Six weeks after I had had a negative mammogram, I found a lump in one of my breasts while performing a self-examination. When the biopsy came back as malignant—after the mammogram had already declared that I was a healthy, cancer-free woman—disbelief warred with rationalization as I tried to adjust my perspective. Because I am a nurse, I knew all the potential hazards that lay ahead. My eventual acceptance was tinged with sadness: I wanted to live long enough to see my first grandchild born.
I underwent a radical mastectomy with reconstruction, and, although the surgery went well, I was devastated when told of the need for chemotherapy. I thought I would be so sick that going back to work would be out of the question, but in between bouts of nausea and fatigue, I was able to work while undergoing treatment. I also endured a bone marrow transplant as part of the protocol for my diagnosis; this aggressive treatment required me to take three months off from work.
My cancer returned eighteen months after the initial diagnosis. Even with a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant, the disease metastasized to my spine, ribs, and left hip. Overwhelmed and prepared to die, I tried to focus on the immediacy of life. However, my oncologist, Dr. Grace Wang, recommended that I be a participant in a study of HER2NEW—now called Herceptin; the drug was in its trial stage, and with Dr. Wang’s help, and that of her ARNP, Kathy, I was approved to be a part of the trial and to receive the medication (along with more chemotherapy). I tolerated the experimental treatment well, and one year later my scans came back with no evidence of metastatic disease. I have been in remission for twelve years, and the grandchild that I had prayed to see born is now fifteen years old—and he has a little brother!
I no longer take anything for granted, and the aphorism “don’t sweat the small stuff” carries a poignant weight and significance in my life. I am thankful for every day the Lord gives me and for the many blessings of simply living a normal life. I am also grateful to the medical team who carefully monitored the administration of my medicine and my progress. Having the opportunity to be with my children and grandchildren—and having the support of my family and friends—is invaluable. Women who are struggling with breast cancer should never give up: there is life after cancer. A positive outlook and the commitment to live each day as best one can is essential to the recovery process. Family, friends, and the grace of God gave me the strength and courage to battle my disease.