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.

heather-2.jpg

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—(https://www.medgadget.com/2018/04/aeroform-tissue-expander-for-breast-reconstruction-interview-with-scott-dodson-ceo.html) 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! 

 

http://a.co/bSDwLAH

 

 

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

 

Kara’s Story

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

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

 I went to my dads and then we went to my Grandma’s house. She had breast cancer 20 years ago, so she is the one I wanted to talk to the most. I told the rest of my family at a Thanksgiving dinner. 😦 I then started a blog post for everyone to keep track of what was going on. karakickscancer.wordpress.com.
After they did the biopsy they also did a biopsy of my lymph nodes to see if it had spread, I did another mammogram, and a MRI. The MRI is the only thing that actually showed my cancer. My surgeon said that we were going to do the Mastectomy 1st and then start Chemo and then radiation after that. The cancer was just in my left breast but it had spread to my lymph nodes. So they removed those as well. I opted to do the double mastectomy because I didn’t want to risk it coming back on right side. And plus I didn’t want the visualization of what I used to look like compared to what it was now. 
The side effects. The worst for me was the first round of chemo I had horrible nausea. But then they adjusted the nausea meds and I was fine after that. I was surprised that I actually had cravings, like when you are pregnant. One treatment I would crave sour stuff, the next treatment it would be sweet, and then salty. I also experienced horrible nose bleeds which I was surprised about. To the point where I ended up going to the ER to have them cauterize it, because it bled for 3 hours before they did that.
DO NOT RESEARCH ON THE INTERNET! It’s so scary when you first find out. But just try to wait until you meet with your doctor to find out what type and the stage. You are already so emotional that the internet will be a dark hole you don’t want to travel down. I also treated my cancer journey like a job. I went out and got a notebook, folders, a journal, and a tote bag. Every appointment they were giving me brochures and so much information that it was overwhelming. I would get home and write in my notebook questions, I wanted to ask the DR. And I journaled how I was feeling.
As a mom and wife, my biggest concern was my kids and husband. So my friend started a meal train for me. Kind of like a GO FUND ME, but for meals. They could go online and choose what to send and Omaha steaks would send the meals frozen in a cooler. All my husband would have to do is stick it in the oven. I would eat if it sounded good. Or I would eat whatever I wanted. Donuts, candy, cereal, chips and salsa.. whatever I was craving. Because I didn’t know if the next round would kick my butt and I might not be able to eat anything.
karafamily
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.
karanow
Me today!
There is always someone that is going through more than you. You can do this. God’s got you.

Dena’s Story

denaI’m Dena. I’m a 45 year old single aunt and dog mom. My mom is a 30 year breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at 40 and underwent a single mastectomy and chemotherapy. Because of that family history and my own very dense breasts, I have been getting screened with yearly mammograms for over 10 years. In hindsight, I wish I had done more, because what good are mammograms with very dense breasts anyway. In December 2017, at my appointment with my nurse practitioner, I showed her a small lump in my left breast that I had felt. She sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. I had those tests done on February 14, 2018, and I remember being so relieved when the radiologist came in and told me there was nothing to worry about it, the mass was just a mound of very dense but normal breast tissue. It had probably even been there for some time but was more noticeable to me now because I had lost 100lbs in the prior three years so a lot of fat was gone from my breasts.
Over the course of 2018, I continued to work on my fitness and lifestyle changes and didn’t think much about the growing lump in my left breast. I didn’t really seem to notice how progressively  bigger it was getting, until December 2018 when it started becoming painful. When I had my annual with my nurse practitioner that month, she was alarmed at how much it had grown and said she wanted it looked at again and that she wanted me to see a breast surgeon regardless of the radiology results. Somehow I still wasn’t overly concerned about this lump that I had been told was normal breast tissue. I went through Christmas, my first trip to NYC, a bad cold, and then finally made my radiology appointments at the same facility I had been to the prior year. On January 18, 2019, I had bilateral 3D mammograms and bilateral ultrasounds. A different radiologist came in the room this visit and palpated the mass herself with the ultrasound wand and confirmed that this was still just a dense mound of normal breast tissue and there were no suspicious findings on either report. When I got the official report back a week later, it mentioned further evaluation by a breast surgeon given family history and I remembered my nurse practitioner saying the name of the doctor she wanted me to see. I called to get an appointment with Dr. Reed and was told that due to the doctor’s busy caseload I would have to have a referral. My doctor’s office put the referral in and I was able to get an appointment with Dr. Reed’s PA, Cindy, on February 20, 2019. I went in that day, not super concerned, just ready to establish a relationship for more thorough screening with a breast surgeon. Cindy and I went through the motions of setting me up as a patient that would be followed regularly and she offered for their office to do another ultrasound of the mass that day which I wanted. I went to the the ultrasound room with the tech, Amanda, and everything changed forever. Amanda saw what she thought was a mass. This elevated me to the top of Dr. Reed’s charts.
Coincidentally, Dr. Reed and my sister-in-law, Shelley, were high school classmates and are still friendly. Shelley immediately messaged Dr. Reed to be on the look out for my chart and that I was really scared. Before the end of the week, we got the call to come back in for a biopsy on Monday, February 25, 2019. Cindy said she still wasn’t overly concerned about the mass and there were a number of benign conditions it could be. Monday morning, Shelley met me for the biopsy. Dr. Reed’s reaction to the tissue extracted was “this is not normal breast tissue, this is funky” and that did not leave me with a good feeling about the direction we were heading. Two days later, on February 27, 2019, she called with the results, “it is positive for cancer.” Invasive Ductal Carcinoma to be exact, ER/PR+ HER2-. She said it was the good kind to have and that she felt it was treatable and even curable. We scheduled an appointment for the next day at her office to discuss everything. My mom, my two brothers, my sister-in-law, my best friend and I piled into her office to discuss the details of my diagnosis. I remember being completely overwhelmed and sad. I was so sad and so scared for days. I was desperate for surgery to get this thing out of me and desperate for the testing to give me more information about the extent of the disease. I could barely eat for days. That weekend was my best-friend, Cameron’s, birthday, and I know it was miserable for her. We spent the day together, but I was just a shell of myself. I struggle with OCD and anxiety and all of the thoughts and fears in my head were overwhelming me no matter how positive I tried to be. She kept reassuring me that I had a good prognosis and needed to focus on that but I just couldn’t wrap my head around anything positive. It certainly didn’t help that two weeks before my diagnosis, a friend my age had lost her battle with colon cancer. Thankfully, the genetics testing, CT, bone scan and breast MRI were all scheduled for the next week and each test came back with a good result. The breast MRI showed one lymph node with a suggestion of cortical thickening so I prepared myself for lymph node involvement. The next step was to get a surgery date and fast.
With those tests behind me, I started having a better outlook. The best thing I did for myself between diagnosis and surgery was continue to work and continue to go to the gym and/or yoga every evening. There were days when I couldn’t eat all day but exercising made me feel so much better that I’d be able to eat a full meal afterwards. I have a made great friends at both my gym and my yoga studio and just being in their company helped my spirits tremendously. I also really wanted to prepare my body the best I could for surgery, so I kept plugging along. My last yoga class was the night before surgery and she let me pick the playlist – reggae. The day after I was diagnosed, I also made an appointment with my psychiatrist’s office. While I take an anti-depressant regularly for my mild depression and OCD symptoms, I needed something more for anxiety and for sleeping.
The plastic surgeon’s office initially gave me a surgery date of April 24, 2019 and I immediately contacted my breast surgeon with concerns about this being too far out from diagnosis. She agreed. Because of her friendship with my sister-in-law and because of what I had been through with the delayed diagnosis of a year, she pushed the plastic surgeon’s office and kept a close eye on the hospital’s surgery schedule. She was able to get me a surgery date of March 20, 2019, the first day of spring. I elected for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using silicone gel implants. I only had five days notice for the surgery, so I didn’t have much time to research and gather the things I’d need post-op. I think I did really well with what I did find. Those few days, I stayed so busy, readying myself, and spending time with friends and family, that I had no time to dwell on the actual surgery. It was just something that had to be done.
My best-friend, Cameron, picked me up at 7am on the morning of surgery. I had to be at the hospital early for the sentinel node biopsy. That was done and we were in pre-op by 9:30am where my dad met us. I got to spend some time with him before the rest of my family arrived. At around 11:30am, I remember saying good-bye to Cameron as she walked out of the pre-op room and a nurse saying to me she was going to put a little something in my IV. Next thing I know, my eyes slightly open and I hear my plastic surgeon over me saying “okay, everything went great, lymph nodes were clear” and I could see a wall clock that read 4:30pm. I was stunned. It was over. I missed it all. I couldn’t wrap my head around the clear lymph node, I had convinced myself it had spread. I was moved to my room and visited with my family until around 9pm. I was comfortable overnight but didn’t sleep much due to constantly having to get up and go to the bathroom because of the IV fluids and the nurses emptying the drains. I was awake at 6am when the doctors started making their rounds and they both cleared me to go home. I ate breakfast at the hospital and was out of there by 9:30am. I brought a small pillow with me for the car ride home to hold against my chest and I do think that was helpful for the first few car rides.
Dena2
I felt much better than I expected I would in the days after surgery. I had full range of motion in my arms immediately and slept pretty comfortably with the wedge and u-shaped body pillow I purchased. My 12 year old niece came over and helped me out the first weekend and my sister-in-law set up a meal trains with meals brought to my mom and I every other day for three weeks. The Saturday after surgery I went on a short trip to the grocery store with Cameron that nearly wore me out but it was good to get out. On Sunday, my niece and I spent a little time outside in my herb garden. I settled into my routine of carrying my body pillow from couch to bed, bed to couch by Monday and was in good spirits. I had a lot of visitors the first week and doctor’s appointments on Tuesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, I was even able to get out for lunch with my mom, my aunt and my 97 year old grandmother. By the following weekend, I was exhausted. I have stayed exhausted. I can’t seem to get my strength back. It is very frustrating.
Week two has been a very different week. A week and 1/2 after surgery, the drains started to become so worrisome I could hardly stand them. The stitches in my arms were pinching and the tubes in my chest were painful. I had long run out of pain medications and was strictly taking ibuprofen. I can maybe handle one activity per day and then I’m completely wiped out. This is making me feel down. I want my stamina back. I have loads of endurance normally. I want that life back. This constant run down feeling is causing my mind to wander and make me sad. I just feel crummy. The drains finally came out yesterday much to my relief and I expressed to my surgeon how I’ve been feeling. He said I’ve had major surgery and need to take it easy. I asked a friend who’s been through this if what I’m feeling is normal and she assured me it is. She is also my yoga instructor and I’ve made plans to go sit in at her beach yoga class Monday evening even though I can’t participate. Another friend of hers will be there who had surgery the same day as me, so we’ll just be sitting there soaking in the vibes and lifting each other up.
I’m also planning to go back to work some next week. I’m a paralegal with a pretty light desk job. My boss is very supportive and does not expect me to do any more than I am able or to be at the office any longer than I am comfortable. I will play it be ear through the week and do what my body allows me to do. Yesterday, Cindy, from my breast surgeon’s office called with my Oncotype DX score. It is 18. 18, right in the gray area. That is not what I was praying for. I will meet with the oncologist soon and discuss the best options for me with regard to chemo. I already know that at least seven years of tamoxifen is in my future.
I have too many friends who are survivors. I was lucky to have so much support and guidance prior to surgery and after. With that said, this can’t be a 1 in 8 disease because I can look around me and see at least six, my age, under 50! What they told me when I was first diagnosed, was that those first few days would be the worst. They were right. The unknowing is so hard.  I’m new to this journey and I’m learning as I go. I’m doing the best I can to arm myself with knowledge and hope so I can cope in the healthiest way and handle each curve ball thrown. I realize this is a marathon and not a sprint and I’m trying not to be bitter over what I have lost or the fact that I lost 100lbs and got myself into the best shape of my life only to get cancer. What everyone says to that is, thank God you got you are in the shape you are in now, or how would you be dealing with this? Which is true. I also was able to get nice underboob scars because of all of the extra skin from weight loss, so there’s that little silver lining!  I was supposed to go visit a friend in Boulder on Memorial Day this year and run the BolderBoulder 10k. Not happening. But I will push to run in the other races I’m signed up for later this year. I’m planning to walk a my first post-surgery 5k next weekend on the 13th. I’m going to give my all!
Dena3
Much love, Dena
aka auntdstrong / ovaunt

Casey’s Story

casey chemo shirt

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

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

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

casey dog

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

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

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

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

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

casey selfie

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

casey and gf

My Mantra was “Power On, Power Through.”