, she urged me to speak with a genetic counselor and opt for testing to rule out any predispositions. I left that appointment feeling hopeful.

I got home and scheduled an appointment with Dr. Vega and with the Genetics Department at UR Medicine. I met with Genetics and agreed to testing. My results were to be in anywhere from 1-4 weeks later. I met with Dr. Vega and he believed me to be a great candidate for diep flap as well as a nipple sparing procedure! By this time, we were fast approaching my son’s first birthday. Because I had chose the diep flap procedure, my recovery would be a bit longer due to the incision in my belly where they would take the tissue from. Not only would I be recovering from a bilateral mastectomy, but also a tummy tuck! Dr. Vega is one of the only providers in Rochester who was offering this procedure, so as you can imagine, his schedule was jam packed. When finalizing that I would be moving forward with this procedure, Dr. Vega requested I get on the schedule while I was sitting in his office, his nurse ran off to get the next available date and came back with March 29th, 11 days before my baby boy’s 1st birthday, I burst in to tears! Dr. Vega instantly recognized something was wrong and I explained that I had really hoped to be able to hold my son’s birthday cake. Dr. Vega’s team agreed this was absolutely necessary, so his team did everything in their power to get me a better date. This was no easy task as my surgery was expected to be no shorter than 6 hours, but they did it. They scheduled me for March 6th. I remember Dr. Vega saying, “You may want to order a small cake.” And guess what, you better believe I held that birthday cake!

jess bday

As March 6th approached, the genetic testing fell to the back of my mind, I was operating under the assumption that “no news is good news.” I arrived at the hospital the day of my surgery and was met by Dr. Farkas, she quickly reviewed the procedure and then dropped the bomb on me, my test results were back, not only was I found to carry the BRCA2 mutation, but I also  carry of the CHEK2 mutation. My anesthesiologist was there in the room with me when Dr. Farkas broke the news to me, to this day, I’m confident my anesthesiologist knocked me out immediately following the news as I don’t remember anything from that point on.

Twelve hours later, I woke in the recovery room and was transferred to my room where I would stay for 3 days to be monitored for tissue failure and blood clots. On the second day of my stay, Dr. Farkas came to let me know that they had removed somewhere around 38 lymph nodes  and that only 1 tested positive. She also let me know my cancer was Stage 2b and that she had scheduled me to see an Oncologist, Dr. Huston.   On the 3rd day, I was released home. I really only remember being in bed at home for a few days. I hated the pain meds, they made me feel spacey and lethargic, so I quit taking them and opted for regular OTC medications. I found that being upright and walking made me feel better than any of the medications.

jess pillow

My anticipated time home for the surgery was 8-10 weeks, I returned to work early after 5 weeks home. During those 5 weeks home, I learned that because of the BRCA mutation, the aggressiveness of the cancer and the lymph involvement, I would require chemotherapy after all. I received 8 rounds of treatment alternating every other week. I completed 4 rounds of AC and 4 rounds of Taxol. Chemo definitely wasn’t a walk in the park, but it also was nothing like I expected. I worked throughout treatment, only missing chemo days. I had this expectation that chemo was going to make me deathly ill, but it didn’t, I just felt tired and often had a really weird taste in my mouth. The hardest part of chemo was the fear of losing my hair, my hair has always been a part of my identity, one of my girlfriend’s often referred to it as my “Shakira hair.”  By the time I started losing my hair, I was ready for it to go, what they don’t tell you about hair loss during chemo, or at least my experience with it is that my hair texture completing changed, it didn’t feel like mine at all, I was ready to shave it, so my husband and I decided to do just that somewhere between my 2nd and 3rd treatment of AC. I have been cutting my husband’s hair for years, and to have him return the favor was a laughable experience.   I survived off my weekly, if not daily check in with Laura, I was one week ahead of her in treatment, so we often found comfort in exchanging words of encouragement and advice. The perk of being across the country from someone else going through treatment, is that their provider may make suggestions yours didn’t and vice versa. I also connected with two women close to home that had been diagnosed in their early 30’s and they were available 24/7 for all of my crazy questions, daily revelations, or just to  have a good laugh about losing your hair.

jess chemo

Following chemo, I underwent 26 rounds of radiation. Because of the location of my tumor, I had to receive a specialized treatment, called deep inspiration breath hold. This threw a real wrench in my plan as I had hoped to do radiation close to home. There was only one treatment center in my area at the time that offered this treatment, and it was nearly a 50 mile trip each way. The drive albeit annoying, did serve as a quiet time for reflection. I drove myself to and from each treatment and returned to work immediately afterward. Working through treatment made me feel normal. I also conserved my time off from work so that I could spend it on things I wanted to do like vacationing at the beach.

Since wrapping my treatment, I have opted for additional follow up care that will hopefully decrease my risk for recurrence. I take a daily medication, Aromasin and am part of a drug study where I take an additional drug that could be the medication, Everolimus or a placebo. We are pretty confident that I am on the med as I am experiencing a lot of side effects. In December, I underwent a total laparoscopic hysterectomy to permanently shut down my estrogen production, this choice was a little extreme, but it was the right choice for me. On the day of my surgery, my husband again sat in the waiting room, like he had done so many times before during treatment and appointments. We looked forward to this day as it really signified the final stretch of what felt like a marathon of a year, as he waited patiently for me to recover, he sat near another husband, his wife was just starting her cancer journey, with my same surgery team. When my husband shared that story with me the next day, I couldn’t help to think just how far we had come. I say this a lot, and it might sound crazy, but cancer took a lot from me over the last year and  a half, but it also gave me  a new perspective on life, a few lifelong friends and the opportunity to share my story in the hopes that it helps someone else. If I can offer you any advice at all to get through this diagnosis, it’s this, find a provider that you feel comfortable with and let them take you by the hand and walk you through the next year. Next, grab hold of someone who has completed the journey before you, specifically someone that agrees to answer any question, no matter how ridiculous or what time of day you ask. Because you will have lots of questions and lots of doubts along the way. And there’s no one that knows that feeling better than a fellow survivor! And lastly, laugh a lot. I read once that cancer isn’t a “journey” like so many call it, it’s a nightmare, I’ve found that the only real way to get through it is with humor, a few good friends and wine, a lot of wine!

jess champagne

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