I was a very young child when breast cancer first affected my life. My mother was diagnosed with the disease in her early thirties. I didn’t even know she was sick until it was close to the end. More than anything, she wanted to live to see my little sister Andrea and me grow up. Ultimately, she lost the battle in May of 1987 when she was just 35 years old. I was 5, and without a mommy.
In April 2002, nearly 15 years after my mother’s death, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The cancer was only in my right breast. I was 20 years old, nearing the end of my junior spring semester at U of Illinois, and preparing to spend the first semester of my senior year studying abroad in Spain.
Breast cancer was NOT in the plans, and I didn’t have time for it! I wanted the quickest treatment possible, so I opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. That way I could take care of the problem, prevent it from recurring, and be all healed in time to go to Spain that August. Plus there was an added bonus: I was a 38-G at the time of my operation, so I was happy to trade in the huge boobs for a smaller size that would finally allow me to buy cute bras and panties that matched!
On May 22, 2002, 15 years and 1 day after my mother’s passing, I had the operation. Everything went well, and I did go to Spain that fall. However, when I returned for the spring 2003 semester, so had the cancer; this time in the lymph nodes of my right arm pit. Once again, cancer was this huge inconvenience in my life that I had to get rid of as quickly as possible. After all, I worked hard to graduate in 4 years, and now that graduation was almost upon me, here comes breast cancer again.
I had the surgery to remove the positive nodes, and was back to school 3 days later. With lots of commuting back and forth from Urbana to Chicago, I finished the semester and graduated college on time! I then returned home to a summer of chemotherapy, followed by an autumn of radiation.
After all of that was finished, I thought, it’s finally ALL OVER and my adult life can begin. WRONG!
In December 2004, the cancer was back. This time, it was in my brain. I couldn’t believe it! There was a tumor the size of a golf ball sitting on my cerebellum, causing indescribably painful headaches, nausea, inability to keep food down, and my equilibrium was way off.
I had my first craniotomy when I was 23, which was followed by total brain radiation, and a stereotactic procedure to shrink another tumor in my brain. The neurosurgeon was confident that this would be the end of it, and so was I. WRONG AGAIN!
Malignant tumors would continue to sporadically “pop up” in my brain every year for the next 3 years. I felt like the cancer was playing a daunting game of hide and seek with my doctors, daring us to “catch it if we could.”
Well after the fourth brain surgery, we did catch it! I have been living with no evidence of disease since January 2007 and I thank God for that.