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Breast cancer was my lemon. Being able to share my story through a campaign in my hometown and having people come up to me saying that they are getting screened because of me is my lemonade.
When I was 32 I found a lump in my right breast. I remember exactly where I was at that moment. I was on my couch; not sure how or why my hand brushed against my breast but it did and once I felt it I couldn’t stop going back to it. I was instantly nauseous; my heart was beating out of my chest & my mind racing to places that scared the hell out of me. My sister is a doctor so I immediately called her crying hysterically about this lump. She assured me it was probably just a cyst but nonetheless it needed to be checked out. I made an appointment with my primary care physician for the next day. He did an exam of my breasts and felt the same way my sister did, it was probably just a cyst but he wanted me to go for a diagnostic mammogram. Anyone that has had breast related health issues is very familiar with what a diagnostic mammogram means; basically it means the radiologist will read it immediately so you can go home with an answer. They did the mammogram and decided I also need an ultrasound. After what seemed like forever, I was told it was just a cyst and I had nothing to worry about. Thank sweet baby Jesus was my first thought. I was ready to put all of this behind me and go back in 8 years for my next mammogram.
I had a follow up with my primary about a week later and he said, “I would like you to see a breast surgeon”. “WHAT? WHY? It’s a cyst”, I said extremely scared.
He went on to tell me that sometimes it’s best to have a specialist involved with these kinds of things. Little did I know at that time that this would eventually save my life.
So, I went to Dr. K’s office, who I now call my guardian angel. I remember sitting in her office for our first visit and my mammogram results were up on the screen. I asked her “why is it all white?” That was the first time I heard the term “dense breasts”. She immediately did an ultrasound on both my breasts and found not only do I have dense breasts but I have a lot of fibroid tumors so she would like to monitor me from now on. She told me that since I have both of these things going on, it’s pretty easy for cancer to hide therefore it’s important for me to stay on top of my annual screenings. So, that’s what I did, every year I went for a mammogram and then to her office for an ultrasound.
December 2012 (I was now 36) was no different, this was my 4th year doing it; I got my “normal” mammogram results in October of that year. In fact, they told me I didn’t have to come back for another 4 years; I obviously knew my doctor would not allow that.
So, she started doing the ultrasound. Something was different this time, she was taking more pictures. She had a concerned look on her face. When I’m nervous, I talk so that’s what I did, I talked, and talked and then talked some more. She was comparing the pictures from my last ultrasound to the current one. She asked if my period was due and I said yes, she said that’s probably why everything seems a bit bigger, but that she would like me to get an MRI to be safe. Fear doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling. She of course told me that she was being cautious but thought it was a good idea to get it done. This was a Monday, by Wednesday I was in for the MRI; by Wednesday night I knew that results were abnormal. On Thursday I was in for the biopsy. The whole time I’m being assured by the radiologist that Dr. K. is just being hyper-cautious and there is only one suspicious area in my left breast on my chest wall that they would like to biopsy. My life changed on Christmas Eve 2012, that morning at 9:30am, my sister called (side-note, since my sister is a doctor at that same hospital, I signed permission that she could get the results because if I was going to hear bad news I wanted it to come from my sister) and told me the devastating news through tears that I had breast cancer.
My world stopped at that moment. I sat in bed and just cried, with my husband by my side assuring me I was going to be fine. It was Christmas Eve, I was supposed to be getting ready to go to my brother’s and celebrate the holiday with my family, but I had this whole cancer diagnosis thing going on. Not only did I just get this life changing news, but I was also suffering from the flu which obviously has no relation to the cancer, but since I felt sick, it intensified everything by 100%. I literally stayed in my bed for 6 hours straight, just crying until there were no tears left & then I cried some more. I made the decision to go to my brother’s for the holiday. My only stipulation was nobody was allowed to speak of the C-word and I was going to be wearing sweats and my hair was going to be in a ball on top of my head. I honestly don’t have much memory of that day; my mind was obviously somewhere else. I will say I’m happy I went, I’m happy I got out of bed, and I’m happy I was able to part of my niece and nephew’s holiday.
I often hear people say that I was “brave since day one.” But I wouldn’t say that. Someone who is “brave” is someone who is ready to face and endure danger or pain by choice. This is not something I chose. Nobody chooses this.
I did and continue to do what I have to do to not let the disease win. I felt strength from within from day one, but also fear. I never knew I could feel both at the same time.
Of course the fear came from the unknown. Asking question like: Will I die? Will I ever have children? Has it spread? Will I have to have chemo and a mastectomy?
The strength came from knowing that everything was going to be ok. That is what faith is to me, knowing things will go wrong in your life but in the end it will all work out. It doesn’t matter who or what you believe in, faith is having complete trust or confidence in someone or something, which I personally think everyone has the capability to relate to.
I made a personal choice to never say “Why me?” instead I said “Why not?” What makes me more special than the next person? None of us are exempt. From the beginning of my journey, I decided to share my experience on facebook with my friends and family with the hope that my story would help just one girl.
I also have been blessed to be part of a great breast cancer campaign here in Chicago called Stories of the Girls, which has given me a voice which I’m extremely grateful for. I’m able to share my story with so many and my hope it that my story will guide someone somewhere to make a decision that will possibly save his/her life.
When I was asked to participate in the Stories of the Girls campaign, I never imagined how much it would change my life. Not only was my picture plastered up at train stations & billboards around Chicago, I also had the honor of being part of their commercial. However, what really turned my lemon into lemonade was when they asked me to blog for their website. I’m by no means a “writer”, but I felt like this opportunity could be very cathartic for me so I decided to do it. At first, I was concerned about bearing my soul to strangers. I always joke with my friends and family that I have showed my breasts enough (for medical reasons only) that I should have a room full of beads, but this was different. This was letting people into my world and how my journey with breast cancer affected me emotionally, mentally, and physically. Once my first blog was posted and people started reaching out telling me that MY story touched their heart or that they were scared to get a mammogram but because of me they were making an appointment; I was blown away. I recently had someone from out of state send me a message via Facebook. I had no idea who she was, but she told me that she randomly found something online from the campaign and she felt a connection with me. I remember sitting there staring at my phone in amazement as my husband walked in. I got a little teary eyed and told him that this random message from girl that lives 1,400 miles away is the main reason why I will never ever regret putting my story out there. That is the moment I realized, people were listening and that I could really help someone and make a difference. As I stated before, I wanted to get to one girl. And you know what? I did, and I think a even few more 😉
My message is simple, early detection in many cases can literally be the difference between life and death. Don’t assume this only happens to women over 40 or it has to run in someone’s family to get it. Remember, it has to start with someone for it to “run in your family”, nobody is exempt. Don’t let fear or misinformation prevent you from getting screened.