Judy’s Story

Hey, my name is Judy and I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer while on maternity leave with my third child.  It was March 2019, and at the end of the day I always take my bra off and give my tatas a little massage.  I found a small lump that felt like a Skittle.  I had my husband feel it and he thought it was unusual as well.  I was 9 months into my maternity leave so I figured maybe it was hormones balancing out but my mind was racing that night.  I got in to my doctor’s office 2 days later and saw my friend who is a nurse, she felt it and had the doctor in the office that day feel it as well. I was expecting them to give me all the right words to diffuse my concern. I was hoping they would say that it felt totally normal but that we would do tests to be sure, or better yet, to stop my worrying. This was not the case. They had concerned faces, and I got the requisition for an ultrasound and biopsy. I move through these steps but the thoughts of “why me, why this, and why now” were toxic and overwhelming. That and a two month wait for results were perhaps the hardest of all the days with no direction, no diagnosis and no plan.

We had a road trip to Disney World with our entire family planned during that month.  It kept me busy but my mind was still very much consumed with wonder.  While on vacation I was very much living in a “what if?” state of mind.  It was somewhat of a blessing because it forced me to go on rides at Disney I would have never gone on with my oldest.  My mind frame each day was “what if this is my last time here, or last time on a family vacation…I’m going on the ride, I’m buying any souvenir my kids want, or I want!”  It was good in a way because we did everything and we went all out! It will certainly be a trip we will never forget. But hard because so much of the risk taking and moment loving came from a place of worry and fear. It had a sobering way of making me seize the moments and ferociously love my family.

My doctor called while we were on vacation (about 2 weeks after the biopsy). She said the results needed a second opinion.  I had a complete meltdown, it lasted about an hour.  I called a friend from home who works in the medical field and she shed some light on why it might need a second opinion and she totally settled me down.   About a week after we got home my doctor called me into her office.  That’s the first time that has ever happened and I knew it couldn’t be good.  When I arrived the nurse (my friend) came out and asked if my husband was coming in, it was like a rush of adrenaline hit me, I knew why she was asking if he’d be there….he wasn’t, he was returning later because he was out of town for work.  A few minutes later they called me into the office.  I could tell they had been crying, both my doctor and nurse are friends.  “You have invasive ductal carcinoma” is what she said.  The word “invasive” seemed so scary to me at the time.  I had a million questions flood my mind and knew they couldn’t be answered then but I started babbling them off anyway.  “Am I going to die? How will I tell my oldest daughter? I don’t want to see my parents cry…what’s going to happen? What does this mean?” Then I cried.  Then I drove home and my parents were there waiting for me.  I went for a drive with my mom, it was like a pep talk.  “We got this, we will do whatever it takes, it’s ok”.  When we got back home my husband was there he gave me a hug and I could tell he’d been crying.  Then I felt like the adrenaline had left my body and I could finally breathe.  But then I wanted to search the internet “invasive ductal carcinoma” but I did my best to leave that to my husband.  At this stage the words felt foreign, the diagnosis didn’t seem real and the next steps felt like someone else’s path and not my own.

I updated my friends and family with my news. Each time I said it out loud it became a little more real.  And then in a moment of vulnerability to this new reality, I started sharing my story on my Instagram account and the support was overwhelming.  It was so helpful.  It kept me focused.  If I was feeling down or sad I’d open my messages and I would read encouraging words from family, friends and even old friends I’d lost touch with.  It was incredible. It was a big and hard step as a normally quite private person but I quickly realized what an important role sharing your story is when it comes to the acceptance, battle and healing from this disease.  Then my best friend who lives in Nashville shared the Tata to Cancer site with me.  I felt like I connected with so many of the women on the blog.  It was the best thing for me to read.  No more searching the internet and reading horror stories, I read about these brave women and their journeys.  I started following many of them online and it encouraged me to do the same and share my story.

My husband and I told our oldest daughter I had breast cancer together.  We said “I have a small lump in one of my breast (pointed to it), it’s cancer.  I’m going to get medicine that may make me sick, and then I will have surgery to cut the cancer out.  But because I take care of my body the rest of me is still very healthy and I am going to fight this.”  She said “you are so strong Mommy, you will fight this and win, I will help you”.  She gave me the best hug and I cried and she told me “it will be ok”.  I have never felt so ready to fight in my life.  In that single moment, I saw my 7 year old girl as a young woman, a supportive, brave, empathetic young woman and I was both sad for what we were about to go through as a family but so proud that she was mine.

 

An appointment with my surgeon was scheduled for 3 weeks later.  3 MORE WEEKS of waiting.  The waiting was incredibly hard.  I could no longer hold back from searching online.  It was the worst thing for me.  I would read awful stories and negative comments…it felt never ending.  When I would stop I would be crying and my husband had to talk me through everything we knew about MY situation, not everyone else’s situation online.  It was hard.

I met my surgeon and I ended up needing another biopsy which delayed the process a bit longer.  But after that and a few more mammograms I was so over people telling me what was going to happen to my body I went and got my hair cut short.  This was very empowering.  I finally felt in control.  Then a couple weeks later I went even shorter.  I was finding it comforting taking control and playing with new styles. My hairdresser was amazing, she and her husband and brand new baby welcomed me into their home at any time just to help me through that difficult stage.  It was so good for me. My surgeon told me I’d lose my hair, there was no doubt it would fall out, so I wasn’t worried about doing it too soon.

 

I had my first round of chemo 3.5 months after finding my lump.  As nervous as I was I was ready, I wanted to start this fight and move on.  I had chemo on a Monday afternoon and by that evening I was incredibly nauseous and exhausted.  This lasted for 3 days.  Then from day 4-5 I was able to leave the house for an hour and come home and have a two hour nap.  By day 6 I was feeling like myself again.  I was so happy to eat solid food and feel like myself.  I knew if this is what it was like I could handle it.  I could do 6 days of feeling like crap and 15 days of myself for a few months.

 

I had docetaxel for my 4th and 5th round (#6 to come this month).  At first I thought this is great, I was sore but it was manageable.  But it lingered for days.  I was sore, achy, had nose bleeds, headaches, bruising, pain in my fingers and joints and I couldn’t taste anything.  I wasn’t myself after this and that made things hard for me.  But I only have 1 round left and then surgery and radiation.  I’m over the half way point of chemo, knowing that helps.

My family, friends and community have been my inspiration.  They have been incredibly supportive.  My family has received cards, food, gift cards, money, babysitting, visits, gift baskets and more.  This journey has brought us closer to our family, friends and community.  I have my down days and during those times I read through the cards and emails people have sent and it brings me back up.  My husband has been AMAZING.  He’s always one step ahead of me, lifting me up, bringing me a treat or picking up the kids early and taking them out when he knows I’m just too tired.  He makes staying positive easier. The kids make it easier.  Reading about other women and their journeys make it easier.  I hope that sharing my story can help at least one person or a family member get through a tough moment.  xo

Sami’s Story

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My name is Sami Pickens, and I am a 29-year-old breast cancer survivor (BRCA1). I want to share the story of how my diagnosis occurred and a timeline of the steps as it happened. Even though I work in healthcare as a clinical pharmacist at a hospital, I had no idea what to expect in terms of timeline or next steps and I hope that this sheds some light on that for someone else embarking upon this journey.

Anyone that knows me knows I work out basically everyday – and I absolutely love it. Well in February after coming off a foot injury and stopping my half marathon training, I was so excited to get back into lifting. So, I started training bench press and pushups A LOT (both of these things make me feel badass.)

Long story short my pec muscles were super sore, so I was pressing on them to try to massage them out and I felt a marble sized HARD lump on my left breast. I felt my stomach flip flop. I reached out to my mom and some close friends, they all assured me it was most likely some type of cyst or fibroadenoma, but they agreed I should have someone look at it.

Please go to the doctor. I was so lucky to be able to feel the lump and be able to catch it early. I was so aware of my body and something not being right. Listen to your body. Go to your appointments, workout regularly and know what normal feels like.

My first appointment was in middle of March where I showed my OBGYN where I felt a lump, two weeks later I had a mammogram and ultrasound. The mammogram stated my breast tissue was too dense for diagnosis and the ultrasound told us that it most definitely was not a cyst but that’s all they knew.

4/9/19 – stereo-static biopsy (14 of them) for further diagnosing

4/11/19 – Diagnosis day, 28 years old. I knew the name of the cancer and that’s it. Invasive ductal carcinoma. The days after this felt like months waiting as results came back and plans were made. I always thought when someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are given a lot more information on the cancer itself and what will happen next – you don’t!

I really love cows. I love where I live because I get to drive past empty fields of cows on my way home every day. I was right in front of the beginning of those cows when my phone rang. I immediately felt like I was going to throw up and continued to sweat through my scrubs as I had been all day.

Me: Hello?

Surgeon verified it’s me yada yada.

Sami, I have some bad news the biopsy did come back positive for invasive ductal breast cancer.

Me: silent. *ears ringing so loud I wasn’t sure if I would be able to speak loud enough for him to hear me or not anyways*

Surgeon: Sami, did you hear me?

*the tears started falling* (I don’t cry very often and usually there’s a big reason)

Me: “yes I heard you.” *voice trembling*

Surgeon: it’s going to be okay you are strong and young and healthy, and we are going to get through this. We will call you and get you back into the office Monday to figure out what the plan is.

Me: okay thank you bye.

Here’s where I am not sure what I was supposed to do. Obviously, I was in shock. How do you go from doctors’ visits for sports physicals and getting hurt working out to having cancer?!

I am annoyingly honest. I have been the friend that is invited to wedding dress shopping because I’ll say it doesn’t look great. I know this, I own it. It’s okay.

So, I picked up the phone and called my husband and said I got bad news it’s cancer I’ll be home in 5 minutes and basically hung up on him. In retrospect, I’m sorry Justin (I didn’t even tell him what kind or anything and I know that had to drive him nuts). Then I called my mom and said “are you with dad at work? Go get him and put it on speaker phone.”

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This was the second I realized how bad this was going to suck. Not only because I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and by this point was basically have a panic attack but because I realized from here on out all those family members and friends – I was about to continue to ruin each and every one of their days.

I never felt so loved in my whole life as that Thursday evening and night. All the family and friends as they heard. But also, because of Justin. We cried a lot, we also laughed and said, “What the f***?!” (Sorry mom). We were in shock and scared and he started saying right then starting today we will only be a stronger couple because of this. That meant so much.

4/15/19 – surgery consult with same surgeon as biopsy week prior. At that appointment all that he knew was the name of the cancer, that it was around 1.5 cm, and estrogen and progestin 90% positive (good news because there are direct drugs that target that). He said we would also need to know HER2 status to know about the whole treatment plan, but it was up to me to go ahead and do a lumpectomy or wait for HER2. I chose to schedule the lumpectomy for 4/18/19. I wanted the cancer OUT.

4/16/19 – first oncologist appointment. This appointment was a lot more to handle than I thought it would be. I HATE needles (although I’m learning that I’m tougher than I thought with that stuff) and first thing that happened was drawing 6 vials of blood when I got back to the room. I then met the chemo oncologist as well as the nurse practitioner. They only knew what I had so far 4/15/19 but the oncologist prepped me for the mindset that my cancer would most likely be HER2 positive at my age so I would first need chemo prior to any surgery of removing the mass. He asked for permission to get another vial of blood to have my genetic tests run (included many many markers including BRCA1 BRCA2). We also called the general surgeon and cancelled my surgery for Thursday pending HER2 results.

4/23/19 I had already been told the HER2 results were negative but now get a call that some of my genetic markers are back and that I am BRCA1 positive so now I have a HIGH recurrence rate risk, and also have a high risk of ovarian cancer. Treating aggressively would be more necessary. This day is when we decided to do the double mastectomy with reconstruction. I read about BRCA1 and everything else you could imagine the rest of that day. It was a rough one.

Since April I have loved more than I ever thought I could, I have worked harder at work, I have enjoyed every moment more than the last. I have had a double mastectomy with tissue expanders, and recovered from an implant exchange in July of 2019 and now have foobs (breast cancer loving term for fake boobs)!!

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I choose each day when I wake up to not let worry be greater than my faith. I am praying that after my five-year course of tamoxifen (and 5 years of monthly Zoladex injections) that my husband and I are able to have a baby. We are hopeful because I was so young that I will be able to come out of menopause before having a prophylactic ovariectomy (due to BRCA1 mutation). I do not want to worry about my higher chance of ovarian cancer, and it makes me feel like I have some control over it all.

2019 has not gone as planned, but I am certain that through all of this I have become a better wife, sister, daughter, friend, pharmacist, and co-worker.

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If you are reading this and have been diagnosed with breast cancer and need someone to talk with, please don’t hesitate to reach out on Instagram @Sami_Pickens. I have met some of the most amazing women through this journey this year, and love the opportunity to meet other warriors! God has a plan for your life, and I pray that this will be just a chapter of your story which makes you better in so many other ways. Ta ta to cancer! We are stronger!

Sami Pickens

Joanie’s Story

My name is Joanie Matisak and I’m just beginning my breast cancer story.  I was diagnosed mid June 2019 with invasive lobular carcinoma between stages one and two.Joanie4

I have gone for my yearly mammogram for the last 27 years because my mother passed away from breast cancer that had metastasized in 1989.  She smoked her whole life and back then people did not go to the doctor for these very important check ups like we do now.

Joanie 2From my mammogram back in May I was sent back for a recheck, then had ultrasound guided biopsy and then also a steristatic biopsy.  Following both of those positive findings of invasive lobular carcinoma, I was also sent for an MRI which confirmed those two spots as well as found two other very small spots.

I am scheduled for a single mastectomy on Tuesday, August 6. It is only my left side that is affected. During my surgery they will be checking lymph nodes to see if they are affected and will have a better picture moving forward on that day. If genetic test come back positive as well as any sentinel nodes affected, a bilateral may be done.  Lots of what ifs until then.

Staying positive that we have caught this very early. My general surgeon even said that whatever radiologists read my original mammogram is a genius to have found it.Joanie3

Update…

My unilateral mastectomy went well on August 6th. No radiation was needed and my surgeon was able to do reconstruction right away because my lymph nodes were clear! Also, found out all 3 tumors were not connected in any way so that keeps me at stage 1. BRCA genes were negative, as well as the oncotypeDX testing on my ILC tumors came back at very low risk so my oncologist will not be recommending me for chemo!!!! I will however be taking Armidex for a few years at least.  Tomorrow Oct. 2nd, I will be having my mastopexy/ lift on my right breast that was not affected by breast cancer, for symmetry.

To say I have been very lucky with my early detection and diagnosis doesn’t seem to quite cut it.

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Nikki’s Story

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I was built to be competitive. It didn’t matter what it was I was going to win, and I was going to give it my all. Here is my story of where I am going to win yet again. I am Nikki, I was diagnosed with stage 3A breast cancer November 9th, 2018.

My journey begins on a day where I was so naïve to my body, or was I? My husband and I had taken our two boys to the beach for fall break. I love the beach, I could sit at the ocean all day long with my feet lingering in the water. We came in for the day and we were all showering. When I got out, I was getting ready just like any other day. As I went to put deodorant on, I noticed when I raised my left arm that my breast looked odd. I raised my right arm up, nope nothing – that one looked normal. So, as I continued to play the game of up down up down, I pulled back the curtain asked my husband to look. He shook it off as not a huge deal.  Looking back now he knew something was not right. That day I will never forget October 2nd, 2018. So, what do I do next – Yep Dr. Google, I went? I looked up signs of breast cancer right away. Nothing looked like this so that was somewhat comforting to know and see. The next morning, I called my OBGYN asked for the next available appointment, 2 days later I was being seen and being told “I really think you are ok. I think this is Fibrocystic disease.” Many women have this as they get older and closer to 40.” I was thankful that my OB took the next step, he ordered a mammogram and ultrasound to rule anything out. The scary part of all this was there was nothing to be felt, seen and nothing hurt! I later found out that most cancerous tumors do not hurt. 2 weeks later was the mammogram, nothing was showing up that was profound so ultrasound time it was. You know it’s a bad sign when all the other ladies go in for their mammogram and come right back out. The radiologist who was giving the ultrasound couldn’t see anything profound yet again, but there was a dark shadow. I could tell by her mannerisms something was wrong she just was not at liberty to say. She suggested I see a breast surgeon who specialized in this type of imagery. So, another 2 weeks go by and more waiting.

November 5th, 2018 was the appointment with the Breast Surgeon, who by the way ended up being one of the coolest doctors I have ever had. As she comes in to examine me and I was playing the up down game again with her, she too said, “I really think this looks like fibrocystic” and she wasn’t concerned. I asked her “have you seen this before and what can I do to make the breast look normal again”. Imagine an orange with a huge dimple in it on one side. Only the other side of the orange completely nice and pretty. That is what my left breast looked like, ONLY WHEN I RAISED MY ARM. We talked more and more, and she suggested we just watch it for 3 months or so and revisit after the 1st of the year. Something inside told me NO keep pressing. I frowned upon that when she told me, and she asked me “what do you want to do “and I said, “I want to know why I look odd and I would like to know now”. She said ok, I can do a biopsy. I asked how long that took to schedule she told me we will do right now. As she and the nurse left the room, I asked my sister will that hurt as she too has had a biopsy as well. She assured me that it would be fine and nothing too crazy. Well boy! Was she wrong! I was like a fish out of water on that table as they cut my breast open to collect the tissue to be sent off to pathologist.

So here goes another round of the waiting game.

As I was told weeks before “we will call you with the results.” You cannot even relax your mind over thinking do I or don’t I have cancer. That was a Monday afternoon, and that Friday November 9th, 2018 would change my life forever.

I got the call late Friday afternoon on my way home from work. When I answered I was shocked to hear the doctor’s voice, I was expecting the nurse. She proceeded to tell me that indeed that was a small spot of breast cancer. (Remember small). I asked her what the next step was, and she said meet with the plastic surgeon about surgery and they would get everything lined up for me. Before we hung up so told me she was sorry and that breast cancer survivors have a high survival rate and that I would be just fine. She also apologized for wanting to watch it and praised me for being my own advocate on pushing her to find out.

What do you do when you hear, you have cancer? A million things ran into my head as I continued to drive home. It was like I was numb to the news. I called my husband as I was on my way to pick my kids up from school. Of course, I was broken this wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was relatively healthy. He assured me we would do whatever needed to be done to get me through this and told me he loved me. We hung up so he could meet me at home. Upon arriving at home, I just fell into his arms and asked why me? We cannot ask why, I now know that but to be mad and sad were both understatements. I made the dreadful calls to my other family members and just thought wow I have cancer. I couldn’t even bring myself to say that aloud. I can remember telling my husband and my sister I am not ready to die. I was 36 years old I have so many things I wanted to do, to see and most of all I wasn’t ready to leave this Earth until I saw my boys grown. I was not ready to let my husband do this along. He needed me just as much as I needed him. But telling your kids, wow that was tough. At the time I had a 5- and 12-year sons. They didn’t grasp the magnitude this was about to take place. Our world was about to be rocked. I remember my oldest crying not really understanding what cancer was, how was this going to affect him. My little one just cried because everyone else was crying, he had no idea what was going on. But I was very open with them both whether they knew what was going on or not they were going to know what was going on every step of the way and could ask me anything they wanted to.

A double mastectomy was recommended right away with reconstructive surgery per the plastic surgeon and breast surgeon. They both thought it was best to do both breast at same time and have peace of mind that this would not travel elsewhere with removing both.  I was not told that chemo or radiation was needed, it was surgery and you should be good to go. It was a small spot of cancer remember? I met my Oncologist for the first time 2 days before my big surgery, she suggested that I try this trial for 5-6 months to see if the tumor shrinks. I asked if the same outcome would happen as far as taking both breasts and the answer was, “yes.” I opted out of that trial and straight to surgery for me. I was already mentally prepared to have two body parts removed from my body, I did not want to back track.

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December 13th, 2018, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Surgery went well and that “small” spot of cancer was a tad over 5 centimeters, as big as a Kiwi. I had 14 lymph nodes removed and 10 of them were diseased. I came out with 4 JP drains that were attached to my sides. 2 on each side. Sleeping was a pain and walking made you drain blood more so staying laid up was the best for the drains. The goal was to get those suckers out. I was able to get them out in less than 4 weeks. Needless to say, the next real shower was amazing, no more drains and no more sponge baths!

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Then the fun started January 29th was my 1st chemo treatment. I would end up having 6 treatments that would last over 18 weeks. It was quite aggressive and that 1st treatment not sure I have ever been so sick. But I managed to make it through all the treatments and continue to work and I never missed my kids’ activities. I told my husband the boys’ lives must remain normal. I didn’t want their lives turned upside down anymore than what they were about to see. 2 weeks after my 1st chemo treatment my hair was gone. My hair follicles hurt so bad, as it started to come out by the handfuls. I was done with it, I wanted my head shaved so bad.

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I was blessed enough to have my dad buy me the best wig possible for all to carry on like I was still me. Looking back now that saved my sanity more than anyone will ever know. It didn’t affect my appearance for my boys, they knew my hair was gone but to physically see that they never did. I was still just mom to them. April 23rd, 2019 was the last chemo treatment for me. As the treatments continued the more and more tired, I was. Going and doing normal things were tougher for me. My husband made sure that I would get out and go places, it was so easy to just want to lay around my body was beat down. I was sore and nothing tasted good so why go out to eat when you can’t taste it. As chemo ended, I was ready to continue to the next step. Although my doctors gave me a break, I was ready for radiation. I wanted to continue and not miss a beat. Radiation would be 25 treatments every single day for 5 weeks. Treatments consisted of the breathing technique, hold your breath so radiation could penetrate right to the cancerous area and not affect your lungs or heart. Some days were great some harder. The more treatment I received the more tired I would get. By the end of the 5 weeks I was subconscious laying on that table trying to stay awake. I swore by CeraVe lotion and used the medicated cream as directed and didn’t burn too bad. The team there was awesome and blessed yet again to have them caring for me. June 27th, 2019 was the last radiation. It was bittersweet for me. I knew I needed that treatment but was so ready to have that time every day back. They gave me a certificate of completion and a small guardian angel pin and I just sat in my car and cried knowing that I was done. I was so proud of myself for getting through chemo and radiation and knew that I was going to win once again!

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July 27th,2019 we celebrated with a huge party for Tata to Cancer! I was finished with all my treatments and now I get to let my hair down and be surrounded by the people who supported me and helped make this journey as easy as possible. I was showered with warm hugs of you did it and we are so proud of you. Little did every one of those people know they had a piece in it all just as much as the next to make me feel beautiful and loved.

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Fast forward to August 27th, 2019 I had my tubes and ovaries removed as my cancer was hormonal so that was going go be the next step to make sure this nasty disease doesn’t cause issues elsewhere. I am not even a year out and I have had 4 surgeries and one to go. The last one is the good one though, I am gaining something back from cancer. It may have taken my God given breasts, but God will put me in the hands of the best plastic surgeon to give me something back and make me feel like a woman again.  To be honest I cannot even hardly remember what I looked like without my breasts. I would remove them 10 out 10 times if that mean one more day on this earth with the people that I love.

I have remained as positive as I possibly can. I have had the best supporters surrounding me and people that don’t even know me pray for me. The power of prayer is real and felt so many days when I was falling into those ugly thoughts and rabbit hole of dark moments. Until you are afflicted with cancer you will never understand what it does to your mind, body and soul. I treat everyday now as if it’s the last. I make sure to pray for people when they might need it, I make sure that I laugh a little harder and cry often, and I always make sure the people I love, know that I love them and mean it. Going through the motions for me is never an answer.  I am forever grateful to all my doctors who helped me get through this and still care for me today. They all had their hand on helping me win.

I was blessed to have people come clean my home, take care of my kids, cook us dinner. The calls, the text messages, the emails and cards all carried a piece of my healing and helped keep my spirits up.

My family, each and every one of them have remained constant in supporting me every step of the way. They made this journey easier and as fun as possible. We have laughed more than we have cried, and we have held each other just a little tighterbecause none of us are promised tomorrow. 

My husband, Justin, has been my biggest rock. There hasn’t been a day go by that he has not told me how beautiful I am, with hair with no hair, with my breast or just with these expanders I have today. I have always felt special to him. To him I am no different I am just the girl he married 16 years ago. Through the good times and the bad we have continued to laugh and cry along the way and never lose sight of the end goal, WIN!

My boys have been a huge bright source for me healing. They’ve continued to make me laugh and keep things in perspective. Battling through the good and bad times I hope they know how special they are to me more and more each day and I hope that they know we get up each day to win and giving up is never an option. 

I am now a part of a sorority that no one wants to be in but of once you are chosen the support and friendships will last a lifetime. I want to be able to be ray of hope to the next woman in need. When she finds herself in my shoes, I hope she knows she is not alone. If you take anything from my story it would be don’t be naïve to your body, listen to it. Press the doctors for more answers. 

If I had not pressed, my outcome might have been a lot different,but I am here, and I did win, and I will continue to win the rest of my life.

The Breast Brunch Ever: Saying TATA Together!

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We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to share a recap of our recent event in Nashville which Laura and I hosted with Making Strides Against Cancer.

What happens when 115 individuals who care about making a difference in the fight against breast cancer get together on a Saturday morning? You have the Breast Brunch Ever! You enjoy unbelievable food, crafty morning cocktails, lots of laughs and maybe even a few tears. And overall you join a community; a community of survivors, thrivers and advocates for the cause.

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It was an honor to be able to host an event to raise awareness and bring together a community of amazing women who are banding together to fight breast cancer. The goal of the day was not only to build community and raise funds for the American Cancer Society, it was to share knowledge and experiences which make us stronger together. We want to say THANK YOU to all who attended and/or donated to the cause, together we raised $4612 for our Making Strides Team Tata to Cancer!

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This event was birthed by our beloved Making Strides walk chairs Debbie Thomas and Mallory Martin when they reached out to Laura and I to host an event for young breast cancer survivors. Of course, we couldn’t start small. We wanted to host an event that y’all would want to come to which was not only to talk about cancer but was to have a little fun and a reason to dress up! That is when planning this brunch became a labor of love. Together with our friends in the breast cancer community: Jocelyn Limmer and Jarrah Paschall we landed a space at Alfred Williams and a LOT of fun ideas. We were even lucky enough to have local businesses donate to the cause and support our idea to build our special #PimpinJoy bag (courtesy of The Shop Forward) of goodies and a few fun giveaways. We cannot thank all of the donors enough as the event would not have been the same without these items to remember it by. And we cannot forget one of our main events, Austin from Winkie Lux, who made so many women feel beautiful as they had a makeup application or went home with some fun new products. A special thanks to all of our sponsors and donors who are listed below.

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In the end, the highlight of our day was the amazing panel of guests which really did make it the “Breast Brunch”. Dr. Jacob Unger, Dr. Habib Doss, Jarrah Paschall and Amanda Cortese- THANK YOU!   Dr. Unger and Dr. Doss donated their time and their knowledge to this event and openly shared advice and information which will help us individually and to help others. A fellow survivor said it best today when she told me it was great to have a conversation with a Doctor with clothes on rather than sitting naked in a gown…maybe there is something to be said for this approach! Jarrah shared with us how important it is to care for yourself during and after treatment by giving us some highlights of how she coaches women to health through her company Wellness Warrior. And Amanda…this woman is a rock star! Amanda’s story is one of true grit and courage and she so openly shared with us how she is a thriver and has faced her Stage 4 diagnosis with positivity and determination to beat it. All of our speakers taught us something new and gave us a different perspective on this disease which we all want to beat.

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While I cannot come close to describing how this event made us feel, we can merely say Thank You and hope that you know how we will cherish your presence and support of this cause which is so near and dear to our hearts.

Finally, a special thanks to our friends, family and the ACS volunteers who helped us make this happen!

If you would like to walk with us or donate to say Tata to Cancer, click here to help us in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

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TATA to Cancer shirts are available at theshopforward.com or by clicking here.

 

Thank you to all of our sponsors and donors!

Space provided by Alfred Williams, thanks to Ted Limmer.

Food and drinks provided by Answer. With drinks curated by Kayla Sigountos.

The Shop Forward

Dr. Jacob Unger

Aila

Survivor Fitness

Trisha Yearwood

Winkie Lux

Camp Gladiator

Poppy and Monroe

City Winery

Here are some other fun pictures from the event.

 

Kenna’s Story

I have too much to do and this is not on my list….

I started this crazy cancer journey in 2016. One morning while showering I did my self-exam (yes they are important and you should do them) and noticed a lump. I called for my husband to come up and feel it and he said I am sure it is nothing. So I kind of left it alone and didn’t think much else that day. The next day it was still there, not sure where I thought it was going to go. As soon as I felt the lump I knew it was cancer but I never said it out loud. I called my family doctor and of course mine had retired so there was a new doctor and because I hadn’t seen her it was going to be a week or two to get in. I waited patiently until the following week and my husband and I went in to see her. She was 90% sure that the lump was just a cyst and was going to send us on our way. My husband spoke up and asked her to order a mammogram to be sure and ease our minds, she reluctantly said yes. Well when I get to the checkout she has ordered a mammo and an ultrasound for two days later, I was thrilled.

I went to have the tests and before I even left they consulted the doctor and scheduled me for a biopsy. I was told I would be having a stereotactic biopsy and an ultrasound guided biopsy, ok I can do this two different types, this is good right. So the day comes for my biopsies and this is the day my world is flipped upside down. We walk in and the nurse tells us that they blocked out the entire afternoon to do the biopsies because it is so involved. We sit down with the Radiologists before we get started because he is supposed to biopsy three different areas but he really doesn’t want to do that because he doesn’t like to do that many on one person at one time. So he begins to walk us through what he is seeing on the mammo and he tells us at that time he is 80% sure that it’s breast cancer. Kenna First Chemo 18This news from him was like a ton of bricks hitting my husband and me. All I could think about was my 5-year-old son and what we were going to do. So we go about the day have the biopsies and the nurse tells us she will call us at 3pm on Friday. The nurse calls us on Friday and confirms that diagnosis, Stage II, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I have to tell you the next hour was a complete whirlwind. She scheduled my appointment with the breast surgeon for first thing Monday morning. Oh and by the way this official diagnosis was the day before my wedding anniversary. My husband and I decided to put it all behind us and just have a great weekend without thinking about the diagnosis….like that happened.

Monday rolls around and it starts the whirlwind of doctors and information. That week I had an appointment with my breast surgeon, plastic surgeon and oncologist, and was scheduled to have a port inserted and the genetic testing done. My breast surgeon was amazing. The first thing she did was give me her cell phone number and told me to call her if I needed anything (this is important for a later situation). After my first appointment with the breast surgeon I called our local cancer services organization and got all the info I could from them but also I needed to know how to explain all of this to my son. So we got books and talked to him and told him exactly what was going on. I should tell you my son is a very emotional kiddo. So we explained it all and read a book and then we went about telling his teacher so if he started talking about it she would know. He handled everything like a champ. He was most worried about me losing my hair, he loved to play with my hair especially when he was tired so I knew that was going to be a hard spot for him. If it had not been for the resources the cancer services had given me I don’t know how we would have explained it all to him. The one thing that sticks out the most that she said was don’t ever tell him you are sick…you aren’t sick you have cancer. I think that statement was what got me through the whole process. I wasn’t sick, I didn’t have a cold or the flu, I had cancer! I started a Facebook group: Kenna’s Breast Beat Down as a way to share my story and to keep everyone updated as I went through the journey.

I was diagnosed on March 18th and had my first chemo on March 31st so needless to say it was a whirlwind 2 weeks. I was put on taxotere, carboplatin and Herceptin every three weeks. I had 6 full rounds of chemo and then finished the year of Herceptin. I had made Kenna and Sonmy decision at my first appointment to have a double mastectomy because I didn’t want to worry about it coming back in my other breast. So I had chemo, last one was in July, I had talked my breast surgeon into doing my surgery in August because my blood numbers had been good all through the chemo. I didn’t have any issues during chemo except for neuropathy.  I was scheduled to have my surgery and I was having my pre surgery appointment, four days before my surgery, with my plastic surgeon and he says I am not doing your surgery, it’s too close to the end of your chemo.  I get to my car and call my breast surgeon, surprisingly she answers. I tell her what’s going on and she then calls me 10 minutes later letting me know to be back there at 7:30am in the morning and another doctor would perform my surgery on Tuesday. Don’t worry everything will be ok. Again I am freaked out but I can handle this. So I meet with the new doctor and he is amazing.  We go to the hospital Tuesday amped up and ready to get this part over with, I am a pretty type A person so this whole process has been hard for me to not be able to control. After the surgery we got word that my margins came back clear and so did my lymph nodes. This might have been the best news I ever heard. I told myself I was only going to be off work for two weeks…and I was. I went back to work after 9 work days, still had 3 tentacles (drains). I think my doctors gave up telling me what to do, I showered after three days with my drains and all. I drove after a week. I was not going to let this dictate my life any more than it had. Yes, maybe I should have listened to the doctors, but it ended up okay. I healed well, started with the expanders or as I called them the fluff and fills every week. I was such a planner that in October I told my doctor when I wanted to do the exchange surgery and we got to an agreement. I had my exchange surgery on Dec. 22.  Maybe not a great idea to do a few days before Christmas but I wanted it done before the New Year.

Port inserted, chemo done, mastectomy done, exchange surgery and port removal done all in 14 months. I was so thrilled to have all this stuff done and behind me….or so I thought. I started my new relationships with Tamoxifen as well during this time.Kenna End of Chemo

Well in September of 2018 I noticed my collarbone was a little swollen and I felt a bump. So I called my oncologists office and at first they thought it might have been because I was just getting over a cold and to just watch it. I got a call a couple days later from the nurse that they wanted me to come in. So of course here my husband and I go into the doctors office. Again I should say as soon as I felt it, I knew something wasn’t right, I honestly didn’t think it was cancer but I knew it wasn’t good. I saw the nurse practitioner and she wanted me to see the doctor. So here we go again…it was time to get scheduled for tests, etc. I had bone scans, CT scans, PET scans, biopsies. It was official I was Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. I had spots in my liver, lungs and lymph nodes through my chest and collarbone. It was a shock! I never thought I would be diagnosed again let along Stage 4. I will be honest I thought Stage 4 was a death sentence. I thought it meant the end was near, etc. I spoke with my breast surgeon and she talked me off the ledge and explained to me she had patients that had been NED (no evidence of disease) for 10+ years and were living full lives even with Stage 4 MBC. I was so scared. I started the journey again and in September of 2018 I started with taxol weekly and Herceptin and perjeta every three weeks. I recently completed 48 weeks of taxol and 16 rounds of Herceptin and perjeta. I am getting ready to have my ovaries removed even though I was BRCA negative they want to remove them to put me into menopause and make sure I stop producing hormones….yipee….here I come menopause…again!

I am blessed to be able to be here and share my story. I am also lucky to have an amazing husband that has stuck through all of this and went outside his comfort zone when I needed him the most, my son that I am sure doesn’t understand the full extent of it all Kenna Round 21 Chemobut still is amazing and supportive, my family that sticks my me and offers to help whenever I need it and all of my friends. I truly could not have done this without the support system I have, it’s overwhelming but to know people are out there loving and supporting me and looking at me as an example makes me want to keep pushing on. Love you all and thanks for reading!

 

Jill’s Story

As I sit here listening to praise and worship music, I couldn’t be more grateful to God for his blessings bestowed upon me during my cancer journey.

My name is Jill. My journey started 3 years ago at the age of 34. I discovered something was different with my breast before getting the shower one day. I knew immediately something bad was wrong. I’ve always been taught or have read that any breast changes should be of concern. I immediately made an appointment with my gynecologist and that’s where my breast cancer journey began.

March of 2016 I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma. I have the luxury of being located only a couple of hours away from the world’s most renowned cancer center. M.D. Anderson (MDA) in Houston, Texas is who I chose as my medical team. Like many of you, I have no family history of breast cancer. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, but other than that our family didn’t have cancer running through it. By the way, my father is still thriving now 13 years later from his diagnosis.

I don’t remember all the specifics of the process of how things went, I just remember it was very overwhelming. My life had been turned upside down. I have dealt with heartache and pain unfortunately more times than I’d like to have experienced in my young 34 years of life, but this was truly on a whole other level. I am married to my high school sweetheart, Trey, with whom I’ve been with for 20 years. That’s over half of our lifetime! We have a beautiful daughter Olivia, who will be turning 7 years old next month. At the time of my diagnosis she was 3 ½ years old.

So, there I was, 34 years old, with a 3-year-old child, a husband and best friend, whom I did not want to leave. All I thought of was that I was going to die and leave them alone. I know what it feels like to not have your mom around. I didn’t want to leave my child without a mother for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, this is where my mindset was.

I cried all day and all night, every minute of every day. I prayed and I prayed all day and all night, every minute of every day. I considered myself the rock of our family. And now what? Who was going to take care of the bills? Who was going to grocery shop and keep the house clean? Who was going to get Olivia to school and to her events? Okay, so maybe I’m a little bit of a control freak, but I am just a mom. And that’s what mom’s do. We take care of everything.

And now I was so worried I was going to die and leave my child and who was going to take care of everything?

I had to get a grip on myself. I finally couldn’t take it anymore, after a couple of weeks of being in complete hysteria, I sought help. I reached out to my team at MDA and scheduled an appointment with a psychologist. Immediately after I made that phone call, I felt relief. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I mentioned before, I lost my loving mother, my best friend, when I was 25 years old. So, this feeling wasn’t completely lost on me. I knew what I had to do, and I couldn’t do it alone.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, after meeting with the psychologist and getting some medication to help me cope, I was doing much better. I don’t want to sound insincere, or not appreciative of the encouraging words “you’re so strong”, but I kind of cringe when people say that. I’m not “STRONG”. I’m not strong at all. I think if anyone is put in an unfortunate situation, they are going to seek a will to live like no other. I’m weak, I’m human, I weep and worry. But when it comes down to it, my will to live was “stronger” than my desire to give up and die. Some may disagree, but I don’t see myself strong nor do I see my journey as making me strong. I just am who I am.

My daughter Olivia didn’t have any idea what was going on. She is VERY much a momma’s girl. So, when I had to leave her for my first surgery, it was extremely hard on her, and I was only gone a couple of nights. I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. That’s what I love most about my surgeon at MDA, he was so kind and so endearing and sincere. He gave me all the options, but in the end, he said it was my choice as to what I wanted to do, that it was my body.

My reasoning for choosing the double mastectomy was because I had previously had issues with my right breast in the past, having a fibroadenoma. I didn’t want any chance of recurrence in my other breast and for symmetry purposes, I thought this would be best for me.

As you can imagine, my curious 3-year-old had lots of questions when I returned home from surgery. Bless her heart, I couldn’t hug her and hold her for quite some time. It hurt both of us emotionally. I know everyone has a different perspective of how to involve their children with their diagnosis but to this day I haven’t ever used the word Cancer around her. In my opinion she is a child, an innocent child and I never want to burden her with fear or worry if I can avoid it.

We said things like “mommy had a boo boo that the doctor had to take out”. As I’ve mentioned before and I’m sure those of you that are mothers can attest that you never get a moment alone.

Therefore, Olivia saw everything. Of course, Trey and I were cautious to not scare her with any bloody or gross dressings, but she saw my scars and drain tubes. I tried my very best to not
make this a bad experience for her and to teach her that the doctors were helping me. It turns out my pathology results and my Syntel-node biopsy showed that my cancer had spread into my lymph nodes. This was a devastating hit again. Previously, before going into surgery, my doctor and team of nurses were praising me for catching this early and even they didn’t suspect it had spread. Thank goodness for modern medicine and science.

This news obviously changed the course of action and I was referred to an oncologist and a radiologist. So many appointments and still so overwhelming.

Prior to visiting my oncologist, I had already decided that I would be open to whatever treatment plan he had in store for me. After he explained his course of action, and I replied with “yes, I will do whatever it takes,” he literally sighed of relief. We had a chuckle about that. I suppose more people are hesitant about chemotherapy and the drugs involved. I tried to remind myself often that chemotherapy was not “poison”, that it was medicine that was going to cure me.

I had about 3-4 weeks from my mastectomy surgery to heal and think about or act towards preserving my eggs for future children. My sweet loving husband left it up to me as to what I wanted to do. He said it was my body. Therefore, I chose to forgo the egg retrieval process.

One thing I have learned most from this journey, is that I am not in control. And if God wanted me to have more children, then he will bless us.

I began my chemotherapy treatments in June of 2016. 4 rounds of Adriamycin (the red devil) and then another 12 rounds of paclitaxel. I eventually didn’t complete my chemotherapy until October of 2016.

Hair loss was the least of my concerns, but there again, I have a young daughter, who, was devastated and couldn’t understand why I was losing my hair. She asked me all the time when my hair was going to grow back. She cried and begged. I hated it for her. I told her it would, but that it would take time. Try explaining that to an almost 4-year-old princess. She eventually became used to it, and she loved telling people in public that I didn’t have any hair (ha ha).

I worked through my entire chemotherapy treatments. During the first 8 weeks of the red devil, I would have my treatment on a Thursday and would be off from work until the following Wednesday or Thursday. Then the cycle would repeat itself and I would go back for treatment the next week. I only had one week of feeling “good” between treatments. My oncology nurse and doctor were amazing and helped me with the nausea and other side effects. I never got “sick” from the chemotherapy, but I begin to develop what my doctor called “anticipatory anxiety” on the days of my treatment. Reminder, I have a 2-hour drive to Houston, and it would start. I would get nauseous, “car sick” is what I thought it was, and even the smell of MDA made me sick (not that it smells, I was just super sensitive at the time). I think I might be getting nauseous just thinking about this. Just kidding, kind of.

I then began twelve straight weeks of paclitaxel, and boy was I glad I had the “hard stuff” first. Everyone has a different treatment plan, and I’m glad I got the hard part over with first. For me, paclitaxel was a breeze. I did lose a few toenails, and developed neuropathy, but nothing medication and treatments couldn’t help. All of those symptoms have subsided, and my nails are just as before. I got to take a break and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and began my radiation treatments in December. Those treatments were every day, for 6 straight weeks. And yes, I drove, or a friend or family member drove me, every day to Houston. Our trip there would take longer than the treatment itself.

I must say, I was really scared of radiation. I remember when I was told that I was going to have radiation, I was very upset. All I had heard or read was about bad cases of radiation. To my surprise it was a breeze. Blessings to my workplace and my co-workers because they allowed me to take off for 6 weeks straight to have those treatments. I offered to come into work after my treatment, but they wouldn’t allow it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but radiation was very draining to me physically. Not until a couple of weeks after I was done with radiation did, I realize, how much more energy I had. I’m sure the traveling took its toll on me as well.

After my chemotherapy treatments and radiation, I had to continue to receive Herceptin through my port every three weeks for a full year. Although my cancer was HER2 negative, it was borderline negative, my doctors wanted to treat me aggressively and I was on board and trusted their expertise. I chose to have those treatments done at a local cancer treatment facility. I was also put on a medication called tamoxifen, which I will continue to take for 10 years.

The one-year mark for Herceptin came around in August 2017 and by September I was getting my port removed. I then scheduled my second reconstruction surgery with my plastic surgeon from MDA.

My only option since I had undergone radiation was to do the Diep-flap procedure. Basically, my doctor used my belly fat and skin to create my new breast. Yes, you read that right, they can do that. That was a long operation, longer than my mastectomy,  I believe it ran 8-10 hours.

I don’t know how the doctors train to do that but it’s a gift I can assure you. I spent a week in the hospital after that surgery to make sure the tissue didn’t die. My husband stayed with me the whole time. We were so ready to get out of there and get home by the end of that week.

I am fortunate that I didn’t have any complications with either surgeries and that I also have a good caretaker in my husband Trey. Olivia was 5 years old by this time, so she became a good helper too.

In October of 2018 I had my last reconstructive surgery. You know plastic surgeons they are perfectionist. This surgery consisted of some liposuction and fat grafting. I went home the same day of surgery.

So here we are, September 2019. I turned 38 years old just a few days ago on the 1st. These last three years have seemed like a lifetime ago. It’s very hard to explain but I guess because it felt like it took forever to get through all the treatments and surgeries.

This has been one of the toughest seasons of my life. It has also been the most humbling experience. My favorite thing about this journey is that my relationship with God has grown more than I ever dreamed of. I don’t blame God for any of my hardships, I look at him and tell him “thank you” for getting me through them. I thank God for my blessings daily. I thank Him for all the hardships and problems that I endured that are now my testimonies. I would like to think that when the time comes, because it will, when Olivia experiences heartbreak or sadness, that I can provide her with some comforting insight and perspective.

Another thing I would like to say is that through my journey, my faith in humanity was restored.

When all the world is caught up in negativity, I received nothing but positive experiences and praises from people.

I’ve had many strangers come up and hug me (a little awkward but endearing). I’ve had my lunch paid for a couple of times by strangers and wait staff. My hometown community and workplace held numerous fundraisers to help with expenses. They picked up the slack when I couldn’t make it to work. Friends and family gathered together and set up a meal plan for weeks on in, so that I didn’t have to worry about cooking or groceries.

All the little things I was so worried about in the beginning of this journey, seemed to work themselves out.

I hope that my journey and experience will be eye opening to others. Cancer does not discriminate. Disease of any kind does not discriminate. You are not invincible. You must be your own advocate. And as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters; we must take care of ourselves so that we can then take care of others. Put yourself first for once and make yourself an appointment. Quit putting off that “pain” you keep feeling. Go with your gut instinct, it’s there for a reason. Have hope, as I can testify, in the end everything will be alright.

My heart is so full, and I feel so loved.

Thank you Jesus.