Melissa

Melissa

In January 3, 2020, at 41 years old, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Hearing the word “cancer” was a life-changing experience. In an instance, your world is rocked to its core. There is so much fear and uncertainty that comes with the diagnosis. Because of that, many people put off going to the doctor when something is wrong. However, listening to your body and seeking treatment can literally be the difference between life and death.

 

My mom is a long-time breast cancer survivor. Because of that, I was getting mammograms since I was 30 years old. Very recently, I learned I had the breast cancer gene, called BRCA1.  My doctor and I discussed increasing my screenings and I began getting breast MRIs in between my annual mammograms. I was also encouraged to regularly do self-exams. 

 

I found a small lump on my breast a mere 75 days after a clean mammogram. It was probably just a fibroid since my mammogram was clean, right? After two weeks of no change I knew something was wrong. I called my doctor and even though it was three months early, she sent me for a breast MRI. The results were concerning, and I needed to have a biopsy. Afterwards, I got the call and my life changed forever.

 

Because of my BRCA1+ status, we decided I would have a double mastectomy. As my oncologist said, my breasts were ticking time bombs. I wanted them gone. Taking the time to find a great team of doctors was key. My plastic surgeon did my reconstruction at the same time as my mastectomy which was a blessing. My surgery was over 5 hours and the recovery was extremely painful. Unfortunately, that was not the end of my cancer journey.

 

Although my cancer was caught early, it was very aggressive. After genetic testing was done on the cancer, it was determined that I had a 45% reoccurrence risk. Chemotherapy was needed as adjunctive treatment so the cancer would not return. I would get six rounds of Taxotere and Cytoxan (TC). After each round, I would need 3 weeks of recovery before the next treatment. My total chemotherapy regiment would be 18 weeks long.

 

The mastectomy was hard, but chemo was even harder. Surprisingly, I was more upset about losing my hair than losing my breasts! I just kept thinking; everyone will know I am sick. I will be a walking billboard screaming “I have cancer!” I needed to take control of the situation. First step was cutting all my hair off into a cute pixie. If chemo was going to take my hair, then it was going to take it on my own terms! Then I read everything I could about my chemo treatment, the potential side effects, and what I could do to ease them. That included medical marijuana, cold packs for my hands and feet to prevent neuropathy during treatment and subscribing to cancer meditations. Knowledge was power and I wanted to know everything.


To complicate matters, my treatment started April 8, 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up. I was told I needed to quarantine for the full 18 weeks. Exposure to coronavirus while my immune system was weakened could be deadly. I would need to be hold up alone in my home the entire time. Luckily, I had a strong support system of friends and family. They would drop off food, prescriptions, and any other essentials I needed.

 

I got through those 18 weeks by taking it one day at a time. Sometime, one hour at a time. I lost all my hair after my first treatment. Eventually my eyebrows and eyelashes as well. I had many side effects including severe GI issues, loss of taste as well as extreme fatigue and bone pain. They tell you to drink a lot of water, but it tasted like metal to me. I had no appetite and drank protein shakes to get enough nutrients. The best advice I got was to call the nurse with every new side effect. They always had a solution that could help. 

 

The physical side-effects of chemo were tough, but I found the emotional ones were even worse. Having to isolate during chemotherapy was extremely lonely. There were days when I just needed a hug from my mom. FaceTime calls with my parents were not nearly enough. To cope, I joined several breast cancer Facebook support groups and saw my therapist regularly over Zoom. My body swelled up, so I gained 12lbs of water weight and didn’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I questioned if I would every look like myself again. Would I ever feel like myself again?

 

There were many days during chemo that I asked myself, “how am I going to get through this?” It seemed so daunting. But keeping a journal really helped. I journaled my side effects every day and could detect side-effects patterns to get ahead of them. Then before I knew it, a month had passed, then another. Some days I felt like I was crushing this chemo thing. Other days, not so much. I cried a lot and learned it’s ok not to be ok.

 

The good news is that my body bounced back quickly. Within four months I had hair again, the swelling went away, and my energy returned. I made healthy eating and living a priority. I switched to clean products like; Beauty Counter, Acure, Method, and Seven Generation. I ate more fruits and vegetables, less processed food. I decided I would do everything I could to prevent this cancer from coming back. And now I’m in better shape than I was before the diagnosis.


The biggest take away from my cancer journey I want to share is to make sure you are mindful of your body. You know better than anyone else if something is wrong. If caught early, treatments such as chemotherapy can cure your cancer. Early detection saved my life and I am overjoyed to say I am now cancer free.