Take life and grab it by the horns became my motto on April 24, 2004. I had tossed and turned after dealing with a fussy toddler when I placed my hands across my chest in an exasperated manner. To my horror, I felt a large lump on my right breast.
The night was endless; my husband and I did not speak too much of this because of the gnawing feeling that this was something very real. The next morning I went to school and called my family doctor and scheduled an appointment.
My husband and I went to the doctor that morning .From then on, the race was only beginning. I was sent to a breast center to receive my first mammogram. I was one of those people who was indispensable. There was no family history, breast fed four babies, never smoked, and never taken birth control pills. There was no way this could all be happening to me!
After an ultrasound, the radiologist called my husband and me in for a consultation. Not only was there one tumor but several more suspicious tumors. We couldn’t believe our ears. Our next appointment was to see a surgeon who saw us immediately and scheduled a biopsy for the next day. I already knew by the looks on the nurses’ face and the surgeon that my outcome was not favorable.
We received the dreaded phone call the next day while at school and met with my surgeon to review our options. I was not given any options. My biopsy revealed that I was HER2 Positive and had several 3+ multi-focal tumors. I was to have a double mastectomy the following Friday and then begin chemotherapy. My husband and I could not believe our wonderful life could possibly change.
The hardest part of a cancer diagnosis is breaking the news to your loved ones. I have a wonderful set of parents, loving brothers, and five children that range from the age of 20 to four years old. We gathered around the kitchen table and broke the news to our children; their eyes held the look of horror. Their only response was to know if I would die.
Johnny, my husband, had to call my parents and break the news to them. Understand that they had just received the news the day before that my sister in law had been diagnosed with breast cancer, also. We tried to stay as normal in our day to day routine but we were on a slow down hill crash. My husband became my strength and inspiration to face what was ahead of us. He never left my side and became my rock when I crumbled.
I wanted to have my surgery as soon as possible; I wanted those tumors off of my body! My double mastectomy was scheduled for the following Friday. The surgery itself is not so painful but the removal of bandages and to face myself in the mirror was the hardest part. So I thought. There were a few complications with my surgery but I was ready to start the dreaded fight.
During the beginning stages of my diagnosis I was sent an angel who just happened to knock on my door at school and shared her challenge of breast cancer with me. She referred me to her doctor and traveled with us to meet with my oncologist and begin treatments. My treatment plan was outlined for us. We were so eager to begin so that we could begin the count down of treatments.
I survived the first treatment with a breeze but also dreaded the day my hair would fall out. You are guaranteed to lose your hair on a certain day but I think my hair was just as stubborn as I was myself. I had decided to buzz my hair off so that I would not have to face it falling out. My beautician, Gail, said to call as soon as possible and she would take care of it for me. My two girls went with me and we tried to make it seem as funny as possible to see Mom with a buzz haircut. My hair stayed for a few more days and then began coming out. My poor husband had the courage to shave the rest of it off for me. This was probably the hardest thing that my mother had to endure. I tried wig, scarves, and hats but they were not for me. I wanted people to see me bald and be a constant reminder to them to have mammograms.
Chemo treatments were difficult but they are times when you rely on your family and friends the most. My oncologist did not approve of me working but I felt a strong conviction that this cancer was not going to change me. I continued to teach school but without the support from my principal and school district this would not have been possible.
From this I knew that there had to be a way to give back to the people that had helped me and to educate men and women about breast cancer. For the past two years, I have collaborated with a fellow teacher to initiate a project called “Tickled Pink.” Our project engaged students, parents, and the local community. From this project we raised and donated over $8,000.00 to the Susan Komen Foundation. Prayers, my husband, family, and friends have helped me to fight this disease.