One morning in February, 2009, was when I turned over in bed and my arm brushed against my right breast. Something did not feel right, but I convinced myself that it was due to “that-time-of-the-month.” After a couple weeks passed, I was shaving my armpit when I noticed how swollen it was. I immediately knew this was not due to my menstrual cycle. I jumped out of the shower and screamed for my husband! Why was this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I was too young to have cancer! After calming down, I called my obstetrician’s office. Since we had new health insurance, I was told by the receptionist that I had to pay for the office visit and mammogram up-front. As a stay-at-home mom and only one income for our household, that was not a possibility. It was an act of God that made my fingers dial Froedtert Hospital. After explaining my situation, I was immediately connected to the Breast Care Center and had an appointment for the following week.
Monday, March 17, Anna Purdy walked into the exam room, and after a brief exam, her facial expression had changed. I knew at that moment that I had breast cancer. What was I going to tell my husband? What was I going to tell my parents? I was in a fog. Even thought the room was now filled with Anna and Dr. Alphonso Walker, I never felt so alone. Dr. Walker was explaining the next steps, but I could not hear him or comprehend what he was saying. All I could hear and see were my 2 young children. How much time did I have left to do everything and anything with them so that they would always remember their mother?
The following days were all about testing. Not only did I have tests to see what stage and what type of breast cancer I had, I had tests to scan my whole body for cancer and a test to see how strong my heart was. I was stuck with so many needles I was surprised I didn’t leak when I drank any liquid. In all the grief and anger, it was nice to hear that I had the heart of a teenager!
On Friday, March 21, 2008, Good Friday, I was told I had Stage 3 Breast Cancer and what the course would be for my treatment. I lifted my head to ask Dr. Walker what my chances of survival were and he didn’t hesitate when he said that they were going to cure me and I would live to be an old lady! As I drove home through a blizzard, I knew the only place for me to go that afternoon was to my church. I had to pray to God, I had to ask him to protect me and to protect my children. As I walked up the aisle to the cross, my neighbor was also coming to the cross. Our eyes met as we bent to kiss the cross and she knew right away that my journey was about to begin. And it was at that moment that I decided no more tears! It was time for my family and me to buckle down and concentrate on fighting this horrible disease.
I was soon introduced to the best team of doctors and we discussed my treatment: 6 sessions of chemo, mastectomy and radiation. Dr. Walker placed my port above my heart and on April 10 (my dad’s birthday), my husband and I entered the chemo world. That was a tough weekend for me, I was so sick, I couldn’t keep anything down and didn’t want to eat or drink anything. When my mother walked into my room the following Monday, she left the room crying and told my husband and brother I was dying and she just couldn’t bear to see her daughter like this. Before my next chemo session, my oncologists asked what happened the last time, so I now was set to get an anti-nausea medication the day after chemo. Wow, what a huge difference that made! I still didn’t eat that much, but I wasn’t chained to the bathroom for the whole weekend. I had my doctors laughing one day when I told them the pro side of chemo was that I no longer had to shave my legs or armpits and I could get showered and dressed a lot faster since I didn’t have any hair to deal with. I can’t lie, it was heartbreaking that first day when the clumps of hair fell out in the shower, but I soon took control of that situation by shaving it all off.
Throughout the whole course of my treatments, I never felt like I was a number of just another patient. Everyone, from my chemo nurses to the appointment coordinator, knew my name and situation. I never had to explain my story. If I had to pick the best moment of my journey, it would be the weekend my mother, father, sister and brothers shaved their heads to show their love and support. And if I do say so myself, my family has awesome bald heads!
My journey, although it will never be over, has made me a strong person. I never thought I would have the ability to stay so positive and upbeat throughout the whole thing. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. A clean house doesn’t matter; it’s nice, but it doesn’t matter if your house is dirty if you are spending time with loved ones. It’s more important to me to play outside with my kids than it is to wash the dishes. There is always tomorrow! I know it’s a cliché, but I truly live, laugh and love!
Even though my children don’t remember too much of my treatments, they do remember how strong I was and that I never backed down and let my diagnosis define me. I never tried to hide anything from them and was open about what was happening. I feel this helped my children develop into caring, compassionate and empathetic people. They both help others before helping themselves. What more could a mother ask for?