MY JOURNEY TO SURVIVING
In November 1999 I turned 29 years old and I had my annual Well Woman’s visit; it went well, No Problems, No Issues. Mid-February 2000 I took my wire bra off and rub the indention that was left behind from the wire. I was on the phone with a male friend and said “hey I feel a knot”. He said, “what kind of knot, what are you talking about?” I replied “A lump, a knot or something on the side of my breast!!” He had a panic, stressed tone in his voice; I on the other hand didn’t think much about it when he told me I need to go to the doctor immediately. The next day I went to work as usual and told a female co-worker/friend about my “knot”. Again I hear the panic and stress in Anna’s voice urging me to make a doctor’s appointment. Anna went on with her doom and gloom attitude telling me about a friend of a friend’s mother who found a lump in her breast and how the lady did not take it seriously and ultimately died from breast cancer.
I made a doctor’s appointment for the following Friday, February 11, 2000. I went to see my assigned primary care doctor whom I had never met before; there was never a need before this. I was perfectly healthy; 29 years old, in my prime, had won 3rd place in a fitness competition in September 1998, I worked out at least five days a week and I did not eat too terrible bad. When my doctor felt my breast he had an immediate panic and stressed look about him. He confirmed there was a lump and then he went on to explain the different types of lumps; solid and fluid. Solid filled cyst are normally “BENIGN” non-cancerous, fluid filled cyst are more likely to be “MALIGNANT” the ugly “C” word, CANCER!!! I leave the doctor’s office and head straight to radiology and get an ultrasound and mammogram…a damn mammogram at the age of 29, really?!! I ask the ultrasound tech what does she see?! She responded politely and said, “I am not authorized to go over your test results; your doctor will go over them with you.” MIND YOU IT IS FREAKING FRIDAY!!!! I had an appointment to see the doctor MONDAY morning. I call my mother who lives 1600 miles away and tell her about my situation. She is a God fearing woman and just like all Christians she says “WE ARE NOT CLAIMING THIS” “THE DEVIL IS A LIAR”. It was probably the longest weekend of my life. Monday morning I go in to see my doctor, ALONE….SCARED….HORRIFIED…..NERVOURS. He says, Ms. Carney……………………………………. I say, “YES?!!!” “I am 90% sure your lumps are cancerous!” “WAIT!!!” “WHAT?!!!” Now I am PANICKED AND STRESSED!!! Father help me!!! Father say it isn’t so!! NOOOOOOOOOO!!! F$%@ NO!!! . “THE DEVIL IS A LIAR!!!” I could not hear anything else after that. I could not see from the tears welling in my eyes. My heart was racing so fast I felt as though I could not breathe. I ask myself “How do I get the strength to walk out of this office?” as I could not feel my legs. By the grace of God I made it to my car. It is raining, it’s February 14 for goodness sakes, VALENTINES DAY!!! I start to head to work but between the tears and the rain coming down I could not see the road. I pulled over into a parking lot for the safety of everyone on the road and for myself and I just SOB uncontrollably. And I ask “WHY?”, “WHY ME?” I called my supervisor to tell him I don’t think I am going to make it in. This very kind man says, don’t worry about Stephanie take all the time you need. He immediately started my FMLA paperwork, I did not return to work until a year later.
I had a biopsy scheduled for February 28, 2000; 2 whole weeks to wait, think, stress, cry, and scream and to hold my breath. Within those two weeks my hair dresser at the time was planning on how she was going to hand make my wigs look like the weave I had been wearing. (remember this was 2000 we had never heard of lace fronts and stuff like sewing hair to the cap before installing and we lived in a little town outside of military base. No YouTube videos either) While I was sitting in her chair getting my hair done a lady interjected herself in the conversation. She claimed to be a nurse. I had been describing to my hair dresser the shooting pain in my right breast that I had been experiencing. This so called nurse (no offense to nurses BUT) ….this so called nurse said to me. “If you are feeling pain in the lump location then it is NOT CANCER!” I was excited, thrilled, and ecstatic!!! She must know what she is talking about. WOO HOO!!! The devil IS a liar!!! YIPPY!!! HOPE!! SHE WAS SO FREAKING WRONG, I COULD HAVE SLAPPED HER!! She should have never voiced her uneducated opinion and got my hopes up high only for me to be let down.
February 28, 2000 (a leap year) was here, biopsy day. My mother and grandmother (RIH) was at the hospital with bells on and bibles in hand. I had the best support team. Mom was fussing at grandma for being such a worrywart; Grandma was anxious, nervous and scared. Mom was reminding grandma to have faith. My surgeon briefly spoke to my mother and he did not have the best bedside manner…with her. With me he was like my grandfather; kind and sweet. My surgery took longer than expected and I started to come out of the anesthesia while they were finishing up…painful. According to my mother, the surgeon came out of the operating room, told them it was cancer and walked away. My family was DEVASTATED. My grandmother cried, my mother who is made of steel….prayed. I was admitted to the hospital and two days later had my right breast removed!!! I am 29 years old with ONE breast!!! I had Stage III Breast Cancer; 2 malignant tumors which had double in size since my ultra sound and I had 9 cancerous lymph nodes removed.
Day four in the hospital they inserted a chemo port to my main artery. My coworkers came to visit that week and they were a raunchy bunch…lol. Dirty jokes and comments were rampant in my hospital room. I laughed so hard my monitors kept going off and the nurse told me to calm down because I was overheating. A representative from the American Cancer Society came to speak with me before I was discharged and I had a room full of friends laughing and having a good time. This elderly grandmother from the American Cancer Society was alarmed at my behavior and told my mother that I was in “DENIAL”!! Really, is this what they teach at ACS? My mother sternly told her, “no she is not in denial, she has faith!” I called the ACS and requested another representative.
Things moved fairly quickly after my release, I got set up with an Oncologist and started Chemo about 3 weeks later. The doctor gave me her best educated guess as to what may have caused my cancer. She said, more than likely it was a combination of years of birth control pill use, an early menstrual cycle (age 10) and the fact that I had not had any children. According to the doctor the excessive amounts of amounts estrogen caused excessive amount of toxins to be produced in the blood stream, which quite possibly triggered my cancer cells. I was warned about the hair loss, pain and nausea. Although I knew my hair was going to fall out I still was not prepared emotionally. When I noticed my entire weave came off in my hand at once I was DEVASTATED!!! I cried like a baby. I was embarrassed, ashamed and felt unattractive. My mother had taken a leave of absence from her job and was in the next room. She heard me in the bathroom crying and asked what was wrong. I showed her my hair in one hand and I rub my bald head with my other hand. She called me by my middle name, “Renee, I don’t know why you are crying; the doctor told you it would fall out”. She did not get it!!! No one gets it!!! She did not mean any harm but at that moment I stopped letting her see me cry, I stopped sharing my feelings about my cancer with her and with most people. THEY DON’T GET IT; is what I always told myself. On the outside I was ALWAYS happy, bubbly…that cheerleader from high school but on the inside I was angry sometimes, I was hurt, I was scared.
I was in the waiting room waiting for my 3rd round of chemo when I came across an article about chemo taking away 50% of a woman’s fertility. I was again DEVASTATED!!! Why did my doctor not inform me of this? What am I supposed to do now? I asked my doctor about this and she plainly said, “My priority is to save your life!!!” she said, “Stephanie, I could not have delayed your chemo for you to think about fertility options, plus most insurances do not cover freezing eggs!!” It was a blow to my spirit, but I had to do what I had to do.
My mother was with me for about 5 or 6 months. Yes she had tons of saved up time on her good job. We had a good time hanging out in the Oncology Center with the best group of nurses I have ever had. When she left I had to fin for myself. Over the years I had numerous surgeries; some good some bad. I ended up with 1st and 2nd degree burns on my chest from radiation. I had a failed reconstruction surgery because of the radiated skin. In 2010 after moving to Texas I had a new oncologist and she recommended I have my other breast removed as a preventive measure; so I did. I do not regret having both breast removed because now I only have 2% chance of getting breast cancer again.
Sixteen years later, I look at all of my many scars as warrior wounds. I was in the battle of my life and I WON!!! The scars are a reminder to never take anything or anyone for granted. I am STRONGER more CONFIDENT after surviving CANCER. I am not defeated I am the VICTOR!!! THE DEVIL IS A LIAR!!! Although I never had children, I am ok with it!! I would not have wanted to pass this cancer gene on to my children; I would not want them to go through what I have gone through; it was not a chance I was willing to take. I hope my story inspires someone to get a mammogram and not be afraid to go to the doctor. Do not be afraid to ask for help or seek counseling. God Bless!!! #SurvivingEveryday
MY JOURNEY TO SURVIVING