I had a 3.5-year-old and a 9-month-old, and I was only 35 years old myself. My world turned upside down with a phone call. I remember the nurse saying after my biopsy, “if I call you, it is good, if the radiologist calls you, it is bad”. He [the radiologist] called. I froze. My kids. Cancer. Radiation. Mastectomy. No, this can’t be right. I hadn’t gotten tested for BRCA like I said I would after having kids. I was still in the middle of taking care of a baby. Cancer doesn’t wait. The cancer found me. I had triple positive breast cancer and it was growing fast. We later found out I was BRCA2 positive. We needed to act and act fast.
Within two weeks of my biopsy and diagnosis, I was in a chemo chair getting my regimen of Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Perjeta, better known as TCHP. This was the regimen I would be getting for the next 4.5 months, and the Herceptin would continue for seven more treatments.
One other detail we had to rush to take care of was the potential loss of my hair. As I had two young children, the thought of being bald around them was absolutely terrifying. In all honesty, the thought was terrifying to ME. I didn’t think I could handle the sight of myself with no hair, and cancer allows you to be vain. Cancer allows you ALL the passes. I had heard about cold caps, and immediately began the research process. I found out that I would have to have the cold cap on my head for nine hours total. One hour for pretreatment, and then four hours after. The point was to freeze or narrow the blood vessel, so the chemo doesn’t reach the follicle below the scalp. In doing so, the hair doesn’t fall out; it just thins depending on how you baby it. Let’s just say there was zero hair brushing except hair washing day, and that was once a week. I was fortunate to hire someone to switch the caps for me, as it needed to be done every 30 minutes. It was not easy to handle the cold, but whenever something challenging comes my way, I now think to myself, “You had -60 degrees on your head for nine hours. You’ll be ok!” I’m proud to say that I lost only 30% of my hair. I was always known to be a good student.
Following my six treatments, I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Once I completed my six infusions. I was scanned inside and out, and I was given the ‘all clear’. I will never forget the day my superhero doctor said I had a “complete response.” These were the best two words that someone in my position could receive. It got even better the day I was told that radiation was not necessary. Something going right for once!
During treatment, your mind can do crazy things when you’re faced with cancer. When I got out of my self-loathing phase, I decided to put my journalism degree to use and blog my days. “Cupcakes and Chemo” was born, and it served as my literary lifeline throughout my journey. It was there that I wrote about the good and bad days, the funny and not-so-funny experiences and brutally honest feelings of what I was going through. I won’t lie, it is raw. I didn’t even realize it, but I had people waiting daily for my latest “drop.” When you’re “in it,” you don’t even know that people are so invested. To me, it was just a diary that maybe someone would read. I had heard from friends who told friends about it, sending it to people who were also going through treatment. It became a way to connect with people and feel real and ok about it. It is still a much-read site, and one day I would love to share it with more people to use as a support system and have it printed. I made myself a copy as a keepsake, although it is still too raw to read it and relive it.
Six years later, the word CANCER still echoes in my ear, yet the farther out I get, it is still ever present in my mind. I always say that cancer never leaves you. You might be fortunate to get a clean bill of health like I was, but then there is the crutch of the medication, the checkups every three months, then every six months. It could be compared to a dream when you’re running but it never catches you. I pray daily that it never catches me again or anyone else that I love.
It is because of my experience and own trauma, that I have dedicated my life to being an advocate of self-checks and annual screenings. Be your own advocate. If you don’t speak up for your health, who will? The day I began treatment, I made a silent pledge to myself to make a difference in the world of cancer research. I often hear how expensive it is to pay out of pocket for a mammogram, and something I would love to do is raise money to help those that can’t afford the cost to have their screenings.
I have raised over $50,000 for cancer charities with the help of other survivors who I have met on my journey, as well as the donations from friends and family. This is just the start. The start of me making a difference and being loud and passionate. If you know me, then you know this is a perfect fit.
In closing, don’t just get checked because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Check yourself monthly, tell your friends and family. Remember, you’re your own advocate. If you don’t do it, then who will?
You can read about my cancer journey at www.cupcakesandchemo.com.