Friday, October 02, 2009

A Mother’s Story of Breast Cancer

NOTE FROM SUSAN: I distinctly remember one particular email I received about a year ago. It was from the mother of one of my twins’ classmates in pre-Kindergarten. It contained a sign-up sheet for taking dinner to another family in our class. The young mother of a little boy had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and she would be undergoing treatment. We all wanted to get them through the following months of chemotherapy by making sure they had a good meal every day. Stacey and I became friends as she has boldly met all the challenges associated with her diagnosis. Despite the difficult days she has gone through when I knew she wasn’t feeling well, she still showed up at her son’s school parties and soccer games. She always had a smile on her face and was generous in sharing her story with others. She is a true inspiration to me and all families affected by breast cancer. I asked Stacey to write a little something about her journey and how it impacted her family. I also hope it encourages you to be tested for breast cancer. Stacey had no family history of the disease. She did not inherit the breast cancer gene. And yet, for some reason, she came down with it, and at a young age. Maybe Stacey’s story will save your life or that of someone you love.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on September 22, 2008. What I am about to say will most likely leave you scratching your head, but it’s truly how I feel. I am lucky. Now let me explain my position.

When I say “lucky,” I don’t mean that I bought a scratch-off ticket with high hopes of revealing a breast cancer diagnosis. Instead, I look at it as breast cancer, compared to other cancers, is so treatable and manageable when caught early.

Because I had wonderful doctors—my ob/gyn in particular, who is an advocate of early detection—I am a survivor. He suggested (as he does with all of his patients) that I get a mammogram between my 35th and 36th birthday. My mammogram came back perfect. The facility that did the mammogram called me and mailed a letter to me, both indicating no problems. However, my ob/gyn’s nurse called me and said that the doctor wanted me to get an ultrasound. Imagine my surprise.

First, I thought they had the wrong person. After all, I wasn’t pregnant, and that is the only time I ever had an ultrasound. The nurse educated me on the fact that ultrasounds are used on women, in addition to the mammogram, to see through dense breast tissue. I pointed out that my mammogram was perfect and that I got a letter saying so. However, the nurse said my doctor read the comments section and saw that the radiologist wrote, “Dense bilateral breast tissue.” Mammograms cannot see through that dense tissue, so an ultrasound is required.

Thank goodness my ob/gyn read past the perfect mammogram and moved on to the comments section. The ultrasound revealed a one-centimeter tumor. While small, the tumor had already left the milk duct and spread to the breast tissue. A biopsy revealed that the tumor was indeed Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC).

Since the cancer had already spread, it was necessary to find out just how far it had gone. Did it travel through my nodes and bloodstream, finding a home someplace else in my body? Needless to say, the days and weeks that followed were filled with full body scans, tests, and anxiety about the unknown.

Let’s face it: my son was four years old at the time I was diagnosed. Every mother knows that the will to survive comes in part from wanting to be here for yourself, but in larger part because your child needs you to be here.

How did this affect my son? The chemotherapy drugs that I had both caused hair loss. There was no doubt about it, I would soon be bald. Knowing this ahead of time, I prepared my son. I told him, “Mommy has a disease called cancer, and the doctors have to get me better. The medicine they use will make my hair fall out, but that’s good. The doctors said if my hair falls out, it means the medicine is working.”

Even with preparing him for Mommy to be bald, it was still strange to him. Fortunately, I was able to stay strong (again, for him more so than for myself). I saw him looking at my bald head one day with a puzzled expression on his face. I asked him what he thought about my new look. True to a child’s honesty, he said, “I think it looks bad. I can almost see your brain.” Quickly, I put that fear to rest by pointing out that only my hair would fall out, and that I still had two layers protecting my brain—my skin and skull. He seemed at ease with that explanation and said, “Mom, do you want to put on matching bandanas and play pirate?” Believe me, I didn’t feel great, but if ever there was a time to pull it together and smile, it was then. And so we went out back and played pirate.

While breast cancer and treatment were not all pleasant, it was imperative to find the positive in everything. Early detection, great doctors, technology, wonderful family and friends were all factors that helped me pull through. My hope is that, like breast cancer, great strides are made toward making other cancers more manageable. So when you make your donations, whatever the cause, know that you are helping real people, moms like me.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful story and a perfect example of a woman with determination and a great attitude.

    Thank you for sharing this inspirational story with us.


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