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!