Blair’s Journey

blairs journey

I’m Blair! I am a mom, wife, hairstylist and SURVIVOR.  I am a Tennessee native, born and raised in a small town north of Nashville called White House before moving to my current home of Gallatin.  My journey with breast cancer started when I was just 25 years old. I am now 26 years old and have 3 babies under the age of 5 with my husband of 5 years, Spencer.

 

My life changed last year when I felt a lump while showering, when I was 34 weeks pregnant with my 3rd baby.  I went to the doctor and had the lump checked. After they performed an ultrasound, I was told I would need a biopsy.  When my results came back I was home alone with my oldest and my middle child. I will never forget that day because it was February 2nd, my husband’s birthday.  I received the news I’d hoped I wouldn’t be hearing.  It was cancer.  As soon as I hung up the phone with my OB I called my husband, then my parents and my sister right away to deliver the not so great news.  While they already knew cancer was suspected we didn’t believe this would be happening. 

 

I was diagnosed with a hormone positive (Estrogen and Progesterone positive), HER2 negative, stage 2 breast cancer.  By definition ER/PR positive breast cancer is fueled by hormones, therefore my cancer was feeding off of my pregnancy as my body was naturally producing more of the hormones the tumor responded to. My doctors told me once my daughter was born there was a small chance my cancer staging could reduce due to my main supply of hormones being cut back. Thankfully this rang true and after my double mastectomy in March 2018, my final pathology came back to be stage 1.

 

Prior to my double mastectomy I delivered my daughter at 35 weeks and 6 days, just 2 weeks after finding my lump!  In order to determine the next steps for my treatment I had to wait for all my milk to dry up and have an MRI of my breast. When I went in for the test I had a panic attack and wasn’t able to complete the MRI. I then saw the general surgeon on my case and had genetic testing, all of which was negative for any cancer linking genetic deformities such as BRCA 1 and 2.  At this time the biopsy tissue was also tested to determine which hormones my cancer was fed by.  Once we had these results I met with my oncologist who determined I would be having a double mastectomy without any upfront treatment. 

 

For those of you who have had a mastectomy, you may be able to relate to my surprise when I found how limited my strength was afterwards. You just don’t realize how many muscles and how much strength you pull from that area in everyday life. Just sitting up for the first month or so I had to have help from someone.  This procedure is not for the faint of heart.  If there is one thing I wish I would’ve known, it would be to have research more options on reconstruction and advocate for myself more on exactly what I wanted! I’m learning to love myself, but to only be 26 it’s very hard to accept my body for what it is now. I feel if I would have been more informed and were able to make choices for myself prior to the surgeries, I would’ve been happier about my new body.

 

If you are just diagnosed I would recommend you DO YOUR RESEARCH. It’s kind of a double edged sword, because in doing so you can totally scare yourself by things you can read and not fully understand. On the other hand, by doing so you can fully present yourself with every option and ask every question/concern you have, to put your mind and heart at ease.

 

The other side to the process is the mental/emotional side.  I am not an emotional person. I do not like for anyone to view me as weak or emotional, but through all of this it was very hard not to be. If I could give one piece of advice to help someone mentally and emotionally go through their journey, it would be to keep yourself busy and surrounded by people who love you, support you, and will always keep you laughing. My family, friends, and babies kept me going strong and moving forward through this entire journey. Every day is new and while it may not be what you wanted you take the cards you are dealt, you lean on the ones you love and love you, and you trust in the Lord to get you through!

 

My journey was definitely the furthest thing from easy, but it could’ve been a lot worse. I am so blessed and thankful to say, that as of March 12th, 2019, I am 1 year cancer free, and hoping and praying for many more years. I am thankful for all the support and love I received throughout my journey and would love nothing more than to be a rock for someone else experiencing breast cancer. If you need me I’m here.

Blair’s Instagram name: blairelise

Amanda’s Journey

Hi guys! Laura here. I’m so excited to begin sharing YOUR journeys. I will be posting my #wcw every Wednesday. I’ve already had such an amazing response! Email me at tatatocancer@yahoo.com to share your story.

Now for my first rockstar! Here is Amanda. 💜

I have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer that is HER2 positive and hormone negative. It is in both breasts, lymph nodes throughout my body, my liver and my spine.  I am still currently doing chemo. I thought I was done with that but my oncologist and I decided to do a few more rounds. Hoping to get to NED! And I will receive targeted therapy via infusion every three weeks for the rest of my life. I remain hopeful because lots of strides are being made with HER2 positive breast cancer.
How I found out:  I was following your (Laura) journey so breast cancer was at the forefront of my mind when I had a pain in my right armpit that just would not go away. After several weeks of dealing with that pain and after finding a lump, I decided to go have a mammogram. The mammogram uncovered what they called “suspicious calcifications” so they did an ultrasound, too. The radiologist told me that very day that he was sure I had DCIS. That same week I was referred to a Surgical Oncologist who biopsied the lymph nodes in my armpit as well as tissue in my right breast. The next week I found out I had at least Stage II breast cancer. Within the next two weeks I had an MRI and a PET scan, had my chemo port put in and had a liver biopsy. I also found out I am hormone negative, HER2 positive. A couple days after I had the liver biopsy it was confirmed that I have Stage IV breast cancer with mets to my lymph nodes, liver and spine. It was a very fast diagnosis.
How I told my loved ones:  Because things were happening so fast my family was on the ride with me. After the mammogram when I was told I likely had DCIS, I immediately called my husband and my mom. Both of my parents as well as my husbands parents were very much involved in the entire diagnosis process from taking me to doctors appointments to staying at our house to help with my kids. I’m so grateful that I had so much support surrounding me because I would not have been able to hold myself up. My family held me up. Telling my kids was challenging more for me than for them. They are both so young that they hardly understand. The know Mama is sick but they don’t understand the magnitude of it all. And I honestly don’t want them to. I don’t want them to be afraid that I might leave them one day. It hurts to even write that. They’re not ready for that. I’m not ready for that.
Steps my doctor took towards treatment:  Because my diagnosis happened so fast I was getting my treatment plan quickly, too. Once they had all of my scan and biopsy results as well as my cancer type, it was go time. The diagnosis was harder than the treatment plan as far as waiting. Once my oncologist had all the information he knew exactly what he wanted to do. My family and I consulted with MD Anderson and toyed with me going there for treatments, but I ultimately decided that I was happy with my current oncologist and that it was better for me to be home. I didn’t want to uproot my kids and I was not about to be away from them not knowing what my life expectancy was.
One thing that surprised me about treatment:  I was taken aback that I would not be having a double mastectomy. I had mentally prepared for that. I actually stood in the mirror and said goodbye to my breasts. I was ready. I was actually looking forward to it. I thought by getting rid of the girls I would be cutting the head off the snake. When I found out that surgery was not something that would be beneficial for me I was actually really upset. We always hear the saying “cut the cancer from your life.” I wanted to literally do that. My best friend explained it to me best; she got this analogy from someone she spoke to. Metastatic breast cancer is like a dandelion that we blow in the wind. When its a perfect ball, cutting the head off means its gone. Done. It can’t go anywhere from there. But, if we blow it first, all the little pieces go everywhere. So, cutting the head off then doesn’t really make a difference. The pieces are already everywhere. So, since my cancer had already spread, having a mastectomy didn’t offer any benefit.
What tips would you give someone just diagnosed:  1)Stay off the internet. Don’t google your statistics. Its scary and its gut-wrenching and it won’t help. And those statistics don’t have to be your statistic. 2)Find somebody who you can relate to to talk to. Whether its a family member or a friend, or even someone you follow on social media. Reach out to somebody who understands what you’re going through. Breast cancer can feel like a very lonely disease and its unlikely that the people surrounding you will truly understand what you’re feeling. But there are people out there who do understand. And I have not come across one person with breast cancer who hasn’t greeted me with open arms. And it has saved me. 3)Don’t stop living your life. Cancer can take over. You will be devastated and sad and that’s ok. But keep doing what makes you happy. Keep living. Its more important now that ever. Your mental health depends on it. You will find your strength.
What tips for chemo:  So many! You (Laura) gave me so many that made my life so much easier as it relates to side effects. So I’d recommend anyone about to start chemo to find somebody who’s done it or currently in it and get all the info you can. I live for Claritin for bone pain (that shit really works) and ice packs for neuropathy!
Tips for emotional/mental part:  Again, don’t stop living your life. It will have to alter, of course, due to treatment, surgery, side effects, etc. But keep doing things that you want to do. Especially when you feel good. Take advantage of those good days and enjoy them. I truly believe that continuing working out and doing date nights and getting together with my friends has helped me stay strong. I decided that the things I enjoy don’t have to become things I did before breast cancer. I’m not giving this disease that power. And also, give yourself a break. You are going to break down. You are going to cry. You are going to get angry. And all of that is ok. It does not make you less strong. In fact, I think being honest about how you’re feeling makes you a warrior.
One thing I wish I’d known:  I wish I’d known that the beginning is not the end. When I was getting diagnosed and going through all of the scans and port surgery and getting my treatment plan, it felt like all of it may be for only a few months of life. It was a dark place. But that’s not the case. Diagnosis is excruciating. But its not the beginning of the end. Its just the beginning of a different life.
My mantra:  I don’t know that I have a mantra, per say. I just have refused to let this cancer define me or take over my life. I’m still me. Cancer is something I have to deal with, not who I am.
Thanks for including me in this! I love it!
Amanda

You can follow Amanda online!

Blog: https://cancerdoesnthaveme.com/

Instagram: Amanda.lee.cortese

One Year Cancerversary

This time last year I was going into the hospital to have my cancer removed. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if it was in my lymph nodes or not. I just knew that whatever the case, I would be waking up from surgery with no cancer in my body. Just knowing that, made me feel at peace. At this time the only people that knew where my family and a few friends. I didn’t know how I wanted to share this news. From day one I knew I had to do something to make this worth while. I really truly believe God wanted me to use this hard time in my life to help others and open younger women’s eyes to realize this could happen to women at any age.

Thinking back on the fact that I had no real fears in making my decision to have a double mastectomy is crazy. One reason is because I trusted my plastic surgeon Dr. Unger completely. He is truly an artist. But also I believe God led me to that decision.

So here I am one year later. I am not the same person I was before. And for that I’m thankful.

After surgery we found out I would need chemo and radiation. I had a CT scan done and there was NED. (No evidence of Disease). I don’t like saying I’m cancer free. Maybe I’m scared of jinxing myself. But I at this moment have had no evidence of disease for one year.

Just want to send a thank you to my family who has been by my side through the tears and the smiles. For my friends who have become family. And to my boyfriend who has become my soulmate. I love you all. And last but definitely not least, thank you to the people I haven’t ever met but feel like friends. You guys have followed me, prayed for me, made me feel loved and supported.

I’m excited to see what this next year has in store for me.

I love y’all!

I’ll leave you with a few pics. Starting from one year ago, and going to the last picture of me celebrating with some of my new breastie friends.

New Year, Better Me

Happy 2019! Wow it’s been a while since I updated you guys.

When I updated last, I was towards the beginning of my radiation treatment. I’m SO happy to say that I finished radiation right before Christmas. I rung that bell for hopefully the LAST time. Fingers crossed.

Radiation really was not too bad. My energy gradually lowered but nothing too crazy. My skin did not really burn, or at least I didn’t think it did. It did however start to peel so that was fun. But now I’m all good!

I had a great Christmas celebrating with my wonderful family. Ray’s family came down to spend it with us as well. I felt very loved. And very lucky.

I finally took off my wig and started rocking the natural hair. It feels SO good!

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We rang in the new year. I’ve never been so happy to have a year come to an end. 2018 taught me many things. It taught be how to be strong, how to love, how to not take one single second for granted, and most of all how to really talk to God. I have quite the conversations with the man upstairs now. I would not be where I am today without Him.

January was full of fun times. Not many doctor’s appointments. I did however have an appointment with my oncologist. My blood work, where they check for tumor markers, came back great! Then I was hit with quite the decision that I needed to make. They said I could do a clinical trial. The trial consists of a drug that you take twice a day along with the hormone therapy that I am already on. The drug is FDA approved for stage IV patients and has showed great results with their cancer not progressing. This trial is for earlier stage cancers like mine was. It is to see if taking the hormone blocker along with this drug lowers the risk of reoccurrence more than taking just the hormone blocker alone.

Of course this comes with side effects. Some of them definitely concern me but also this is a really expensive drug that I’d be getting for free. So I’ve decided to try it. I can back out at any time so I don’t see the harm in just trying it out for a bit to see how it goes. I’ve had zero side effects with my hormone blocker, so that is a great start.

Before I begin the trial I will have to get a bone scan (cue scanxiety attack). So that is what I will be up to in these next few weeks. I will begin the trial in March.

I also would like to tell you about my lovely friend Amanda. I’ve known Amanda ever since college. She is strong. She is beautiful. She has the MOST adorable family ever. Amanda is 33 and just found out she has Stage IV breast cancer. Just typing those words make me so emotional. It just does not make sense. She is handling it with such strength and grace. You can read her blog here.

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Speaking of my “breastie”, here is a photo of my Nashville Breasties. Can’t believe we all have had breast cancer at young ages. It just is crazy. But it happens. And I’m so lucky to be connected to them.

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So there are the updates from the last two months.

In three days, February 6, It will be one year exactly from when I went to my breast appointment and my nurse Norma found the lump that turned out to be cancer. It will be an emotional week for me going through those days that followed. I can’t believe it has been a year.

Love you guys!

Until next time…

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Life Changes

Tomorrow I turn 32… This time last year I was dreading turning 31. Oh how old. (Insert eye roll here). This year, I’m so thankful to be turning 32. I will no longer fret getting older. Instead, now I pray I get the privilege to grow old.

Cancer changes things. What it’s changed about me the most is that now I enjoy each minute of every day. I am be thankful that I’m here, healthy, and surviving . I pray every night and thank God that I’m alive. I thank Him each morning when I wake up.

I am happier than I’ve ever been. That may sound weird, but it’s true. Am I still scared my cancer could come back? Heck yes. I think about it every day. But I don’t let it steal my joy.

Tomorrow I will be going in for my 9th treatment of radiation. I am completely in love with my radiation team. They make me laugh which I think is truly the best medicine there is. So far I’ve not had any side effects. I will have a total of 25 treatments, with my last day being December 20th.

I also have a meeting with my oncologist next week. These will be the ones I dread. Every 3 months for 2 years I will meet with her and have my blood drawn to make sure the cancer hasn’t metastasized. These days won’t be fun. But again, I refuse to let it steal my joy.

I can’t wait to ring in this new year. 2018 has been a doozy, but it’s taught me so much. I’m so thankful for where I am today.

Now for the q&a part…

Have you experienced lymphedema?

No I have not…yet. I am at an increased risk because of having my Axillary lymph nodes removed. Because of this I meet with my therapist once a week during radiation to give me a lymph massage to teach the fluid in my arm to go to other lymph nodes in my body such as my back, stomach, or other side of my chest. So far, so good.

Any advice for someone just finding out they have cancer?

Breathe. Take time to decide your treatment options. Get a second opinion regarding treatment so you can feel good about your choices. Take it day by day. And most importantly, pray. Meditate. Hug someone. You have a long journey in front of you but you will be amazed at how fast it goes. 💜

When will you show us your hair growth?

I just posted it on my instastory. It’s a hot mess right now. No idea how to style it right now haha! I go to see my friend in a few weeks to have her cut and color it for me! So stay tuned. 😬

That’s about it! The rest I answered above I believe!

Hope y’all are having a great holiday season!

Until next time…

Finish Line

Hi! It’s me! I know I’ve been a little quiet on here lately, but I was just taking time off to enjoy my month off from surgeries and treatment. I do have some updates for you guys!

I’ll start where I left off last time. My implant surgery went SO well. I was truly amazed at how fast I healed from surgery. I saw my plastic surgeon last week and got the all clear. He also told me that if during radiation therapy, there are any changes to the implant that we can fix them. Which is such great news!

Last week I also had my markings for radiation. I met with my radiation oncologist and she made me feel so comfortable with what is about to come. She has what is called a breath hold technique that I will be doing. Since my cancer was in my left breast, they are having me hold my breath during radiation so that it expands my chest, which will make it easier for them to radiate where they need to, and to protect my heart and lungs from unnecessary radiation.

I will be having my first radiation treatment on Wednesday. I have a overwhelming calmness about the whole thing. I’m just ready to get this step over with and heal. The finish line is finally in sight.

I do want to address something. Everyone thinks I’ve been so positive during this whole year of craziness. That’s not always true. I have had my moments, and there were even a couple days a few weeks ago I could barely breathe. The thoughts of reoccurrence made me sick to my stomach. I couldn’t think of anything else. I know that it’s a possibility that I may have to deal with this again. I am trying to stay as positive as possible but want to address that it’s normal to have these fears. My oncology nurse warned me about these fears on my last day of chemo. It’s like during your treatment you are so focused on that you aren’t thinking about reoccurrence. But my last day of treatment was September 5th. I’ve had 2 months of doing nothing to prevent cancer and it started freaking me out. I tried a meditation app called calm. It has been a Godsend. I am now able to switch my focus when I start having those fears.

I will say cancer has taught me to enjoy every single moment. I don’t want to waste a minute of a day being unhappy. Life is literally too short.

I love you guys!!! I’ll leave you with some pictures over the last month. The first being the amazing support I had at the Making Strides walk. Truly blessed.

Xoxo

From a Boyfriend’s Perspective

Laura wanted me to do a blog from a boyfriend’s perspective in hopes that other guys that are watching their significant others go through cancer don’t feel alone.

This is from my eyes so it’s really how I personally remembered it and I may be off a little with dates/order of events.

On a Friday back in February, Laura told me the doctor found something in her breast and it was probably serious. That whole weekend was surreal because we knew our lives would be changed forever. We watched a lot of tv and sat on the couch together and I’m pretty sure we didn’t leave the living room. We knew Monday Laura would find out if she for sure had cancer.  I remember on Sunday she cried in bed for hours. It’s so hard to watch someone you love who’s always so full of life, just lay in bed when it’s nice weather outside. She did so much research that entire weekend. She learned everything about the bolt shaped object in her breast. She asked my opinion if I thought it was “jagged.” I told her ya, it definitely feels jagged. We knew then she had cancer.

In the weeks that followed a lot of it was a blur. I just remember a lot of quiet weekends where we didn’t do a lot. It’s the only time in my life I’ve done absolutely nothing for an entire weekend. Not one thing. We did that for several weekends in a row, to a point that it almost became normal. I didn’t really go to the gym or work out, and I gained some weight. It was honestly the lowest I’ve ever felt. We watched all of the seasons of vanderpump rules from the very beginning on hulu. We fell in love with jax and Stassi and couldn’t wait to start the next episode. Side note: We are for sure going to SUR in Los Angeles and Stassi better be our waitress haha. Eventually though, that time period ended.

I remember a moment during those weeks that Laura said “I’m done feeling sorry for myself.” Honestly, from then on we stopped comparing our lives to our friends/co-workers. It wasn’t easy, but it was just something that we had to do. We finally were fine with life being unfair, and it was okay that we were different than everyone else.

I didn’t really want to tell people at work for whatever reason. Laura told my co-worker Amy because they’re pretty good friends. And she’s been amazing. I told the guys at work separately. I texted bones that Laura had cancer and he told me I could have whatever time off I needed. It was an awesome text back that I saved on my phone. I think Laura told Eddie and Lunchboxes wives and then they told their husbands. I remember eddie brought me cookies one night in the studio from his sweet wife. That broke the ice for us guys, and we talked about how Laura had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a really special night with my boys being there for me.

The days passed slowly and Laura had to make a lot of life decisions. She decided to have her breasts removed and get chemo/radiation for 6 months. Her breast surgery day was crazy at work but I snuck away and threw my work on others. Laura’s dad, mom, brother, sister-in-law, were all there. We found out that the cancer was stage 3 and it had moved outside of her breast. When the doctor told us that, I just couldn’t stop thinking about Laura lying so innocently in the hospital bed. There was a lot of crying in the waiting room while Laura was resting after surgery. I remember we had this really expensive 5 star dinner delivered to the hospital and we all ate motionless kind of. I don’t think Laura’s dad ate at all. It hurt so much for me to think of Laura, all alone in a room fighting cancer.

After what seemed like forever, Laura came home and her parents took care of her in the weeks that followed. They were better with blood, and I could only give her so much of my time with work. Her mom and dad changed out her tubes I believe 2-3 times a day, for weeks on end. Watching her dad care for her by removing those cords from her body would make any guy want to be a better man. It was so special to see a father’s love for his daughter.

After weeks of treatments Laura went with her friend to get her hair taken off because she didn’t want to watch it slowly fall out in the shower. That must have been so hard for Laura. She loved her hair so much and took such good care of it. In an instant life took it from her. That really made me mad at how unfair that was, but I had to just move on and get over it.

The chemo treatments were every week and Laura started to slowly lose her energy. I remember the time we went to a titans game and we had to stop at the top of the bridge as the crowd moved past us. Laura was unable to catch her breath for the longest time. On that bridge, we were just two people both so young, with our entire lives in front of us, fighting the effects of cancer unbeknownst to anyone around us. I just held her and told her it was going to be okay until she finally caught her breath. We went to the game and left after the first quarter. I was slowly starting to so see how vicious cancer/chemo really is.

I went to some of the chemo appointments of the 16 but her parents went to the most. Honestly without their help, I would of probably had to quit my job and work as an uber driver at night. That’s the God’s honest truth. Family is so priceless that’s for sure.

In the months that followed Laura completed her chemo and her energy started to come back. We made blue aprons at night together and she taught me how to cook. One time I decided to make her a blue apron. It was apple & cheddar grilled cheese w/ sautéed carrots. It took me over an hour but I was so proud of myself because I finally made her a meal after she had made so many for me.

Well eventually after 6 months she completed chemo and rang the bell! And we had the most amazing brunch celebration with 30+ of our closest friends. Literally every one of our friends came. I will cherish that Instagram picture of everyone forever.

Life is so different now. We celebrate birthdays differently. We aren’t afraid of getting older anymore. We never say “I don’t want to be this age.” We celebrate a lot more. Laura put up the Christmas tree the other day, even before Halloween haha. On Friday nights we go downstairs to hang out with the neighbors for the first time and we never miss a Saturday brunch at M street. Life is different now and we’re finally cool with that.

Laura is walking this weekend in the making strides of nashville event at titans stadium. We plan to walk across that same bridge with friends, family, the B team and never look back.

Thanks for reading! Boyfriend out!