Stacie’s Story

Hello everyone! My name is Stacie, I’m 34 years old, I’m BRCA2+ and currently fighting Stage3a Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I live in Buffalo, NY with my new husband (we just got married 12/8/2018), our kids & our dogs! I’m a RN & esthetician & currently running my own little eyebrow & lash studio. 

I want to say my story started on 3/28/2019 when my biopsy confirmed cancer, but truthfully it really started in 2009 when I tested positive for the genetic mutation, BRCA2.  I had know my grandmother got breast cancer at a very young age (33) and lived only into early 40s, & my mother had just been diagnosed with Stage2 (triple negative & HER2+) & tested positive for BRCA2, this is when my sister & I were told we needed to test for the mutation as well. I tested positive, my sister tested negative. I was 25 at the time. I did one consult for a prophylactic mastectomy at that time but the surgeon suggested waiting until 30 and reconsidering. At this time the gene was still really just being learned about & prophylactic mastectomies were not done nearly as often as now. So I opted to do surveillance which was a mammo/MRI every 6 months plus monitoring ovaries. I was very good with my monitoring. Despite knowing my risk I still really never felt it could happen to me. That quickly changed in March of 2019!

I was overdue for my annual MRI come March 2019. I was due in November 2018 (last mammo was May 2018) but I was preoccupied with my December wedding & brushed off my regular scans, regretfully. We got married in early December & went Thailand until Christmas Day. By time life seemed to get back to normal it was already March and I knew I needed to be seen. I often felt my breast & had no reason to believe anything was wrong. As the PA was doing my breast exam she kept pushing into one spot, I knew something seemed funny, but I had long time breast implants & sometimes it warranted extra time. Finally the PA asked me if I’d ever felt this “lump” before & my heart sank, I already knew it was cancer, and I was so mad at myself for putting off my scans & thinking “how didn’t I feel this?!” My tumor was flat & laid flat on my implant, it was not a typical round tumor which is likely why I did not feel it on my own. We did a mammogram & ultra sound that day both confirmed suspicion & biopsy was set up for 4 days later. I went in for my biopsy on a Monday & I got the call on Wednesday to come in for results (office rules are no results given over the phone despite my husband calling trying to get results sooner lol!) & was told I’d be seeing the surgeon, which confirmed my suspicion it was cancer. 

That night was very rough. I cried a lot. The next morning my mom & husband both went with me for results. I have never felt anxiety like I did that morning waiting for the dr to come in. It seemed like I waited forever. She finally came in and sat and very calmly told me I had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in-situ) & being a nurse I already knew this was best case scenario with cancer (because it meant it had not spread yet) & I think I almost laughed out loud when she said it out of pure relief it wasn’t anything more. She said due to gene & family history I’d need a non nipple sparing double mastectomy and that it didn’t seem like I’d even need chemo if nothing else popped up! I was so so happy.  I went for my scans which showed no indication that the cancer had spread so we scheduled surgery first then I’d see an oncologist to determine if I’d need further treatment based on surgical pathology. My opening party for my lash & brow studio was set up for the day after my diagnosis, still being a newly wed & with my initial diagnosis being in-situ I was really on cloud 9 still!

My surgery wasn’t scheduled until 7 weeks later. As time went on I kept getting this suspicious feeling something wasn’t right. Toward the last few weeks before surgery I kept telling my family & even my dr that I thought it was spreading to my lymph nodes because I could feel it. I did mention this to my dr but she didn’t seem concerned, as I was told what I was feeling was from the biopsy (& that you can’t feel cancer spreading  but I swear I could so please please please listen to your body…I wish I did!) but I knew it wasn’t. Although they were incredibly understanding, my family grew tired of hearing me obsess about something not being right despite my scans showing the cancer hasn’t spread. I had been known to be a little dramatic in the past so they kinda just thought I was being my typical dramatic self. It was frustrating to me that I felt no one was truly listening my concerns. My friends & my husband threw me a little pre-treatment party & we all wore pink & it was really just a nice time & so thoughtful of them! I’m thankful for them as it helped me feel normal for a night! 

So, fast forward to waking up from my double mastectomy…ALL of my lymph nodes on my cancer side had been removed. This was not the plan UNLESS the cancer had spread. I had expanders placed at this time as well. My suspicions were right and cancer was found in my lymph nodes & I would not know my pathology until 2 weeks post op. I had 3 JP drains & one incision across each breast where my nippples were & one incision under each arm. I was surprised how quickly I was able to physically recover from the surgery. The drains were definitely the worst part! Mentally, I was not well because I had to wait on the pathology & at this point I was worried I was stage 4. 

I went in for pathology & was told 2 lymph nodes tested positive (I was so relieved only 2!) & that the cancer was triple negative. Triple negative Breast cancer is particularly aggressive, uncommon,& does not currently have a targeted treatment…ouch. In addition to it being TNBC & due to my age & genetics I’d need to be treated aggressively. A few days later I met my oncologist who gave final diagnosis of Stage 3a TNBC & within a week from meeting him (just shy of 4 weeks post op) I had my port placed and started chemo. Biopsies only capture a small portion of the big picture & unfortunately in my situation it didn’t capture my full situation. I was also told due to the flat & odd shape of my tumor & how it laid on implant I just unfortunately had an uncommon situation. Talk about turn of events! 

 My treatment plan: 20 rounds of chemo -4 AC then 16 taxol with carboplatin every 3rd infusion. Carboplatin is a chemo drug that is being used in clinical trials & showing promise for reducing reoccurrence for patients with gene & TNBC (I believe it’s for both but I could be mistaken) but it is hard on blood counts. I will then have 30 rounds of radiation to my chest wall & under arm followed  by surgery to finish up my reconstruction. 

I’ve always had LONG hair, I knew losing it would be tough (my oncologist didn’t seem keen on cold capping with my type of cancer and losing my hair really didn’t seem so important anymore). I decided to cut it into a short bob (something I’d never usually do) which I actually loved!  Before my second infusion I started to lose my hair so we decided to have a head shaving party. It actually wasn’t much of a party it was mostly just my husbands friends agreeing to let me shave their head & even their eyebrows! Then my husband shaved mine last. We did it live on Facebook and ended up with over 3k views. It was actually a good time and I’m glad I did it that way. I hope I was able to somehow inspire other women, or just even one woman would be enough to make it all worth it. I don’t really ever go around bald, I still struggle with it so I usually wear one of my wigs with a baseball cap. It’s been fun trying new color hair but I’m usually too exhausted to get out and do much. I’m currently on chemo number 7 & I have been delayed 2 days total due to having critically low white blood counts & being neutropenic. I’m hopeful due to my age & being generally healthy we will be able to get through the entire treatment as planned. 

As far as my prognosis goes, if all treatment is completed & nothing new pops up I have 22% chance of it returning within 3 years. After 3 years the rate drops to around 11%. After ten years I’ll be cured. I keep telling myself that I have almost 80% of it NOT coming back. I eat healthy & am much more aware of what goes into my body. And even if it does my oncologist said TNBC is currently being studied the most out of all types of breast cancer right now due to lack of targeted treatments & aggressiveness so hopefully if it does return there is something new in the works! I recently had a scan show a non specific lymph node in my abdomen which usually in non cancer patients wouldn’t be a concern, but with my diagnosis it’s recommended to do a follow up scan in 6 months. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared but for now I’m just trying to enjoy the days I feel good with my hubby, kids, family & friends. I feel like I have learned so much about life in these last few months than I have in my previous 34 years! The kindness & love that I’ve been shown throughout this, from family, friends & even strangers, is heartwarming. My husband has been my lifesaver and I couldn’t get through this without him (although it does get hard at times facing something so stressful & scary!).  My son insisted on coloring his hair pink to show his support (he’s 12)& our dogs tails are pet friendly dyed pink too! This is something I never thought I would be able to get through but I’m proving to myself that I’m stronger than I ever imagined. 

I learned a very hard lesson about putting things off when it comes to my health. Maybe if I went for my MRI when I was due things could’ve been different & maybe not have spread. On the other hand maybe it would’ve been too small to show up yet…I’ll never know! But I refuse to dwell on it and only move forward being more of an advocate for myself & not being scared to speak up if I feel something isn’t right. I feel very involved in my chemo treatment plan as well as my reconstruction & that makes me feel much more confident & secure in my path! 

Triple negative BC is being found more & more in young premenopausal women under 40 & in African American women. When combined with a premenopausal diagnosis & the BRCA gene it tends to be extremely aggressive. I encourage any woman who has the gene to explore prophylactic options. My reconstruction really looks incredible so far (as it is understandable that physical appearance of breast at a young age is of concern) & the surgery is becoming more common with more advanced techniques coming out! 

I have found support groups on social media to particularly helpful, especially those for younger women & talking to other survivors have helped so much too! And that is exactly why I’m sharing my story with all of you! 

Steffanie’s Story

From the girl who lost her ponytail….

Hi! My name is Steffanie, I am a single mom of my totally amazing 12-year-old daughter. We have two English bulldogs named Bruce (8yrs) and Elliot (1.5yrs).  I grew up in East Tennessee in a little town called Seymour. I attended the University of Tennessee where I graduated with a Nursing degree in 2004. I then moved to the Nashville area to pursue my career in anesthesia and graduated in 2011 from Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia!

In January of 2017, I became the black sheep of the family by being the first person in my family to be diagnosed with cancer.  I was 36 years old and had no family history of cancer so breast examines weren’t really on my radar. I would do them here and there but not routine. I was a healthy 36-year-old with zero family history… I couldn’t get cancer!  WRONG.

Rewind to December of 2011 while studying for my anesthesia boards, I found a lump on my left upper breast. I followed up with a surgeon, DR. Lisa White, from where I would be working starting in January. She ordered an ultrasound and it came back as a fibroadenoma, a benign mass. I chose to have it removed anyways just a few days before I took boards. Crazy right?! But I wanted peace of mind that sucker was out of my body. All came back clear with the pathology…whew.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016…I always would feel around where my scar from the fibroadenoma was just out of habit. Well I noticed the tissue in that area getting harder. So I kept an eye on it and did examines every week to monitor change. It stayed just a hard, dense, band of tissue for a month or two but by the end of November/early December it was a lump. So, I called Dr. White and said hey I think that fibroadenoma is back, there is a lump about an inch or two away from the last spot, I want it out again. So, she ordered an ultrasound for December 19thand then I immediately met with he afterwards. She said “Steff, this looks funny, not like a fibroadenoma, I am concerned about it, let’s biopsy it.”  Great, I am thinking. Mind you I took my daughter, who was 9 at the time, with me. So, we scheduled the surgery but it is January 9th before we could get a spot because anybody who works in the OR knows getting on the schedule at the end of the year is a nightmare, even if you have connections.

Well since it’s the holidays I decided to travel over to East TN to visit family. I kept all this on the downlow except for my sis in law who happens to be my best friend too. No sense in worrying everyone right!  2 weeks go by and I am sitting on the couch the Friday before my scheduled surgery, I feel the mass again. It has changed from a hard, dense lumpy mass into a rock in a matter of a week. I knew at that moment it was CANCER, this was the “marble” everyone talks about finding. Now we also were experiencing an ice storm here in middle Tennessee and I thought to myself, “if I can’t get to the hospital on Monday, come hell or high water, I will cut this thing out myself”. That’s how sure I was.

So Monday comes and I have my biopsy. I am glad we had the option to do this in the OR because I wanted the whole thing out! The great thing about my job is I can handpick who is in my OR room to take care of me. The bad thing is those people actually give a damn about me and when Dr. White returned back from the path lab in tears and had to tell everyone in there it was cancer, the whole room sunk. I don’t cry much but typing this makes me a little tearful. So she tells me after surgery it’s cancer, but I simply said I was expecting this report. She said the margins were clear which meant they got all the tumor out of my body, and it was less than 1cm in size! But hey, I am tough, healthy, young, I got this! Let’s slay this tumor and move on.  I go pick my kiddo up from school that afternoon and she asks “well is it a good bump or a bad bump mom?” I said kiddo, it’s a bad bump, but its gonna be ok. Staying strong for her was the only mission I had during this, if I broke, she broke. That wasn’t going to happen.

January 19th I am out running errands at Target and get a call from Dr. White.  “Hey Steff, I got your final path back, are you where you can talk?”  yep I am at Target, go for it, “well it came back Stage 1, but all the hormone receptors are negative..” ok, what does that mean? “that means it is TRIPLE NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER, but we caught it early”.  My world then changed and in the middle of the target line, I said “F#%&,, that means I have to do chemo”. So from that point on, slaying this tumor wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. This was a game changer. The hardest part was telling my kiddo I had to do chemo now. For the first time I cried. It was just us, how was I going to do this. She can’t watch her mom wither away and die in a hospital bed. Luckily, she is a strong little warrior like myself and was up for the battle. Honestly, she was most bummed that our family sailing trip had to get postponed, but I mean who wouldn’t be bummed about that! So, January 25th I got my port placed for the chemo to get infused thru and my sentinel node biopsy, which came back negative yippee! Then on Wednesday February 1, I started chemo with my fabulous oncologist Dr. Gian. My besties Brooke and Jen from nursing school took me to my chemos and took such wonderful care of me. So many friends and family sent meals and gifts for us, it was truly a blessing. To all the random people out their who paid for groceries, ice cream, or meals while eating out, Thank you!

I did chemo every other week for 4 months. I tried doing the cold caps to save my hair but they didn’t work for me. By week 3 it was so thin and my scalp hurt so bad I had to shave it. After hours of procrastinating it. It finally happened. Ahhh what sweet relief. And let’s talk about how easy it was to get ready now! I am not going to lie, it was hard to let go of my hair, it sucked, I cried more over that than the actual cancer diagnosis. Stupid right, but I did. But once it was off, I was ok with it, I was now in warrior mode. I chose not to wear a wig, they are hot, itchy, and uncomfortable. Oh, and my daughter hated them lol, she said mom you look better bald, you look like you. So, I wore some toboggans and ball caps out and about and was a bald conehead at home. I have to wear a surgical cap at work in the OR so I didn’t have to worry about work life. Honestly losing my eyelashes and brows was harder on my look than my head hair, let’s face it there are some badass sexy bald women out there! But no lashes and no brows was a rough look for me.  May 18th was my last round of chemo and the peach fuzz was already starting to sprout on my head. So glad to be done with the poison that saved my life.  It wasn’t a bad as I anticipated it to be. My side effects were minimal, I was able to work 3 days a week throughout treatment. Minus a setback of double pneumonia around week 10 it went as smooth as I could have needed it to go.

Typically, chemo is done before surgery with triple negative breast cancer because of its aggressive nature. It wants to destroy its host as fast and quickly as it can, getting systemic chemo in asap is key. Luckily my pre and post chemo PET scans and MRI’s were clear and unchanged so I felt a little at ease.  On June 29th I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Dr. Lisa white and Dr. Nick Tarola were my surgeons. The surgery took about 7 hours. I did nipple sparing and went straight to implants, bypassing the expander process, so it took a little longer than most of these surgeries. The recovery wasn’t too bad. The weight lifting restrictions were the hardest part. You feel good so you have to remind yourself you just had a major surgery and can’t just jump right back in the game of life.

Shortly after my surgery I was able to meet a young patient of mine who was going thru the same thing and getting her port put in. I gave her my contact info and we stayed in touch, soon thereafter another young woman reached out on facebook to me, she was a friend of a friend. We all met up one night for dinner and were like instant sisters. Still 2 years later we talk and hang out, we do cancer retreats, fundraisers, and benefits together. This ugly seed was planted in all 3 of us yet we grew this amazing friendship out of it. So find someone to help you thru this! Reach out to Middle Tennessee Breasties on FB, we are a group of young survivors to help each other out and we meet up as well!

My genetic testing showed that I was BRCA 2 positive. This is a genetic mutation on a certain gene that puts me at a slightly higher risk for other cancers. Basically, the gene that should help protect me from breast cancer is a bit deformed and doesn’t function like it should. Because of this I opted to do a Total Robotic Hysterectomy with Dr. Chesney in November of 2017. This surgery was a breeze! Man, what technology we have these days. This was a peace of mind not to have to worry about what the organs in my body that are high risk are doing without me being able to detect it until its too late.

It’s been 2 years now post treatment and 2.5 since diagnosis. Life is good, I feel like my past is a little surreal. Besides the scars, some joint pain, and some chemo brain moments (which is equivalent to placenta brain lol) I feel the same as before. Is there ever a day I wake up and don’t think about what I have been thru?, nope. Everyday I think about it, how lucky I was, and the alternatives. You can’t let every little abnormal thing on your body get to you or you will drive yourself mad. The mental game during and after this disease is the majority of the battle. Keep a strong mind and you will battle this more victorious than with a dark mind.  This is coming from a glass half empty chick here, I work in medicine, I am a logical, realistic person and know what goes down. So for me to say keep the darkness out and break the thought process cycle is huge. Cancer wants to destroy you and your life. Don’t let it. I don’t care if you have 2 weeks to live or 60 years to live.. my message is GO LIVE YOUR LIFE! Do it while you can, don’t stop. If you stop to play the “I can’t ”game then you let the cancer get what it seeks- destruction and despair. It may/will beat you down physically but stay ahead of it mentally. Mentality gets you further in life anyhow am I right?!😊   So say tata to cancer my friends!!!

Callie’s Story

My name is Callie, I have been married to my husband, Scott for 14 years. I have two amazing stepsons (17 &18) and a beautiful 13 year old daughter. My husband has been in the Army for 15 years. We are from the middle Tennessee area, we lived in San Diego when I was diagnosed.

Sometime in late 2016, at age 31 I found a lump in my left breast, I was always good about doing monthly self checks, I don’t know how I missed it before then. 

     The lump didn’t feel like what I thought cancer would feel like, it wasn’t like a marble or grape, It was more of a, flat on the bottom, movable lump. I scheduled a well woman’s exam with my primary care doctor immediately, which I rescheduled two times. I am so thankful that although my doctor didn’t think it was anything serious, she wanted to be sure. I was scheduled for a mammogram and ultrasound.

     February 3rd, 2017 my husband and I headed to the radiology clinic. I was so scared; I am thankful that my husband was allowed to be with me during the ultrasound. Three days later my doctor called and said  they wanted to do a biopsy. She reassured me that it was still probably nothing. I Recently read my ultrasound results that read: Highest Probability of malignancy. The morning of the biopsy, I felt sick. I am so thankful the staff allowed my husband to be in the room for the procedure. I cried before it even started. I wasn’t worried about the pain of the procedure I just knew it was cancer, I even told my husband that I felt like the doctor doing the biopsy thought it was cancer because of things she said to me. The doctor said my results should be back in 3 days, I called my primary care doctor and scheduled an appointment to get my results. I didn’t want to get that kind of news over the phone. The next few days were a blur.  

   Finally on February 17, 2017 at 5:30pm my husband and I sat waiting for the doctor to come in. I know my doctor dreaded telling me the news. It took forever for her to come in the room, She cried as she said, “it’s cancer, you’re young and we need to hit it hard.” I didn’t even cry. I immediately started planning. I knew we needed to try to get closer to home. When we got home we had to tell our daughter. She was 10 years old at the time. The moment I told her, I saw the innocence within her disappear. Telling our children was the hardest part of this entire journey. 

    The next few weeks were filled with more mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI’s, genetic testing and meeting the surgical oncologist. During all this testing, my husband was submitting paperwork to have us Compassionately Reassigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, one hour from our home town. While we waited on an answer from the Army, we had to keep moving forward with my treatment. 

On March 23, 2017 I had a lumpectomy on my left breast and eight lymph nodes removed. The tumor was larger than originally thought, but thankfully my lymph nodes were clear and my amazing surgeon at University of California, San Diego, Dr Sarah Blair was able to get clear margins. I was then officially diagnosed with ER+ PR+ HER2- Stage II Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. After I healed from my surgery, I met with my oncologist to discuss the next steps: chemo, radiation, and beyond. At this point, we were still waiting on an answer from the Army but knew we were also running out of time. There were only so many weeks I could wait after surgery to start chemo. 

   Finally, six weeks after surgery and 2.5 months after my diagnosis, the Army approved a Compassionate Reassignment and within two weeks we were moving back across the country to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. One week after arriving back in Tennessee/Kentucky, I started my first round of chemotherapy. 

   I received 4 rounds of TC chemotherapy (Taxotere & cyclophosphamide). My first treatment was frightening. I felt like I was just waiting on the side effects to start and I didn’t event really know what to expect. Two weeks after my first treatment my hair started falling out by the handfuls. After putting off the inevitable for days I told my husband that I was ready for him to shave my head. I didn’t want to go to a salon and be told how brave I was, I wasn’t shaving my head because I was brave, I was doing it because I had no choice. I told my husband not to stop no matter how much I cried. We both cried as my hair fell to the floor, it that moment it became real, I was now a cancer patient. 

   I am thankful for the medication given with chemo to control the side effects. I was given Neulasta 24 hours after every infusion and it was the worst! My body hurt so bad and I ran a fever every time. It was worth the pain because it kept my counts up and my chemo infusions on schedule. 

   After chemo I did 30 rounds of radiation. My skin was blistered and peeling off by the end. My mind and body were ready to be done.

   I will be cancer free, two years on October 1st. I will continue taking Tamoxifen for the next 8 years. I still battle side effects from my treatment and the hormonal therapy that I continue to take, but it is all worth it. I have no doubt that a positive attitude got me through some tough days. “Fake it ’til you make it,” was my motto.

   I am forever grateful for my husband, children, and the Lord for getting me through the tough times. My husband was by my side at every appointment because of his fellow soldiers and leaders at Fort Campbell that made sure he could be with me. 

Heather’s Story

My story started when I noticed a breast lump in April 2018.  Heather 4At that time I thought it was just a cyst from my cycle since I had one in the past but when it was still there in May I made an appointment with my Ob/Gyn. She said 90% of the lumps she sees are benign so I wasn’t too worried. She sent me for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound that same day. I didn’t think I would get any results that day so I went by myself…turns out that was a BIG mistake. When the radiologist came in after the tests I could tell by the look on his face that I should be worried. He told me I needed a biopsy because he couldn’t rule out cancer from what he saw and that I also had concerning calcifications in my other breast so he wanted me to have both breasts biopsied. While the radiologist did not have any bed-side manner, there was thankfully an ultrasound technician there who comforted me as I proceeded to have a panic attack.

The biopsy was scheduled for May 14th and when my OB called on the 16th to give me the results, I was not surprised when she confirmed it was cancer. The “good news” was that it was only malignant in one breast. Her next comment was, yes that is good news but I would still recommend a double mastectomy. That was the last conversation I have ever had with her as I didn’t believe she should be making that recommendation. Thankfully, God had just placed me at Tennessee Oncology in April as a pharmacy technician at Park Pharmacy. My boss referred me to an oncologist and I met with her the following week. My cancer was triple positive; both hormone receptors were positive as well as being Her 2 positive. After the MRI confirmed the cancer had not spread (Praise GOD) and was not in my lymph nodes, we decided to do chemo first to shrink the tumor and then a lumpectomy and radiation. Further testing revealed I do not carry the breast cancer gene.

Heather 1Every prayer I sent up during this first scary month of unknowns was answered. I prayed for the calcifications to be benign, answered. I prayed for negative lymph node, answered.  I prayed to have a better understanding of the triple positive cancer from my oncologist, answered.

I had 6 cycles of chemo that consisted of 4 different IV medications. Getting through those first 6 treatments was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There were days when I could barely make it up the stairs in my house. The fatigue is no joke, but God brought me through those horrible days and I know I’m stronger because of it. My white blood cell count stayed high enough so I didn’t have to postpone any treatments. I still thank God for that every day. I’m a type A personality, so I wanted to stay on course and finish the hardest treatments as soon as possible. After those 6 were complete, I had to have IV Herceptin for 1 year to treat the Her 2 positive. What a difference that was from the first 6 cycles! The only side effect I had was hot flashes. My hair started to grow back and I felt so much better.

I had my lumpectomy in November, but they didn’t get clear margins on one side so myHeather 3 surgeon had to go back in and take out more tissue. On December 18th I was finally cancer free!! Hearing those words after 7 months of hell was amazing! I give God all the glory for bringing me through this diagnosis. He answered every prayer I had.
After radiation, I decided to have a hysterectomy rather than Lupron shots and tamoxifen and I’m so glad I did. I spent one night in the hospital and one week at home before I was back to work and feeling great. I finished my Herceptin on May 24th and was finally able to ring the chemo bell!

With God all things are possible and this past year has proven that over and over again. God placed so many amazing people in my life to support me on this journey. My husband, family and friends have been by my side and helped me with anything I needed. They kept me lifted daily and always made sure I was never alone. I thank God every day for this second chance at life and will never take it for granted.


Brandi’s Story

Hi I’m Brandi Hill! I was diagnosed with Stage 3 C triple negative breast cancer in August 2017 at 30 years old.

In July 2011 I felt a lump and so did my OB/GYN. I was then referred to a general surgeon who also felt a lump and decided to biopsy it. Luckily the lump proved to be benign fibrous tissue. So the doctor put a metal clip marker in the lump and that was that.

Fast forward 6 years, in July 2017 while on vacation in Florida I kept feeling a small tender spot under my right armpit. It mostly felt like a small bruise that was persistent. I would feel around, look in the mirror for a bruise and saw nothing. The more I felt around, I felt a small lump in the arm pit, similar to the size of a marble. Immediately when we got back from Florida I made an appointment with my OB/GYN. I saw the nurse practitioner and she didn’t seem concerned in the appointment. Before she even felt of the lump she told me she was going to refer me to the Comprehensive Breast Center for further testing because if I felt a lump chances are she will feel a lump and you just cant be sure what it is. I wasn’t able to get an appointment for several weeks and during these several weeks I almost cancelled this appointment numerous times due to lack of time, thinking it was a waste of a $40 copay and I was sure it was nothing JUST like the last time 6 years ago (what if I had?!?!– y’all that’s GOD).
On August 10th 2017 I had an ultrasound of the lump I was feeling and of the entire right breast. Neelie (my 5 year old) came with me to this appointment, it was our “Last day together before Big Girl School.” She was absolutely precious in the appointment. I was laying on the table and she was in the chair beside me holding my hand so tight just like she was a concerned parent. She whispered in my ear so the tech couldn’t hear with the biggest grin on her face “it seems like I’m the mom.” After the ultrasound  I met with Dr. White a surgeon with the Murfreesboro Medical Clinic’s Comprehensive Breast Center. Dr. White came in as sweet and kind as she is and felt the lump I had felt but focused more on the lump in that right breast that had already been biopsied 6 years earlier. She didn’t say much but had the intern come and feel the lump too. She started asking several questions of when I had it biopsied and how much it had grown in that time etc. She stated that we would for sure biopsy that lump again and the other lump which she stated proved to be a lymph-node. She stated that either way due to the sheer size of the mass in my right breast we would remove it surgically. I of course was concerned with removing the lump and if I would be left with half a breast. That’s when she started talking about getting plastic surgery involved for reconstruction. So then my mind as innocent and naïve as I was in that moment was focused on getting the “new boobs” I always wanted. But I couldn’t help but pick up on Dr. White’s concern and urgency. She then took Neelie and myself to the scheduling office and told them to get me scheduled for a biopsy ASAP and to move her schedule around if needed. Those words when I heard them from a Dr. “Move my schedule around if needed…” At that point I started to feel the seriousness of the situation.

On August 24th 2017 I had the biopsy of the lump and the lymph-node. Dr. White performed this procedure and it was a core needle biopsy and an F/A (no-clue what it is). Essentially they stuck needles into the lymph-node to retrieve tissue, and then did a core needle in the lump that sounded like a vacuum or a drill. My mom went with me on this appointment. She was nervous and says she almost passed out watching- I just kept my eyes shut! It was semi painful but not as bad as the first biopsy 6 years ago. After the tissue retrieval was finished I asked Dr. White to be honest in what she thought the lump may be or why the lymph-node was enlarged. Again in her calming, sweet voice she said that I was puzzling because I had the benign biopsy 6 years ago yet this lump had nearly tripled in size and now I have an enlarged lymph-node. I then asked her what is the youngest she has ever diagnosed breast cancer at and she said 26 (WHAT?!?). She stated that she was also puzzled because I was only 30 and presenting with a mass this large. Dr. White stated that the results typically take 2-3 business days and that I would probably hear something early the following week.

On August 25th 2017 I got the call from Dr. White unexpectedly at about 4:25pm on this day. I was just sitting at my desk chatting with some co-workers when I got the call. Dr. White said CANCER. My name and cancer were in the same sentence. She stated that she had not yet gotten the lump tissue back but the lymph-node results showed cancerous cells. In this moment I was in shock, started to cry but honestly didn’t know how to feel. It all seemed like a dream. I tried calling my husband Jeff a million times it seemed but of course his phone was on silent this one particular day since he was trying to sleep (he worked night shift). All I can recall at this point were my legs shaking while I was trying to press on the gas pedal and get home to tell Jeff. I ran in, he met me at the door just now awake and all I could say was “its cancer.” I remember seeing his legs buckle beneath him and him just getting angry and crying. This day is blurry, but it seems like it was the longest day.

In September of 2017 I started chemo almost immediately with Dr. Means at TN Oncology in Franklin. I did 12 rounds EVERY week for 12 weeks of Cisplatin and Taxol. Chemo was ROUGH but having the support from girls my age going through this same terrible disease got me through. My #1 piece of advice for chemo- use the port numbing cream on your stomach prior to the nausea shot! Haha no really… you’ll thank me later. I finished up chemo in November of 2017 and had a bilateral mastectomy on 12/28/18. I am very happy to say that the nearly 5.5 cm tumor I had growing shrank to non existent at the time of surgery! I had immediate reconstruction with Dr. Tarola. He allowed me to try one of the newer products for expansion which were the AeroForm Tissue Expanders. Link for more info here—( These things are GENIUS! So instead of having to go in his office every week to have the expanders filled, I had my very own remote that I placed over each breast 3x per day. The benefits in my opinion were a more gradual expansion where I increased 10 ml 3x every day for 2 weeks, as well as not having to go into the office and being stuck with a needle! Once fully expanded it was time for radiation! I had 28(ish) rounds of radiation EVERY SINGLE DAY! This part of the journey was very difficult for me. There would be days I would cry in the parking lot debating on whether to call it quits with radiation because what if it was doing more harm than good? I had followed and read way to many holistic cancer blog posts that I was scared to death of any further treatment. Even though, I pushed through and my sweet Dr. let me cry on his shoulder any time I needed to and we kept moving right along. I didn’t have many issues with radiation and didn’t burn like some women do. The worst side effects I had were fatigue (holy cow was I tired) and my skin was temporarily very dark on the radiated side. After finishing radiation I waited 6 weeks and was in the OR for expander to implant exchange, fat grafting, port removal, and partial hysterectomy on May 10th 2018! This was by far the easiest part of the whole process! I was so eager and excited to get my “squishy boobies” as my daughter so kindly let her whole school know. Shortly after the reconstruction I was left in panic and anxiety as so many survivors face when an entire year long worth of treatment has just stopped. I felt like I was left just to “wait and see” if it comes back. A couple months later I was having a lot of breast pain and ended up having an additional PET scan where at the very bottom of my skull there was a mass seen on the scan. I had multiple brain MRIs and saw a Vandy neuro oncologist who couldn’t be sure that the cancer had not metastasized to the brain without surgery. I faced a lot of mental battles during this time and turned to research. I found some Japanese studies that had been testing triple negative patients with the oral chemo Xeloda after regular chemo therapy to improve odds of not having a reoccurrence.  There were mixed reviews and data however my Dr was willing to allow me to try. I got through 2 rounds of that oral chemo and the side effects were so terrible it put me in the hospital for nearly a week! So needless to say I didn’t continue that trial. Fast forward and I had several repeat MRIs of the brain every three months and the mass never grew or changed in any way so they believe it is just a benign hemangioma! So.. here I am now just a 32 year old, social worker, wife and mom of 2, trying to figure out how to live a normal life after nearly 2 years of mental and physical rollercoasters. Because of cancer I now have diagnosed anxiety and PTSD and navigating that can be challenging at times, but I stay grounded in my faith and my family. My most important piece of advice for anyone going through this is to pray like you never have before and find those going through similar battles and cling to one another. There were days I would be on the bathroom floor crying and couldn’t go any further when all I had to do was reach out to my “breasties” who would pick me up and keep me going. There were countless people who rallied along side me praying day in and out, bringing food, caring for my babies, paying medical bills, and I truly believe it gave me the strength I needed to get up and fight each day. I’m by nature a private person, but God helped me to open up and be vulnerable in this journey and it was the best decision I could have made.

I was 30, pretty healthy, no previous health conditions, no family history of breast cancer,  no genetic predisposition, yet here I am. I have to believe this happened for a reason and is not just some terrible circumstance. I let 6 years go by and let a grade 3 tumor grow and never thought another thing about it. I felt it of course but was not even the least bit concerned because I had already had it biopsied and I was busy in those 6 years, as we all are. I never once gave myself or my health a second thought. If my story can do anything, I want it to be a message to all the busy moms out there being great at EVERYTHING except worrying about you. You are the rock of your family and they need you. Please go make that appointment.

Meghan’s Story


Hi! My name is Meghan Pegram. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at 28 years old, just 10 days after getting engaged

I first felt my lump in the shower. It felt like a marble. It was perfectly round and hard as a rock. I honestly didn’t think too much about it. Later that week, I asked Tj if he felt it. When he touched it, I yanked back! It hurt so bad! It felt like a deep bruise. I called my OBGYN, but she was booked for a couple of months. Instead they sent me to a Nurse Practitioner. She also felt the lump and sent me to get a mammogram. I remember thinking this was not anything serious. I just assumed they could remove the lump and I go on with my life, after all I had a wedding to plan!

My doctors did not believe it was cancer. They said I was “too young” for cancer. (insert eye roll) Tj and I had a trip planned to Italy to visit my parents in a week. My doctor told me not to worry and that we would figure this out when we came back. We went ahead and scheduled a biopsy for the following Monday after we returned. We stayed in Italy for 10 days and Tj proposed on day 7 in my favorite city, Cinque Terre! 

Of course I was freaking out. It was a dream! My lump was the last thing on my mind. I was so focused on everything wedding! Looking back, I now thank my doctor for letting me to go Italy and cherish that happy time all before cancer. 

We returned on Saturday and had a biopsy set for Monday. I was still so oblivious to what was happening. Tj went with me as we showed off my ring and pictures to the nurses. We were still on cloud nine from just getting engaged and there was no way some lump was going to stop me. (or so I thought) 

The next day I had a phone call from my doctor. I will never forget this moment. I was out painting the house with my future MIL. (my fiancé and I just bought a fixer upper so she was helping me while he was at work) I got down off of the ladder and I heard my doctor’s voice. He asked me if I was home and if I was alone. Then, I heard it in his voice. I knew something terrible was coming. I remember hearing him say,  “You have cancer.” 

I didn’t cry. It was really weird. I grabbed a notebook and began writing (must be the teacher in me) I wrote down words like “oncologist”, “inductive carcinoma”, and “double mastectomy”. I was so clueless and so scared. I immediately called Tj. This is where I lost it. I started sobbing. I could tell he was also freaking out, but he did a very good job of hiding it to keep me strong. He said he would there as soon as he could and he raced home. I hung up the phone and went outside and told Judy. I was praying this was all a bad dream! This could not be happening! We seriously just got engaged!! This was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives! I was freaking out inside, but I decided to keep painting. And praying. I was painting and praying like crazy until Tj pulled in the driveway.

He ran over to me and just held me. I fell into his arms and got a really good cry out. He cried too, but then he looked at me straight on and said, “We’ve got this!” I can’t explain how good this felt. Something about what he said made me I believe him. We did have this! 

At my first oncologist appointment, Dr. Giantold me I would absolutely need chemo. He told Tj and I all about Triple Negative Breast Cancer as we nervously scribbled down every detail in a notebook. He told us how aggressive it is and he stressed the urgency of starting treatments ASAP. I naïvely asked about losing my hair. He told me I would lose it and it would happen by week two. He was so confident it was going to happen and that is when it hit me. I have cancer and I was going to be bald. 

Anyone that knew me before cancer knew that my hair was a HUGE part of me. Literally. I had the most thick and ridiculously curly hair. I was so scared but instead of letting chemo take my hair from me, I decided to donate it to Wigs4Kids. 

If you are not familiar with this program, it is amazing!! They make and DONATE wigs to children battling cancer. I was floored when I found out that some companies actually charge for wigs! 


My hair was one part of my cancer journey that I could control. Also, knowing that my hair (it seriously probably made 2 wigs) went to some precious little kiddos with cancer made losing my hair SO much easier! Not to mention I thought I looked pretty badass with a shaved head. 


A couple days before my first chemo treatment, I started thinking about how chemo would affect my fertility. My mind was overflowing! I had so much to think about and I had so many questions! The next day, I called Nashville Fertility and scheduled an appointment. They were amazing and understood the urgency of everything I was about to go through. They started me on hormone treatments right away. I went through 10 nights of injections, an egg retrieval surgery, and I was able to harvest 16 eggs!! Tj and I were so excited! Now that we safely had our future babies in the freezer, I was ready to begin my fight. 

I underwent 4 rounds of AC (red devil), 2 rounds of taxol and 2 rounds of taxotere. (turnsout I was allergic to taxol) 

On January 8th I had my double mastectomy. Unfortunately, during surgery they still found a small bit of cancer. Meaning I did not have a complete response to my chemo. Dr. Gian said it was a TINY amount. Regardless of the size, it was STILL cancer. I wanted it out! All of it!

Dr. Gian suggested that I also complete 28 rounds of radiation as a preventative measure and I agreed. I wanted to be able to say I did EVERYTHING in my power to ensure this cancer NEVER comes back! My plastic surgeon wanted me to keep my expanders throughout radiation. He over filled my right foob by 50 cc. He said the skin on the radiated side would be much tighter after radiation and he wanted them to be as natural as they could. 

Six months after radiation, (which seemed like forever) I had my exchange surgery for my soft girls. Man was Dr. Medling right. My radiated side is MUCH TIGHTER than my left. My foobs aren’t perfect, but they are pretty dang close! I definitely miss having feeling in them and sometimes I even miss my nipples, but when I look in the mirror I try to remember what my body went through. My scars tell my story. I fought hard and I survived. 

Today I am about to celebrate my 2-year cancer free anniversary and I cannot tell you how good it feels!! My advice to those battling cancer is to stay strong mentally and keep your faith. Cancer can be very dark, but the more you focus on that light the easier your journey will be. I always say staying strong mentally is over half the battle. 


Also, I highly suggest you find other survivors or “breasties” to vent, talk, cry, and drink margaritas with. 


I heard this quote at YSC Summit last year and I absolutely love it. 


“The initiation sucks, but the sisterhood is forever.” Keep thriving sisters!



I created an amazon list of everything I used during treatment both chemo and surgery. Hopefully this helps!



“I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me” Philippians 4:13


Kara’s Story

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.
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.
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.
Me today!
There is always someone that is going through more than you. You can do this. God’s got you.