Angela’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toni’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow Toni’s journey on instagram!


Jewel’s Story

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

You can follow Jewel’s story on Instagram.

IG: @jewelsrhema

Amy’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My advice for new cancer patients

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Lisa’s Story

Our lovely Woman Candy Wednesday this week is Lisa. Lisa’s attitude and her not wondering, “why me”, really made me smile. You can tell she is one inspiring lady. I’m so glad she shared her story with us.

Here is Lisa!

In early December of 2018, I was watching football with my husband. It was a Sunday and I was planning my week ahead (as most busy moms do). For the past year or so, once a month around my menstrual cycle, I had been experiencing tender breast. So on this day, I was feeling the side of my breasts, kinda under my armpits and on the left side, I felt a small lump. I then went into full self exam mode and felt again, and there was a definite lump. The panic in me happened, and my gut reaction was, well this is it. I have cancer. Then the optimist in me quickly rationalized that this was probably a benign Fibroadenoma. I had already had one of those in my early twenties. I had it removed and tested and I was fine. I thought this would go about the same. So I made a Dr. appointment, he confirmed there was something there but that it was probably just a cyst.

The day after Christmas, I went in for a sonogram, followed by a biopsy the next week and a diagnosis two days later. My ob/gyn came into the room and informed my that I had “just a little cancer”. I thought, what?! Who has “just a little”?! Either I have it or I don’t!

I knew right away that I wanted to be treated at UCSF (University of California San Francisco). They have some of the best doctors in the world and they have a Breast Cancer Treatment Center.

I found out in the weeks to follow that I was Triple Positive. That means that I am Estrogen (ER), Progesteron (PR) and HER2 Positive. I thought of course I tested triple positive, I am such a positive person! This type of cancer tends to be more aggressive so the decision was to have a lumpectomy first, then chemo, then radiation. After my lumpectomy, my cancer was staged as a diagnostic stage II and prognostic 1b. One of my lymph nodes tested positive, so my treatment includes six rounds of Chemo. It’s TCHP (Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Perjeta). The first two are chemo drugs and the second two are antibodies. I will have chemo until July of this year, followed by 4 weeks of radiation (20 sessions total) then 8 months more of infusions every three weeks of the antibodies only, followed by a shot once a month for I don’t know how long, followed by 8-10 years of oral medication. All this, for “just a little” cancer.

Port placement day 😊

Through all this, I never thought “why me”. I don’t know why. I guess maybe because I have never known anyone with breast cancer so I have always thought that either I will get it or someone close to me will. Since 1 in 8 women are diagnosed, I knew that chances are this cancer will impact my life at some point. I know that statistically speaking, it shouldn’t be me. I have done almost everything they say to prevent cancer.  I am young (39), I have no family history, I breastfed all three of my children, I am not a drinker, I exercise very regularly and I eat well. I have had one break down. The week before my first chemo infusion. I don’t like not knowing what to expect and with chemo, even though my doctors did an excellent job of preparing me, there is no way to know how your body will react to the side effects.

my hair was coming out in clumps this week so we shaved it!

My best advice to anyone beginning this journey, is to just prepare the best you can, get a team of doctors that you trust your life with and ask questions. For me, I have had to travel to each appointment to a bigger city (San Francisco). It’s about 1 hour 45 min. away, but my life is worth it. Also, get your support system in place. You will find out quickly who is there for you and who isn’t. I have the BEST husband. We were high school sweethearts, married young and going on 20 years of marriage. I want for nothing. He waits on me hand and foot, tracks my meds, gets me anything I want and knows what I need before I do. He’s made this whole thing so much easier. Also remember at your lowest points, the reason you are doing this. To live. The treatment is torture on your body physically, but remember what it’s doing. It’s killing cancer too! You will get through this, we will get through this.


Candy’s Story

Today’s WCW is Candy. Candy reached out to me on Instagram wanting to share her story with us! Thank you so much for sharing your journey!

Me in my favorite shirt!

Hi, my name is Candy and my journey started in August 2017. Years ago I attended a health fair and I was told that since I had large breasts, I would need to be creative in my self checks. They suggested things like bending over or laying on my side when performing the checks. I hadn’t been as diligent as I should have been and one evening, I was in bed and was like, Oh My!!!! I haven’t done a check in a few months. So, I was doing my self check and was reaching under my left breast and I felt something. No Way!!! This can’t be!!!! I kept feeling the lump and checking on the right side.

The next morning, I call the doctor’s office to get a diagnostic mammogram set up. By the time I went in for my check up and mammogram, I had found a second mass. I pointed it out to the technician performing my scans. They suggested I have an ultrasound. When I went for the ultrasound, the doctor showed me how the first mass looked suspicious and the second one looked like it was a cyst. The biopsy appointment was set up within the next few days, and 3 days later I hear, “It’s Cancer”. I was at work when I got the call and decided to take it because it was at the end of the day and the weekend and I was not going to wait till Monday for the results. I broke down when I heard the news. My husband came to pick me up from work. I went home and immediately got call from one of my closest childhood friends. One of the doctors that I work with has known her forever and called to tell her the news. I was extremely touched that he took the time to contact her knowing that I needed her.

My work family. The best ever.

They had an appointment set up with the surgeon consult 3 days later. I met my surgeon and we talked about my options. They suggested a lumpectomy with reconstruction. I made the joke, I didn’t want her to rebuild to match my other breast, I wanted a reduction. She said that is something I could do, and yes I wanted to do this. I remember after my consultation, she had the technicians ultrasound the area under my arm to see if it looked like it had spread to my lymph nodes. I remember the tech saying that the mass looked so much smaller than it felt. The surgery was set for 3 weeks later. They wanted to perform a MRI as well because I had so many cysts in my breast.

The MRI for me was horrible. I almost hit the panic button. The results came back that the original mass was triple in size, and the second one I had felt was showing it could be cancer. Both of my breast were lighting up on the scan. We had to do a biopsy on the second mass. It came back showing it was in fact cancer. I had to have a biopsy via MRI on my right breast which came back negative. So next was surgery.

Wow, was this an experience. They marked where they were removing the masses and the reconstruction on both breast. During the surgery, my doctor said that she could tell that 4 of the lymph nodes had cancer. She biopsied 4 more and they came back positive. She removed all of the nodes and all but one had cancer. At my doctors visit, my initial Staging was Stage 2A. After my surgery I was Stage 3. After recovering from my surgeries ( I had to go back 4 days later for emergency surgery. My left breast got a hematoma and was bleeding and swelling), I met with my Oncologist. We went over my treatments. I would be getting 8 rounds of chemo total. I would be getting them every 2 weeks, then I would meet with the Radiologist and discuss the next treatment. My Oncologist wanted to do a Pet Scan first to make sure that the cancer hadn’t spread further. The scan showed that the lymph nodes by my lung and trachea was possibly cancer. Immediately, the next day, I was having them biopsied. When I woke up from the procedure, the doctor immediately told me that it was cancer, but it will be sent to the pathologist to confirm. At this point, I think hearing that news was the hardest for me. I felt like every time I turned around, bang more cancer. This was my breaking point. I was not going to survive this. I went from starting with Stage 2 to Stage 4.

I feel very lucky for the doctors that were part of my treatment.  My oncologist treated my aggressive cancer with aggressive treatments.  The chemo was tough on me.  The first 4 that caused nausea and hair loss, I slept through.  I was off 10 days after chemo, then worked 3 days.  The second 4 of the chemo treatments, I felt like my bones and muscles were being attacked. I was off a week and worked a week.  I’m very grateful to my co workers who helped with my schedules, and my family and friends who went to every treatment and kept my spirits up. My chemo sessions were sometimes called the party area.  We livened the place up! 

I had 39 radiation treatments total.  I am very fair and surprisingly I didn’t burn as bad as I thought I would had. I had my second pet scan before radiation and it showed that the two lymph nodes by my trachea were showing no activity, and the one by my lung had shrunk from 7.3 cm to 1.7.  My symbolism is the Sun.  When I found out I had cancer, I lost all my rays.  At this point and the news of the pet scan, the rays were coming back to my sun.  I was literally walking on sunshine and I think it became my theme song.  

Ringing that bell!

I finished radiation, and I started on Letrozole instead of Tamoxifen because Chemo kicked me into menopause. I also started on Ibrance.  The combination was to suppress my hormones and shrink my tumors and prevent any other tumors from growing.  Two PET scans later and I am NEAD, No Evidence of Active Disease.  Words I never thought I would hear.  

More rays for my sunshine.

My Grandchildren. I rocked the baldness!

  I started following Laura because Amy from the Bobby Bones Show had shared her picture after her surgery and I was like, Hey I took a picture too in the surgery bra.  She has been an inspiration.  I started my journey before her but Laura and others are keeping  my spirits up.

  I didn’t really do a hashtag but I love hers.  Ta Ta to Cancer.  I have loved saying Ta Ta and want to keep saying Ta Ta.   I am enjoying reading everyone’s journey and hope you enjoy mine.   

You can find Candy on instagram @candycsj

Dermal Fillers: Recovery + What to Expect

Any of you guys following my journey know that I praise my Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Jacob Unger, all of the time. Literally it was a blessing that my breast surgeon, Dr Whitworth, referred me to him for breast reconstruction. His work is SO natural. He is a true artist. You can find Dr. Unger at Maxwell Aesthetics in Nashville, TN.

While I was going to his office, I met Tracy Jensen. I decided after seeing some of her results, and hearing rave reviews from her clients, that I would go to her for something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Fillers. I was SO nervous to go to anyone for fillers. I wanted to make sure that I could achieve a good result without looking like a chipmunk. You know what I mean. Just look at any of the Real Housewives… No thanks. So after meeting with her and discussing my concerns we came up with a plan. I immediately felt at ease.

Then came injection day! Tracy put some numbing cream on my cheeks to help with any discomfort. I will admit I have a pretty ok pain tolerance, but if I was going to score how bad it hurt I would say about a 2.5 out of 10. It doesn’t feel good, but it isn’t bad at all. The best part is I could see results immediately. Honestly if I never told anyone I had it done, you guys would never notice. But I notice. I have cheek “bones” now! I can’t even tell you how happy I am with the results. So natural and only one small spot had a little bruise (totally expected) that I covered up easily with makeup. I am so glad I found Tracy! If you are in the area and are interested in fillers, set up an appointment with her. She is the best!

Here are my before and after! You can see how there is more volume and an added benefit is it helps thin the lower face! Win/Win!

Day after!
Excuse my nostrils, but this shows them well.

I had Tracy answer some questions that you guys asked me on Instagram. So here is Tracy!!! #injectionqueen 🙂

My background: I have been a Nurse Practitioner working in aesthetics for over 6 years. I love my job- I love the artistry and I love working with my patients to achieve their goals. I went to University of Alabama for my undergraduate degree, and I completed my Masters in Nursing at Vanderbilt University. I am married, and I have 2 little girls, and we love living in Nashville.

What are fillers made of?

The dermal fillers that we use at Maxwell Aesthetics, are all made from hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the body, so there is little risk for allergy when injected into humans.The hyaluronic acid molecules are suspended in a gel, and that gel is what we inject.

How long does filler last?

The longevity of your filler treatment is based largely on the product that is injected. On Laura, I used Juvederm Ultra Plus. This product lasts about 9 to 12 months, for most patients. It is important to ask about longevity, as it can range anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the product!

How painful is it?

Filler injections are not THAT painful! We use a topical numbing agent that sits on the skin for about 10-15 minutes prior to the injection. Most patients would report that their pain is mild to moderate, and quite short-lived. I have never had a patient that couldn’t tolerate the injection! 

Is there any downtime after treatment?

Yes- there certainly can be! I want all of my patients to plan for bruising. It typically occurs less than 50% of the time, but we do not have good control over who will, or who will not, bruise so I ask that everyone be prepared for that. Swelling is also very common, and usually resolves in about 48 hours. 

Does filler help with acne scars?

This is a tough question! This question is best answered on a case by case basis. Often times, acne scars are better treated by lasers or micro-needling types of treatments. Fillers can be used, but again, this would something best discussed face to face with a provider, as there is great variability in the appearance of acne scars. 

What is a good filler for lip lines that won’t give you the duck lips?

There are a couple of good options for patients that are wanting to treat lip lines without adding too much volume. I like using Volbella and Refyne. Both of these products will smooth the area, without adding a lot of bulk, preventing the duck lips from happening!

How do you know how much to use to make it look natural?

Every patient is different- it is very important to assess the patient and have a discussion about the patient’s goals, and what are realistic expectations. Most patients get 1-2 syringes, and we can space that out over several visits, so that results are very natural appearing. 

Can guys get it?

Yes! We see male patients all the time in our office. While this was once thought of a very female thing, I can assure you that is no longer the case! Male patients are very interested in maintaining their youth, and botox and filler injections, along with good skincare, are a great way to do this!

Thank you Tracy! You can find Tracy on Instagram Here .

Find more about Maxwell Aesthetics Here

Find more about Dr. Jacob Unger Here

Request a consultation with Tracy Here