My story begins in the fall of 2012, when I was 37 years old. I was in my 15th year as a high school band director, had a 3 year old daughter, and was trying to get pregnant with our second child. I began having severe pain in my left breast and, after a month or so of waiting to see if it cleared up with my menstrual cycle, I discovered a hard knot. My OBGYN ordered a mammogram which was inconclusive due to dense breast tissue (common for younger women). Thankfully, she was insistent that I get an ultrasound. It showed 2 masses in my left breast and swelling of my lymph nodes under that arm. After biopsies of all 3 areas, I got the dreaded call- all 3 were positive for breast cancer! I was devastated, but this was just the beginning.
Later that week, in the surgeon's office, I discovered that a mastectomy was my only option, and I chose to go ahead and remove the right breast as well (25-30% chance of recurrence was just too much for a mother of a 3 year old to worry about. While in surgery, it was discovered that the lymph nodes under my arm had grown into a clump, requiring the removal of 24 of them. The pathology report showed 13 were positive, putting me at stage 3, and making it medically necessary to do what I had requested from day one- a full body PET scan. This showed metastasis to my liver and spine- STAGE 4!!! If there was any good news, it was that my cancer, being triple positive, had a multitude of treatments available. After several months of chemo, fighting with my insurance company over not letting me use newer, less harmful drugs, and starting oral hormone suppression therapy, I was declared in remission by summer.
I was surrounded by so many supportive family and friends who cheered loudly as I beat cancers ass! t was a year later that I discovered that there is no such thing for a metastatic cancer fighter. In April of 2014 I had been rehearsing tirelessly for our school musical, and mentally, not dealing very well with some recent family tragedies. I had a terrible respiratory infection that I just couldn't shake, and I was having such terrible pain in my chest that I thought I had broken a rib. I went to have a chest X-ray which showed nothing, so my oncologist ordered a CT scan. I was floored when he walked in and said that it was my disease- a tumor on my sternum. After more tests and biopsies, it was discovered that the cancer had returned in my liver and spine as well. I began radiation on my sternum immediately, followed by chemo, and then, in November, had my ovaries removed (yay, menopause at age 39!!!) During all of this I decided that I needed to take a break from my job. I had worked continuously through my other treatments, but I was tired. It wasn't fair to use all of my energy at a demanding job and not have anything left for my family. I needed all of my energy to be directed toward helping my body fight what I now realized was a chronic disease. It is a Forever Fight, and no matter how great people may think I look, it is a constant battle. I have now been in remission again for over a year. About 7 months ago I decided to really get serious about giving my body everything it needs to be successful in this battle. I chose not to return to a stressful work environment, I joined the YMCA Livestrong program, and I began an anti-inflammation diet (no gluten, dairy, or refined sugar). Today my blood counts are better than ever, my body is stronger than it has been in years, and I am mentally in a place where I feel empowered and ready to share with as many fellow Forever Fighters as I am able! My definition of winning has changed forever. Did I take care of myself today and show those around me as much love as possible? “WINNING!!!"