Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Breast Cancer Round Three – at 40.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I am so angry at this disease – cancer in general. A few good friends of mine have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer in the last couple years. Thanks be to God they are all still here, fighting and winning. I asked a friend to share her cancer journey with all of our readers. I do not have a personal story to share, but I wanted to use our blog as an opportunity to bring awareness to this disease that is robbing us of our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends way too early. I asked her to share because throughout a really rotten hand she has been dealt, my friend Kelly travels with grace, joy and above all else – hope. She is one of the most faithful people I know. Her faith has inspired me since I first met her and in ways that makes my heart burst more in the last couple years. My hope is that her story will stir up hope and inspiration in those who read her story. I ask you to pray for her by name and consider making a donation to an awesome cancer charity in her honor. She will roll her eyes and make a funny noise when she reads this, but she is nothing short of amazing. She is going to beat odds and we will probably go line dancing on her eightieth birthday which will be awesome. If you haven’t met her yet – I am honored to make that introduction, you are welcome. With no further delay, this is my beautiful friend Kelly, in her own words….
If someone would have told me while I was growing up that I would have cancer not once, not twice but three times by the age I was 40 I would have laughed in their face saying they are a crazy person and never, not in a million years would that happen. However, that is exactly what has happened to me. I was first diagnosed with hormone positive breast cancer in Jan 2011. Talk about news that in a split second turns your world upside down and changes your life forever. News that you hear about others dealing with but never you. When my doctor told me I had cancer, I was in a state of utter shock and disbelief. I couldn’t say the word cancer for the longest time without getting a bad taste in my mouth and stumbling over the word as it came out of my mouth. I kept asking myself and God why me? What did I do to deserve this? I am not a perfect person but overall strive to be as good as I can be. I was only 35 years old, had been working out regularly since high school and eating relatively well (not a junk food diet even though I loved my sugar!)
After sharing the news with my family and getting over the initial shock, it was all about doctor appointments – meeting with my breast surgeon, meeting with my oncologist, getting all the necessary scans and bloodwork. I had a lumpectomy in February 2011 where they found that my cancer had spread luckily to only one lymph node under my arm. Unfortunately, because of that, my oncologist said I would need to have 8 rounds of intense chemotherapy which would not only cause extreme fatigue, nausea, oral thrush, but hair loss. As a woman hearing that I would lose my hair was almost as devastating as when I was first told I had cancer.
I began chemo in March of 2011 and was done by the end of June. Overall I tolerated the chemo quite well. My oncologist would joke with me asking if I was really going through chemo because of how well I did. Yeah I had days were I was utterly exhausted and just sat on the couch or laid in my bed too tired to move and not able to focus on doing any thing and I lost my hair and other side effects I will spare you the details on but I had more good days than bad days and I never dealt with extreme nausea and vomiting – thank God!! I was able to continue exercising for the most part during chemo and allowed my body to rest and deal with the side effects as they happened.
Once chemo was over and my body had a few months to recover I had a bilateral mastectomy in August 2011. After I had the lumpectomy in February, my breast surgeon shared that there were still microscopic cancer cells and she recommended a mastectomy. The cancer was only in my right breast but because of my young age and history of breast cancer on both sides of my family, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy thinking that would help in keeping the cancer from coming back. So I had the bilateral mastectomy in August and breast implant reconstruction surgery in November 2011. Due to my cancer being hormone positive I was put on Tamoxifen to block my hormones and regular injections of Lupron to stop my ovaries from producing estrogen.
Shortly thereafter, I met with my oncologist and I was found to be officially cancer free. The chemo had been successful – my scans were clear and my blood markers looked great. Now fast forward 3 ½ years to July 2014. I had had a pet scan due to an area of concern in my left breast implant. There was an area that seemed to be hardening and I wasn’t sure if it was just the implant or something else so had a pet scan done just to be on the safe side. Just one day after I had the scan, while at a friend’s house swimming with our kiddos I received a phone call from my oncologist. Seeing that call come through, I instantly felt a pit in my stomach knowing he was calling with bad news, so I excused myself to take the call in her bedroom. My oncologist was calling to say my cancer had returned, this time in the bone. I felt myself go numb in disbelief that my cancer was back. Once you have cancer, the fear of it returning is always in the back of your mind but me being a true optimist I was in shock that it was back.
I met with my oncologist a few days later and he shared that it was very common for breast cancer to return in the bone. The difficult news was that this time it looked like it was a completely different kind of breast cancer, not hormone positive but triple negative which means negative for estrogen, negative for progesterone and negative for her2 (a protein found in breast cancer cells). In other words, there was no rhyme or reason or understanding for why my cancer had returned. My cancer was also now considered metastasized breast cancer which put it in the stage 4 category. Hearing I had stage 4 metastasized breast cancer was frightening. Fortunately, we caught it early and it was only showing up in my left hip bone so my oncologist recommended 10 rounds of radiation.
A few weeks after completing radiation, we found in my routine pet scan that my cancer had decided to make a new home in my left shoulder blade. My oncologist recommended 12 rounds of chemo beginning in November 2014 and ending in March 2015. I was put on a different chemo than what I was on in 2011 and thus experienced different side effects. I didn’t go completely bald but had pretty bad thinning of my hair so I had my mom shave my head at one point. I also dealt with low blood counts and blood platelets so had to get quite a few blood transfusions during that 5-month period.
After completing my 12th and final chemo treatment, I had a pet scan which showed once again I was cancer free! In April I enjoyed a fantastically beautiful night of celebrating being cancer free with family and friends not knowing what was just around the corner. I went in for my routine pet scan just last month in September which showed that my cancer had returned for a third time.
My cancer is still only in my bone and hasn’t spread to any organs which is very encouraging. There are many spots however with the main areas in my lower back and right femur. I am now on an oral chemo which I take twice daily for two weeks on and one week off. I can be on this chemo for 3-5 years until my body gets used to it. At that time, we will have to explore other treatment options. According to my oncologist, my cancer is considered chronic and will be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life. I will always have to be on some type of treatment to keep on top of it. That was pretty somber news to hear.
So…. You are probably wondering how I have and continue to personally handle this difficult journey of mine – one word – FAITH. My faith in God has given me the strength, the determination and the desire to keep going. My faith helps me to keep a positive attitude and to focus on all the blessings I have in my life which include two beautiful (inside and out) daughters who are the joy of my life, my incredible mom and stepdad who have been there for me and my girls in so many ways including their faithful prayers, words of encouragement, love and servant hearts, and my wonderful friends who have surrounded me and showered me with love, friendship, prayers and support. One of the special blessings I cherish is a group of friends who are fellow breast cancer survivors, the Pink Ladies. Our mutual support and understanding has made this difficult journey that much easier.
Daily I surrender all my fears, worries, questions and uncertainties to God knowing He loves me and my children and give us hope and a future with Him. As Jeremiah 29:11 states: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He WILL carry me through this. He has healed me twice so far why wouldn’t He for a third time?! J
One of my best friends reminded me of the verse Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus”. So I may not understand why God is allowing this cancer to return but as I just mentioned I continue to surrender all those thoughts, questions, fears and worries to Him who has not failed me yet while resting in His glory and peace.
If you personally are dealing with cancer or have a loved one who is, please know you are not alone. As I am sure you know, there are too many people out there touched by cancer either themselves having it or someone they love. I encourage you to reach out for support and help. For those in your life that want to help please let them. Take advantage of the support groups offered in your area or at your doctor’s office. Keep positive and don’t give in to the negative thoughts. Now don’t get me wrong, its completely normal to have those negative thoughts or to feel sad and depressed (I sure did and still do at times!) but its important not to stay there and wallow in it too long. Staying positive is healing in itself.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story!
Kelly AKA Pink Warrior
*Thank you Kelly for sharing your story! Thank you friends for reading her story! I ask you again to pray for my friend every time you see some pink breast cancer awareness anything this month – promise? I also asked Kelly to share her favorite cancer charity to share with you. She says the Young Survival Coalition has been a blessing to her and many others. I know there are many different charities, Kelly says this one is her favorite. If you are inspired or encouraged by Kelly as all, I hope you will consider a small (or gigantic, or something in between) donation – we can be a teensie part of the awareness, support, and hopefully soon a cure!