Breast Cancer… two powerful words! They have always been a part of my life. My mother and grandmother both died from breast cancer. My childhood was spent ‘living through’ the disease.
My mother often quizzed me about breast health and early detection. I accompanied her to too many doctors’ appointments and nursed her as she fought the awful side effects of Chemotherapy over twenty years ago.
In the back of my mind, I always knew Cancer was something that might present itself within my body, the only question was when?
Born and raised in Chicago, IL; I moved to San Francisco for high school. I graduated from San Diego State University. In my early 20s and 30s I traveled frequently …. living in London as well as Israel. Experiencing life in other countries, made me realize time and again how fortunate I was to have my life.
I met my husband David on a blind date in November 1999. We knew from the beginning that we had something special. We were married in May 2002. In March 2003, we bought our house. All was going well… we were living the picture perfect life.
In early 2004, we were blessed with the birth of our beautiful daughter, Malia. Because of my strong family history I’d begun having mammograms at the age of 30. Shortly after I stopped breast feeding I went in for a routine mammogram. And there it was – DCIS – the cancer had arrived! Because of my prior mammograms the cancer was detected extremely early.
From the beginning I looked at this experience as a journey, an obstacle I had to overcome, but one that would give me opportunities.
After several conversations with my surgeon, we decided I’d have a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, a DIEP flap. She thought I was an excellent candidate for the procedure and since I still had some pregnancy weight, I thought what the heck, it will be a great way to get a tummy tuck and boob job!! In reality, my goal was to eliminate any future treatments and experiences with breast cancer.
The surgery was 14 hours long, with a painful 10 week recovery. My margins came back clear, and I was told I did not need any additional treatments. No Chemo, No Radiation, No Tamoxifin… Yippie!!!
I am a poster child for early detection, and I am thankful every day.
But my story does not end there. Fast forward two years, in October 2006 David and I received the news that our 12 week fetus was healthy and viable. After experiencing two miscarriages, we were overjoyed with happiness. Malia was 2.5, and having a second child was a primary goal before, during and after my DCIS diagnosis.
One day shortly after getting the ‘all good’ news, David asked me if I’d felt any changes to my breasts due to the pregnancy. I decided to perform a Breast Self Exam. As I was feeling about and tucked right under my left arm pit, just at the area where my new tissue met my old tissue, was a small, round ‘thing’.
To tell you I panicked is an understatement. Luckily I was able to see our local breast doctor immediately. She performed a biopsy on a Friday morning, and by Monday afternoon I was diagnosed with my second bout of breast cancer in two years. Not a metastasis, but a brand new occurrence and an aggressive one. The tumor was so small, about 8 mm, my doctor couldn’t believe I had found it.
I often say that David and Ari saved my life. If I wasn’t pregnant David wouldn’t have asked me that question and I wouldn’t have found the lump until much later.
The question of ‘what to do and when’ became critical. The reality was I needed to get the cancer out and start treatments as soon as possible. Unfortunately, (but luckily for us) there are other women who have been through Chemo while pregnant – I was put in contact with several of them.
David and I had many LONG conversations with these women and through our talks we both felt better about moving forward with keeping the baby and starting treatments.
So after many doctors’ visits – to the oncologist, the ob-gyn, the surgeon, the peri-natal specialist, (and the therapist)….we decided to have the tumor removed and start A/C at week 22 of gestation.
Yes, I was nervous and yes, I was scared.
But, when I think about to that time and the steps we took to make decisions, I remember a conversation with my breast surgeon. She told me the best news I during this diagnosis was being Her2 receptor positive.
Preferring to look at the silver linings in life…if I had to be diagnosed again, if I had to go through Chemo and Radiation… then it was because I needed to be a Herceptian recipient. Herceptian is going to ensure I am around to play with my grandchildren.
Five months after my diagnosis, on my 39th birthday March 22, 2007, our healthy baby boy, Ari Jonathan arrived four weeks early allowing time for me to recover and start my next phase of treatments Taxol/Herceptian and Radiation. He arrived with a full head of hair (more than me!), a good weight and powerful lungs.
After he was born, Ari accompanied me to most of my treatments. Not surprisingly each office staff claimed their share of the responsibility for his miraculous birth. He is a miracle baby.
Today (January 2012), I have past my 5 year cancer free mark, and have been given a ‘clean bill of health’. Yet, each day (as I look at my children – Malia 7.5 and Ari 4.5) is another accomplishment, and another blessing.
Again, I am a poster child for early detection and Self Breast Exams. And Yes, I am thankful everyday.
In February 2010, I lost my father to COPD and Lung Cancer. I know living through my experience (and laughter about) cancer, chemo and radiation his journey was a little less scary. I think of him every day and know that because of his values, lessons and legacy – my life will forever be fulfilled.
I cannot finish this note without mentioning ‘whom’ that got us through this journey. If it weren’t for the amazing support of an incredible group of family and friends, a network that has surrounded us providing meals, sending prayers, driving me to appointments, babysitting our kids, sending care packages, just in general doing anything we need, above and beyond… we NEVER would be able to face all this. My only hope is that I can pay forward their generosity and someday make the life of someone else in need as meaningful as they have made mine.