Would you describe your journey with breast cancer?
I had a feeling I was going to get breast cancer.....
My twin sister Jeannine was diagnosed when we were 29. She felt a mass in her breast, was told by her gynecologist that it was related to her period and to come back in a few months if it doesn't go away. It didn't go away, grew in size and so began her journey with breast cancer. I am from a family of six girls and thankfully we all went through genetic testing when Jeannine was undergoing treatment. Jeannine and I tested positive for the breast cancer gene, BRCA1. Women and men all have this gene but ours has a mutation unable to fight breast cancer cells. I became very diligent about my screenings, alternating between MRI and mammogram/ultrasound every six months. I enrolled in a breast cancer research program at both Lombardi Cancer Center in Georgetown and Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC. My sister and I even appeared on the Today Show with Katie Couric for a segment on BRCA gene mutations.
I went about my life, had three daughters of my own and continued my screenings in between pregnancies and breast feeding. After my third child was born, I nursed her for almost 6 months and another six months later that I had a routine mammogram. The mammogram was clear, but because I have dense breast tissue, I always had a sonogram performed. The sonogram that day showed a mass in my right breast that looked suspicious. I followed up with an MRI to get a complete picture and another mass showed up in the same breast. A biopsy confirmed Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I was seen by Dr. Larry Norton, the head of The Evelyn Lauder Breast Cancer Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering and his recommendation was an immediate bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Jeannine was with me for my surgery and recovery. I began 4 months of chemotherapy as soon as I healed from the surgery. The surgery revealed a spread into my lymph nodes.
My friends and family were amazing and provided meals, rides for my kids, dog walks, and grocery shopping. My support system was amazing.
Telling my daughters I had breast cancer was fairly simple. They had a healthy, energetic version of someone who had also had breast cancer - Aunt Jeannine. I told them I was going to be fine, just like Aunt Jeannine. We had fun with wigs, I covered my bald head with scarves most the time, and life went on in between Mom feeling tired or sick. My husband was amazing at taking care of things.
What were some of your particular challenges and how did you face them?
One of the challenges that I faced during my journey was the time that it took away from my family. I had treatment every other week in NYC. The travel time plus the infusion and exam time took most of the day and I felt I missed so much at home. Luckily, my support system helped so much with the kids and each time I had a treatment, one of my sisters or my mother came to visit and helped tremendously. My daughters were able to spend quality time with their grandmother and all those aunts!
Another challenge was that I disagreed with my plastic surgeon as to the size of my new breasts. He thought they should be bigger, I wanted them smaller. I actually left his office on two occasions in tears. I haven't seen him since and still need to finish some reconstruction. Life is busy but I'll need to find another doctor to finish my reconstruction....five years later. What have your experiences taught you?
I have learned that everyone's cancer journey is very unique. Every diagnosis, treatment, and the way in which one reacts to certain treatment is different. I am careful not to compare my story to someone else's. I have been involved with Soul Ryeders, a volunteer-driven organization based in Rye that offers resources, support, and programs for those affected by cancer. I have helped women find wigs, have applied makeup and offered makeup tips, and am involved in many Soul Ryeders events throughout the year. I have learned to appreciate time with my family and friends and my journey has brought me closer to the ones I love.
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