"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do." -Eleanor Roosevelt
Breast Cancer first entered my life at the age of 16 when my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She had surgery, chemo and radiation at the age of 43. There was no evidence of disease until 4 years later. In 1998 she lost her life to metastatic breast cancer and I lost my kind, loving, selfless, beautiful mother.
In 2010, at the age of 32 I was diagnosed with the same disease that took my mother's life. It was a Friday night when I heard the words that sent me crashing to the floor.
Lillian was 4 months old, Nate was almost 3. I felt like I knew I would get breast cancer, but I thought I had more time. Two weeks after my diagnosis I went in for surgery. A bilateral mastectomy with 35 lymph nodes removed. The tumor was stage 2b triple negative breast cancer. Four weeks later I started ACT, a harsh toxic cocktail of chemo drugs. Chemo lasted 5 months and I then had a trial drug Avastin for 7 more months. There were good days, great days, beautiful moments, and moments that were so terrible I wish I could forget. That is the harsh reality of breast cancer. I moved through, as we all do. Day by day, sometimes minute by minute. I was in survival mode until all was done and my oncologist said now go live and lets hope we cured this and it doesn't come back. That was it. I was told there was nothing else I could do to decrease my risk of recurrence, which was 30%. That number stuck in my head and I knew I needed to research to do what I could to have a different fate than my beautiful mother. My children needed their mother, my husband needed his wife.
After finishing chemo I was tested for the BRCA gene mutation due to my young age and my strong family history. As I completed my appointment with my genetic counselor she said I had a 98% chance of testing positive for the BRCA mutation. For some reason I still held hope that I would be negative. Just like I thought the lump I found was not breast cancer but a clogged milk duct as my ob-gyn had insisted.
The results came back, BRCA1 positive, my sisters went for testing, both positive. After my results I planned on a oophorectomy the same day as my breast reconstruction surgery. So approximately 1 year after my diagnosis I had my ovaries removed to protect myself from ovarian cancer and I had the privilege of saying hello to surgical menopause.
A breast cancer diagnosis is a journey for sure. And on this journey I have chosen to control what I can and to do my best to let go of the rest. Healthy, nourishing foods had a lot to do with my healing and the health of my body today. After chemo I felt terrible and menopause further taxed my body. Food is what sustained me, fueling my passion for nourishment.
Some people talk about the "gifts" of cancer. I don't believe there are gifts, because I could have been grateful and well and good without all the assaults to my body and life. However I do believe that out of every terrible situation, we can extract good and positive things. I have knowledge of my BRCA mutation and that will empower my children. I have made amazing new friends through my breast cancer journey. I volunteer with two organizations, Young Survival Coalition and FORCE, I helped start a local support group with the assistance of UNC Lineberger Cancer Support Center, and I assist other young women and families dealing with breast cancer and BRCA mutations. My family is healthier and my children are growing up understanding the importance of self care, healthy food choices, exercise, and clean , nontoxic living. I have reconnected with the natural world and reconnect each time I feel the gratitude I have in my heart for each day on this beautiful earth. Each day I have with my family is a gift. There a days I am not well from my chemical sensitivities, but I am just grateful to be here. I have learned more about self care than I thought possible. When I am feeling good, I feel great. Better than I did before cancer. My body and soul are nourished. The term survivor never resonated with me, that is why I prefer thriver. I am a thriver, as we all can be.
An article I wrote for Women Advance "Beyond the Pink Ribbon" http://www.womenadvancenc.org/2014/10/07/beyond-the-pink-ribbon/