Stage 2, grade 3, triple negative ductal carcinoma (breast cancer)
Diagnosed at 29 years old
On February 27, 2013, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with stage 2, grade 3, triple negative ductal carcinoma (breast cancer). In mid January I had a sharp pain in my left breast. I reached over and grabbed the area of my breast where the pain was. That is when I felt the lump. I had never had a lump of any kind before. However, I knew that hormonal changes could cause cysts in my breast and this day was the last day of my menstrual cycle. Regardless of my thoughts about hormones, I decided to call my doctor the next day. The nurse summed it up as too much caffeine or hormones but told me I should call back in 2 weeks if it didn't go away or if it got larger. I made it about a week before the thought of what the lump "could be" began to drive me crazy. I called back and said that it had gotten bigger. I had an appt for the next day. When I went in to see my OBGYN he did an exam of the area where I felt the lump. At that moment he also found another lump under the original finding. He figured it was just cysts but decided to schedule me for a mammogram anyway to be sure. It took a month to get in for my mammogram....
On the day of my mammogram I called the nurse and asked what the procedure was for getting my results after the mammogram. I remember very clearly her stating that after I left the breast center, they would call me to give me the results. But, if for some reason they saw anything that looked abnormal, they may do an ultrasound and the doctor would come in and take a look. I remember the nurse doing the mammogram as being very nice and talkative during the mammogram. Until...she finished and said, " I'm going to take you next door for an ultrasound and let the doctor come take a look." At that moment, my heart sank. The doctor came in and told me that the areas didn't look like cysts but not necessarily like cancer either so they wanted to do a biopsy to see what the areas were.
A week later I went in for my biopsy. By this time, the area around my aureola/nipple had began to sink in as if something were pulling the skin from the inside. I had read enough on the Internet to know that this was NOT a good thing. During the biopsy the nurse nicely asked me if I had noticed that area...I just said yes and closed my eyes. I think that moment was her trying to prepare me for the worst news of my life. After the biopsy they did another mammogram to make sure they had biopsied the right spots. This time the mammogram showed a third spot, which was not there a week before. The next day was Thursday Feb 27. Maybe it was fate or fear but for some reason my husband and my mother came with me to get my results. Normally I would have been alone. I had been a nervous wreck all day waiting. Deep down I knew I would not get good news but at the same time I kept telling myself, "you have no family history of cancer and you are only 29 years old! It will just be cysts." The doctor who had done my biopsy came in and told me the original area that I had found was DCIS, dictaphone carcinoma in situ. Meaning it had not spread beyond the duct, more like a precancerous site (we found out later that was wrong, it was invasive). The other spot, and I quote the doctor, "it's full blown cancer." Invasive ductal carcinoma. This means it has spread outside of the duct and into surrounding tissue.
I was in disbelief. I looked at my mother. She just put her head into her hands. My first thought was, "ok, now what do we do?" You often hear of people taking bad news and taking it like it's just fine. I felt like that. I realized very quickly that no amount of tears or fear would get me through it. Also, I had 2 beautiful daughters and a family to stay strong for. I immediately gave my fear and worry over to God. If anybody was going to get me through this dark time in my life, it would be my Ultimate Healer, God.
After that moment my world became a whirl wind. I was immediately introduced to a woman by the name of Robbi. I should have known something was wrong when we were in the room waiting for the doctor and a woman with breast cancer pins on her name tag was standing patiently by the door, folder in hand. Robbi, from that point in was sort of a liaison for breast cancer patients. She helped walk me through the treatment process and made me feel at ease many times. Robbi walked me straight from the breast center up to the surgeons office to discuss my treatment options. The best memory I have of that appointment was when my husband looked the doctor straight in the eye and said, "doc, if this were your wife or your daughter, what would you do?" His instant reply was, "begin chemo."
The following day, Friday, I waited for a phone call from Robbi telling me when I could meet with an Oncologist. She called around 11am and told me I could meet with Dr. Heller but he was across the Bay (45 min away from where I was). I had one hour to get there to meet with him. My husband and I jumped in the car and headed that way. We discussed my treatment plan with Dr. Heller. He explained the chemotherapy process and the side effects I may have. Reality was beginning to set in. Before I left his office, I had another call from my surgeons office telling me that I had a few more tests that I needed to have. I had to be back to Mobile in an hour. That day we seemed to be so rushed. Everything is kind of a blur.
The following Monday I had a PET scan, echocardiogram, MRI and blood work. On Tuesday I had a small operation to have my port put in. It was placed on my chest right beneath my collar bone. That was the day I found out the cancer cells were Triple Negative....A worse case scenario in my eyes. Triple negative means that my cancer cells are not fed by hormones, therefore, it cannot be treated with hormonal therapy as well as chemo. Chemotherapy would be the only treatment for me. My tumors (3 all together) were also "grade 3" which means the cells were rapidly growing. Stages range from 1-4, 4 being the fastest and most aggressive. I was stage 2 because the size of my tumors. Although there were 3 spots, they connected to each other which made my whole tumor 6cm.
The following day, less than one week from diagnosis, I began my long 16 week journey with chemo. I had 4 treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxin followed by 4 treatments of Taxotere. I went every other Wednesday for chemo. On Thursdays I would have to go back for a shot called Neulasta. It was a white blood count booster shot that was supposed to help my counts stay up. The chemo kills bad cells as well as the good so this shot would help. However, that shot, that only took 5 seconds to administer, had side effects that lasted 2-4 days! I think I may have felt ok if I had only had chemo but that shot really knocked my feet out from under me. It honestly felt like I had been beaten with a wooden bat every time I had that shot. Some other side effects I endured during chemo were, hair loss (which began the morning before my second round of chemo) severe fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, shortness of breath, my fingernails began to die, loss of taste (my tongue felt numb), constantly watering eyes (people always thought I was crying).
During my time on chemo I became a new person. I found Faith that I never knew I had. I found strength in my friends and family. I sought Gods peace and found it. I felt His presence with me almost constantly. I truly believe that I had so many people praying for me that, that is what gave me the feeling of constant peace. Total strangers would stop me in stores and pray with me. God always found a way to make me hear Him. His timing was ALWAYS perfect. Just when I would get down and depressed, he would send an angel or a message to open the eyes of my heart.
My time with chemo ended in mid June. I was scheduled to have a mastectomy in July. I went back and forth on if I should have the mastectomy or if I should just have a lumpectomy with radiation. I met with a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction options. So many decisions to make... This was my most difficult time. I was depressed and afraid of making the wrong decisions. "What ifs" played over and over in my mind. What if I have a mastectomy and then have to have radiation? Would I be able to go through the reconstruction process that came with that? What about lumpectomy with radiation? What are the chances of cancer coming back with either choice? What is the best choice? All the doctors would tell me it was my decision but ultimately they all agreed that a lumpectomy followed by radiation would be best for me. So, that's what I went with. The day before my mastectomy was to occur, I changed my surgery plan and had the lumpectomy. Three weeks later I began radiation. Six weeks, five days a week, equaling 30 radiation treatments.
My life, my family has been changed forever. I will forever be a breast cancer survivor and I'm proud of that. I hope that my journey with breast cancer will inspire people to find their own strength in difficult times. I pray that my daughters will remember the strength and faith I have had throughout this battle. Most of all, I hope that my journey will bring others closer to God. From day one I have known that God did not "do" this to me. He "allowed" this to happen. He was testing my faith and giving me a purpose. I truly believe my purpose in this world at this time in my life was to being others closer to Him. He used me to reach someone else. If only one persons life has been changed through my journey, then it was all worth it. My life has forever been changed. My message to other young women is to be your own advocate. Don't believe that you are ever to young to have breast cancer. Don't ever believe that it "can't" happen
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Lyn Taylor Photography of Mobile Alabama 2015