One of the most incredible women I know is my friend Brittany. She is a strong and unstoppable powerhouse. An advocate, a champion, a visionary, and true survivor. Here is her story:
Two years ago I found a lump. It was small, like a frozen pea, in the 10 o’clock position on my left breast. I was 32 years old and 15 months into my new journey as a widow. I had lost my husband to suicide the summer before, I wasn’t allowed to be sick, I didn’t have time for this, so I chalked it up to a blocked milk duct.
I had just stopped nursing a month prior. You read that right, I was 6 months postpartum. I discovered my third pregnancy the same day I confirmed the plans for my late husbands funeral. Hadn’t I reached my quota of "wtf" moments for a lifetime? The hits just kept on coming.
I called my midwife and asked to be seen- informed them of my concerns and they scheduled me for 2 weeks out. That night I couldn’t sleep, so I called back the next day and moved my appointment to the following day. I was sent to Northeast Radiology where I had an ultrasound and, later on, a biopsy performed. I was scheduled for an appointment with the radiologist in a few days when my lab results were due back.
The day before the radiologist appointment, I tried to keep things as normal as possible, even though my mind was a complete disaster area. That afternoon, JJ stayed after school for extra help and I went to pick him up. My cell rang, it was a number I didn’t recognize. Something told me to take it off Bluetooth when I answered.
My nurse navigator identified herself. “Brittany, we have your results. Are you driving? I’ll wait for you to pull over.” I was driving down my road. All three of my children (JJ- 12, Thomas- 3 & Grace- 6 months) were in the car. I couldn’t wait to pull into our driveway, so I pulled into some neighbors that I have still never met.
When I pulled over, I felt my whole body shaking. I prepared myself not to freak as I didn’t want to alarm the kids and I still had to drive half a mile home. She gave me the dreaded news and that she was here to guide me through the process.
I asked if I could call back once I reached my destination and could get the kids settled. I got home, no recollection of that half a mile. All I know is I grabbed the phone, called back and started asking questions and setting up appointments.
At first, I was so angry at this woman for telling me on the phone, while I was in the car, I wasn’t supposed to find out til the next day at my radiology appointment. I felt as if I had been robbed of 24 hours, but in hindsight, it was a gift of 24 hours. I was able to schedule appts and know that I had the next steps planned. I’m a business woman- strategizing and planning for what’s next is what I do and that mindset kept me laser focused.
Once my diagnosis was explained to me and I had a handle of which breast surgeons I was planning on consulting, I wanted nothing more than to call my mom and have her make it better. But cancer doesn’t work like that. And calling my mom to tell her was agonizing. My mother, the newly retired nurse, I couldn’t glaze this over. I can feel that sinking feeling in my stomach all over again when I think about it.
I was diagnosed on 10/24/17. I mapped out the course of action and went in for surgery on 11/17/17. My surgery was 11 hours long. I had a bilateral mastectomy (both breasts, even though the other was free and clear and I was BrCa-, I wasn’t messing around) with DIEP flap reconstruction. My breast tissue was removed and replaced with the fatty tissue in my belly, essentially giving this new mama a tummy tuck. (Hello, silver lining!) It wasn’t a hard decision to make. I was the sole parent for two (of three) beautiful children and they deserve a happy and healthy one. I wasn’t going down this road again, especially when I knew I had options. The fact that I didn’t have to go in to have implants redone every ten years was also a deciding factor (remember, I’m only 32 and that would mean at least 4 or 5 more surgeries if I lived to the average age). I wonder if I’m a considered a green project? Lol
I went through 12 weeks of hard chemotherapy, I lost my hair and gained an outrageous amount of weight thanks to the obscene amounts of steroids I was being pumped with. I was told that was better than the alternative so I rolled with it. I did set up counseling with a nutritionist- as part of my post-cancer care. I learned a lot, changed a lot and got my body moving.
Fast forward two years. I’m healthy, my body is literally a work of surgical art & more importantly, I’m cancer free. I’m here to see my children grow up. I’m here to share my story - I’m here to tell you that it is scary, but it isn’t impossible. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Get used to giving yourself self exams, trust your instincts. Demand to be heard by your healthcare provider... and if they don’t listen to your concerns, fire them! (***I fired my ob/gyn at 31 wks pregnant with my second child when my labor and delivery plans were beyond disrespected.***)
YOU are your own best advocate, trust your gut.
Early detection saved my life and I believe that now my life’s purpose is to share my story. It’s not a story about being knocked down, it’s a story of survival.