Who knew five words would alter our lives forever.
In early August of last year, I felt a small lump in my right breast. I wish I could say I do regular self-breast exams, but you caught me: #guilty. I don’t—or at least, I didn’t. I was just sitting outside on our porch swing in Houston with my husband. Both boys were napping and we were catching up on all the things happening in our lives. I randomly felt my right breast, which I know sounds weird, y’all. But when you’ve breastfed two kids—one for 12 months and one for four months—your breasts go through a lot. And sometimes, you just feel them when you remember.
What I felt wasn’t just my breast. It was a lump. “That doesn’t feel right, right?” I said to my husband, turning so he could feel it, too.
“Yeah, that doesn’t feel good,” he said. “You should get that checked out.” So I called my OB and we scheduled a mammogram for the next day. They ended up doing an ultrasound as well, which was a good thing because they also found a smaller “suspicious” spot on a lymph node. Then they did a biopsy.
It was Friday, August 16, 2019—my 35th birthday.
The next Monday, I got the call I had been waiting for. (Who knew you could hope for and dread something simultaneously?) Both boys were at school. The house was as calm as it ever was. Now when I look back on that time, it was literally the calm before the storm.
“Do you have a minute?” My life has never been the same since those five words came out of my doctor’s mouth.
I remember hanging up with her and balling my eyes out. Tears. So many tears, y’all. I called my husband. “Chris, it’s cancerous,” I told him.
I sat on the chair in our living room with tears pouring down my face until Chris got home from the office. It was probably 20 minutes. He told me later that he’d dropped everything he was doing and ran all the way to his car.
My heart hurt. It hurt for my husband. It hurt for my two young boys. My heart hurt for my family. My heart hurt for me.
We Will Get Through This Together
This wasn’t exactly how I’d planned to celebrate my 35th birthday. My family and I were in the middle of one of the biggest changes in our lives. My husband had just accepted a new job in Denver, Colorado, and we were supposed to be packing up the house in Houston and getting ready to start a new chapter. Cancer was not even a thought on the horizon.
There’s a checklist for reasons you might be at risk for breast cancer. I don’t tick any of those boxes. I am healthy. There’s no family history. I had the genetics test and I don’t carry the BRCA gene mutation. I don’t smoke. I rarely drink. But none of that really makes me feel better, to be honest with you. I still got cancer.
I was diagnosed with Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma, Grade 2, stage IIA. HR/ER Positive, and HER 2 Negative. (How’s that for a mouthful?) I had a lumpectomy on August 29 to remove a tumor in my right breast along with seven lymph nodes. I am currently undergoing chemotherapy.
About two weeks after my diagnosis, the anger started to set in. I remember telling Chris, “I’m so heartbroken and I’m so pissed.” He hugged me and wiped away more tears. “We will get through this together,” he said. I’ve carried that phrase with me since then.
I also pray a lot. But still, I am confused. And mad. The mental part of this cancer life is just as hard as the physical part, if not harder. It is something that I am still struggling with 130 days later. I am scheduled to talk with a therapist this month. That is the earliest they could see a new patient. Go figure.
My New Reality
Along with the obvious questions (what happens now?), a few others crossed my mind when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like what about having another baby? Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I are so incredibly blessed with our two happy and healthy boys. Whenever the topic of another kid came up, we’d say, “OK, maybe one day soon.” We never put a timeline on it, we just thought it might happen in a year or two. Now, that decision has been taken away from me.
Also, what about my psoriasis? After living with psoriasis for more than 20 years, I was at the point where my chronic disease was being managed by medication and in remission. Finally. I could feel my skin again where my psoriasis patches used to be. But the doctors told me I’d have to stop all my meds because of my breast cancer diagnosis. What was going to happen? Would it flare again? Was it going to be worse? No one could say for sure.
You Are Not Alone
I’m sharing this not for pity, but as a reminder to be in tune with your body. Don’t wait until you’re 40 to get a mammogram if you’re worried something’s up — especially if there is any family history of breast cancer. And if you have dense breasts, which makes it harder to see things on a mammogram, ask about an annual MRI or ultrasound plus mammogram to improve detection.
I’m sharing my story because, honestly, it feels weird not talking about it. I’m sharing it because I don’t want others to feel like they’re the only ones. One in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point during her life. If you’ve been diagnosed, know you’re not alone. I feel you. I’m there with you. It’s hard. It’s freakin’ terrifying. It’s overwhelming. And nerve wracking. But you are not alone.
Stay tuned for my next post on the day I found out I needed chemo. I share the good, bad, and ugly! Let’s fight this together.