Get Your Damn Mammogram
October is an important month. No, not that the leaves are changing and that fall is in the air, it is Breast Cancer Awareness month. My cousin Kristin “Kicked breast cancer’s ass with Jesus and Laughter” just a few years ago. She is one of my best friends, an amazing writer, and constant inspiration with her always positive energy. I let her take over my blog today to pass on the important message: Get Your Damn Mammogram! Kristin take it away!
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
It’s October!!! It’s the time of year where our world explodes in both vibrant colors of fall and hot pink in honor of the tatas. Breast cancer awareness month has grown over the years and has helped saved so many lives…..mine included. My amazing cousin, The FatMan himself, (www.fatmanlittletrail.com) recently sent me a video on an awesome breast cancer awareness campaign by Adidas and Five Ten.
After watching the video, I felt inspired to share my breast cancer diagnosis story.
Back in my deaf ed days at TCU, I had a professor who would always say, “Every child paints a different rainbow”. Meaning…. every child with a hearing impairment that we taught had different needs, a different story, a different path. This holds true for breast cancer warriors as well. You can meet two different women who have had the exact same breast cancer diagnosis, but their war path and survival stories are totally different.
My breast cancer story starts around the time I was 40. There is a strong family history of cancer in my family. My first mama died at the age of 30 of colon cancer that metastasized to her liver. I was 4 and my baby sister was 3 months old. My second mama was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer when my daughter was about 1 year old. My dad lost one wife to cancer and had a second wife who battled cancer and won. So, my family is understandably ALL about preventative medicine. I got my first colonoscopy at the age of 25….actually the first time I went in, I found out I was pregnant…but that’s another story for another time. When I turned 40 I, of course, went in for my first mammogram.
Now, let’s talk tatas….mine were nothing to write home about. They were so “sized challenged” that my sister and I used to fill out prayer request cards for each other at church….”Please pray for my sister, she sufferin’ from a rare form of itty bitty titti-itis.” But…. I liked them, my husband liked them, they fed all 3 of our kids for a season and I was quite proud of my size 36 long and droopies.
When I went in for my first mammogram, I was informed that I had “cysty” and dense breasts. What do you say to that…….”um, thanks?”……”well, thank you, I grew them myself!”….oh the inappropriate response options. But seriously, what I learned was, when you have dense, cysty breasts, you usually win the prize of a mammogram and then a call back with an ultrasound. Oh boy.
August 2017 I went in for my annual mammogram during my kids first week of school. “Hey kids, you get to go learn and mommy gets to go get her boobies squished….what a deal”. It actually worked well, because I had a system to help me remember to go get the ladies checked. During that year’s mammogram, they found a sizeable cyst in my left breast. The doctors told me that I could just leave it alone or I could get it drained but they weren’t worried about it unless it started hurting. I decided that I would just keep my self-made boob enhancing cyst (it made my left breast perky :->) and have it checked again the next year. I mean, who wants to have a cyst drained….ew. Maybe I would grow a matching one on the right….it would be like my very own self-made boob job.
In the spring of 2018 I felt that sizeable cyst pop. Y’all……it was SO WEIRD. I felt it pop and drain and thought, “well there goes my one perky boob. We’re back to bilateral long and droopies.” A month or two later, I started having some random shooting pains in my left breast. But, I figured that it was just another cyst growing. I had experienced a few random shooting pains over the years but it always turned out to just be a new cyst. I was a busy mom of 3, it was the summer before my oldest’s senior year of high school. I figured all was fine and I would just go get my annual mammogram during the first week of the next school year. Yes, I felt a lump but it felt JUST LIKE every cyst I had ever had.
Then, near the end of the summer, my nipple inverted.
TMI……it looked like a unpopped turkey timer. And, right where the nipple met my skin, there was a sore. For those of y’all who, like me, love to exercise and hike, the sore looked like the sore you get in between your big toe and your foot when you hike in wet socks after accidentally stepping in some water. I even went to my gynecologist who said it looked like a skin infection so she gave me some antibacterial ointment and said she didn’t think it was anything else, but maybe I should go get a mammogram just to be on the safe side. That was July 2018. Perfect timing…I was due for my annual, first week of school mammogram.
When I called to schedule, the folks at the mammogram center told me that they wanted to see me right away. I was scheduled to come in 3 days shy of a full year since my last mammogram……..362 days. This time, instead of planning on calling me back after the mammogram, they would do a ultrasound at the same time.
I went in. We did the mammogram and the ultrasound. It wasn’t a cyst. It was time for a biopsy. But even then, even the radiologist didn’t think it would be cancer.
I honestly don’t remember how long it was between the mammogram and the biopsy, but it was quick.
The Call That Stopped Time
Friday, August 17, 2018, around 12:30pm, I was sitting on the couch next to my daughter who was home from school for her lunch period and the phone rang. It was a nurse from the hospital where I got the biopsy and she said the words I will never forget.
“Well, hon, it isn’t good news.”
My daughter ran to get my husband who was thankfully working from home that day. I don’t remember anything else from that conversation other than, I had cancer. My biggest fear in my life, the thing that killed my first mom, that tried to kill my second mom, was growing in me and trying to kill me.
My daughter did not go back to school that day. My two boys came home from their schools about 3 hours later, and we told them. We truly thought there was no way that the cancer would be advanced past maybe stage one……at the most. I mean, come on, it had only been 362 days since my last mammogram. So, most of that evening we sat around telling inappropriate boob jokes and telling our kids that they were allowed to say the word “ass” when they said “My mom is going to kick cancer’s ass with Jesus and laughter”.
The next week, I was officially diagnosed with HR+/HER2- Stage 2, grade 2A breast cancer. Simply said, that means the cancer was way bigger and more advanced that we thought. It was aggressive and it fed on hormones. Before I knew it, I had a breast surgeon and an oncologist. I was told that I had to have a full mastectomy on the left side as the tumor was too large and too oddly placed for a lumpectomy to be a good option.
My docs didn’t have to tell me twice. Cut it off…and take her sister too. The bitch was trying to kill me. That was it. No struggle with the decision. I was done. Both of them had to go. My breasts were no longer part of me. They were trying to kill me. I was done with them.
Because of my age (I was 2 months shy of turning 45), my family history and the aggressive nature of the cancer, I was told that I needed to go through 16 rounds of chemo and a mastectomy and then reconstruction. My oncologist wanted to see how the chemo affected the tumor to make sure it was working. That meant chemo needed to happen first and it needed to happen quickly. Radiation was a faint possibility at that time, but everyone doubted I would need it.
The Winding Road
The road of cancer is never a straight path. It is full of unexpected twists and turns.
It turned out that I did need radiation. They removed 19 lymph nodes during my double mastectomy. 8 lymph nodes showed signed of cancer. I won myself 30 rounds of radiation with the bonus prize of having to hold my breath during treatment sessions so the radiation didn’t damage my heart.
I started chemo on August 31, 2018. I had 4 days at the “poison spa” spaced every other week where I received infusions of “the red devil”. I then did 12 weekly infusions of Taxol. I got a month break after chemo and my double mastectomy with expanders placement was Feb 2019. I started radiation March 2019. I finished my radiation the day before my sweet girl graduated from high school. I had a DIEP flap reconstruction surgery on January 2, 2020.
For those of y’all who don’t know , a DIEP flap is a 10-15 hour surgery where the surgeon rearranges the front of your body by taking the squishy fat from the tummy and sewing it up in your chest while also performing microsurgery to create blood flow and voila…….new warm blooded foobs (fake boobs).
Foob’s (Fake Boobs)
Public service announcement……please, don’t ever, EVER tell a breast cancer warrior who has to have or had a DIEP flap that you wish you could get a “free” tummy tuck. Yes, it was one of my silver linings…..but that silver lining includes a hip-to-hip scar across my body that, along with the scars on my nipple-less foobs, make the front half of my body look like a winking smiley face.
SERIOUSLY……DON’T EVER, EVER, EVER say this!!!!!! Just….NO!
Along with the 2 massive surgeries, the 4 smaller procedures, the 2 revision surgeries and let us not forget the salpingo-oophorectomy (that’s just fun to say) to ensure that the early onset menopause caused by chemo stayed permanent, I currently take an aromatase inhibitor that strips my body of hormones every day and I will continue for a total of 7-10 years post chemo. I went septic and almost died in January 2021 from a rash in my left armpit that turned septic because my lymph system is so compromised from the 19 lymph nodes they removed during the double mastectomy. So, now I use a lymphatic pump every day. I am still in occupational therapy (thank God for amazing insurance) 2 years after the end of radiation because of the lymphedema and the radiation fibrosis.
Get Your Damn Mammogram
And it all started with a mammogram. That beautiful, amazing, boobie squishing, lifesaving mammogram.
The moral of this tale……get your damn mammogram!!!!!
One more thought…..
The video my amazing cousin shared with me, by Adidas and Five Ten was about how being outdoors helps women who were and are fighting breast cancer. Before my first chemo, my oncologist told me that exercise is STRONGLY encouraged during treatment. It helps to flush the chemo through and out of the system. It helps to build endurance and strength and helps you heal faster. She was totally right….but, sadly she told me that it is a rare unicorn that will actually work out during chemo and the rest of treatment. I chose to be that unicorn.
Hiking and Staying Active
Let me tell you…..going to the gym when totally sick and bald is kind of amazing. People aren’t sure what to do with you, because you don’t look like you belong there. I looked sick. I looked like I should have been home in bed. I looked like I should be anywhere but there. But I sure did belong there at the gym. I drug my bald, tore up, exhausted self up to the gym to exercise through out the entire journey. Some days I just walked slowly around the track. Some days I lifted light weights. Some days, all I could do was stretch. But I did it! A week after the DIEP flap, I was up there with my walker because, even though I could not stand up straight after surgery, I wanted my walking laps. And I did it!
I continue to work out, even though I can’t do things like I once could. I continue to hike with my amazing cousin. I continue to be active….I’m currently painting the exterior of my house. It’s taking me about 4 months to complete….but I am doing it!!!!!
So, I guess there are two morals of this story……
Move! Exercise! Get outside for a hike! Even if it’s hard! You can do it!
GET YOUR DAMN MAMMOGRAM!