Do you know how much more difficult it is
to keep up your health once it’s deteriorated? Well I do! I neglected my health for years. I was
overwhelmed; consumed with family issues, work, and I wasn’t eating healthily. This
is my eighteen-month journey through breast cancer.
One Sunday morning in 2017, while performing a breast self-exam, I felt something irregular
in the texture of my right breast. It also seemed like I had lost ten pounds overnight.
At the time I didn’t think much of it, but as the days went by, I began to feel a lump
growing very rapidly and aggressively. I had a feeling that something was very wrong. I called
my gynecologist and a medical assistant told me that I wasn’t due for a mammogram for another
three months. According to her, my insurance wouldn’t cover another one. Although explained that there was pain on and off around the lump area, I knew arguing wouldn’t get
me anywhere so I took matters, as they say, into my own hands. I knew I needed a mammogram.
I made a quick search online for nearby testing centers. I called a place, explained my situation,
and immediately I was told I needed a doctor’s order. The person on the phone added that
if it was a normal routine mammogram, I wouldn’t need a doctor’s order…and a light bulb
went on in my head. The next place I call… I’ll need to be prepared to lie. So I practiced
what I was going to say: I’m in my 40’s, there’s cancer in my family and I’ve never
had a mammogram. I have no health insurance, how much do you charge for a routine mammogram?
No problem, the person on the phone said, we take credit cards, but there’s nothing
available for eight weeks. I stressed that it was urgent. Finally, I managed to negotiate
a date in six weeks. The day of the test I could see in the technologist’s face that
something was wrong! She took extra photos of the right side and told me that if there
was a need for another test, they would notify me by mail.
Afterwards I phoned my physician to schedule a follow-up and a physical and was told the
doctor was on vacation for two weeks. I asked if I could see someone else and was told no
– only the doctor can review the mammogram results. I was stressed – everywhere I turned,
I faced obstacles! Two weeks later I met with the doctor. She didn’t say anything. In
fact she didn’t even know I was there for a test result! She thought I was there only
for a physical. “Interesting,” I said, “I was told you
needed to review the result prior to meeting with me.”
You should’ve seen her face. “I’m sorry,” she said, “there must
be something wrong with my computer, excuse me, let me check with my staff…” and she
left the room. A few minutes later, she came back with instructions
for a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound. “Do you have a lab preference?” she asked.
“Does it matter?” I asked. “No.”
I walked out of that office so angry, but I didn’t have any choice. A few days later
I walked into the new testing center to follow up with the new orders and was faced with
“Sorry, we haven’t received the orders from your doctor. Have a seat while we try
to reach your doctor.” Unbelievable! It took two hours to get the paperwork, and
then… “Sorry, we need to reschedule for another
day, your mammogram was done at another facility and in order to proceed we need a copy of
it.” It took a few days, but I got it. The day
of the service I expressed to the technician how aggravated I was and how no one seemed
to want to tell me the truth. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll have
the radiologist review this right away and he’ll speak to you.”
Finally, someone will tell me what’s going on. I don’t remember the radiologist’s
exact words, but he did stress that I needed a biopsy right away. “I will personally speak
with your doctor today,” he said, “You need to follow up with her for the new order.”
A few days went by trying to reach my doctor and getting nowhere. One day I called and
as usual was given the nurse’s voicemail. I left a clear message: if you’re not going
to give me the order, please let me know so that I can move on, I don’t need any more
stress. She called back with a referral for a breast surgeon. According to her the doctor
did not order a biopsy, and that just got me even more fired up, like why couldn’t
you say that from the beginning? It was probably another lie! Doctors and their protocols!
A new doctor – now I fear more obstacles. But thank God, this was not the case. I was
about to meet the best doctor I ever had to deal with.
The minute I met this doctor I made it clear that I needed a straight answer. I said to
her “You don’t have to sugarcoat it, I know it’s cancer. This has been going on for
almost six months now and I’m worried that it might have spread to other parts of my
body.” We sat down and we had a very productive conversation and for the first time she showed
me all the images. She immediately arranged for an MRI. I walked out the office with a
written summary of our conversation and copies of the paperwork from the labs so I wouldn’t
have to remember. I was very impressed: this doctor was kind, caring and very professional.
In a couple of days I was back for the MRI result. After reviewing the MRI she ordered four biopsies.
It wasn’t clear whether it was a solid tumor or a cluster.
About five days later I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Although I tried to remain calm nothing prepares you for a cancer diagnosis. My life was turned
upside down. The news disrupted my family. Within a few hours the phone began ringing,
friends and family calling to see how I was doing and how serious the issues were and
others crying as if I had just received a death sentence. I was immediately scheduled for a number of
tests and surgery to remove the tumor. The amount of stress was unavoidable especially
since it was uncertain if the cancer had spread to other organs. To make matters worse, Hurricane
Irma hit. The surgery was postponed for another three weeks. We went days without water or
food and ten days without power. The humidity, the heat, the smell of fetid water, it felt
like being stuck in the middle of the jungle, mosquitoes and frogs everywhere. My blood pleasure went
through the roof. I was freaking out, in pain and sleeping was impossible.
I had always been a person of faith. In the midst of the chaos I began to pray. I told
the Lord that if it was my time to go it would be ok, but that I would like more time with
my family. The plan was to have a double mastectomy, reconstruction and chemo. I had a total of
five surgeries. Nothing ever goes according to plan! While I was going through the first
surgery they discovered that the cancer had spread t nearby lymph nodes and I needed another
surgery to make sure there were no more positive nodes. Meanwhile, the PET scan showed that
I also had lumps in the thyroid glands and surgery was the only option. Since I didn’t
know how I was going to react to the chemo, I made the decision to delay chemotherapy
to take care of the thyroid. And I’m glad I did: the chemo proved to be the most difficult
part. It put me out of commission for days, it took longer than planned and I was not
able to finish the dosage. I received two phases of chemo. The first phase was Adriamycin
(also known as the Red Devil) and the second was Taxol. My immune system went down with
the first dose and it never recovered without help, which caused the treatment to be delayed. I was scheduled for treatment every two weeks, but that proved to be
impossible. Instead it was every month after having a number of shots to help bring my
immune system back. While on the Red Devil, I experienced almost every side effect on the list. The side effects from the Red Devil were:
loss of appetite, food tasted like metal, stomachache, nausea, headache, horrible bone
pain, hair loss, my skin darkened and I had black spots all over my body. It looked like
I’d been stung by an entire beehive. The days were so long it was as if time stood
still. Although it was very difficult to keep my head up, I forced myself to take a short
walk around the house every day. With the second phase of the treatment I developed
an allergic reaction. Any physical activities like walking or moving around would cause
an itch from hell. Also, taking a shower would get the itch fired up. It was like taking
a fire shower. I was literally in tears. After a few times I stopped showering and learned
to sponge bath. Finally, after not being able to tolerate any more shots without major problems
the doctor made the decision to cut the treatment short. For a few days I panicked, but I placed
it in God’s hands and let it go. I should’ve been celebrating; at least the torture was
over. There were many lessons along the way especially
the realization of where I was standing as a Christian. I had a Bible which I’d barely
opened. During chemo I decided to read the Bible back to front. I learned to place God
first. My day starts with a gratitude prayer. You have to be grateful for surviving any
stage of cancer because not everyone does. I also realized that I was holding on to anger.
Negative emotions destroy the immune system. The faster you forgive the sooner healing
will take place. I learned not to care what other people may think of me because I am
a survivor. Also the importance of maintaining a balanced mind, body and soul. I eat a healthy
diet. I’m no longer skipping meals. I meditate before bedtime every night.
Please pay attention. One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s very important
to do a breast self-exam every month, no matter your age, and to follow up with your physician.
It could save your life. Early detection is the key for increasing your chances of survival.
While there is no way to avoid obstacles you can remain focused. Listen to your gut, be
persistent, you know your body best. There’s no way to know if the cancer will return,
but I don’t fear what the future might bring. I’m not afraid of dying.
I know the Lord is on the other side.