November 2007, ten months after finishing my radiation treatments for stage 1 IDC and DCIS breast cancer, I was asked to come back for a biopsy following changes on my MRI from six months before. I had been taking tamoxifen, which was supposed to prevent a recurrence.
“What does this mean?” I kept asking myself. Although I had lost my mom to breast cancer in 1987 so much had changed in that time and mine had been caught early. I knew my outcome would be different, but here I was possibly facing another diagnosis. I questioned my decisions that I made the previous year to only have a lumpectomy and not a mastectomy. What didn’t I do right that it came back so quickly? Was it something I was doing? Not doing? Nobody could tell me.
When the biopsy confirmed cancer I knew, you were never really cured. You do your best to listen to your body, get the treatments that are recommended and make informed decisions, but you better be sure you are living your life the way you want because that old saying, “We aren’t promised tomorrow” sure seemed true.
If this was it for me, as it was for my mom, was I doing what I wanted? Again I delved into research and questioned other survivors, asked for prayers and began the job of making the rounds of tests, doctor appointments and decisions. I felt fortunate to have the support of family, friends and my faith community. I was also fortunate enough to have insurance and a financially supportive spouse. I went to a therapist to talk through my feelings, I had massages, and I exercised in between chemo treatments. So instead of having a pity party and continuing to question what I had done in the past, I moved on. I thought about all of the others going through this, how I could give back. I thought about what direction my life held for me in the coming years. Was I meant to go back into architecture or continue being a stay-at-home-mom to my teenagers or was God leading me in another direction?
After it was determined that this cancer was estrogen negative and Her2neu positive I was taken off the tamoxifen and scheduled for a mastectomy (although recommended I decided on a unilateral-it was my decision after all and my stubborn self felt there was nothing wrong with my other breast, why not keep it awhile until there was something wrong!). In January 2008 I began six rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks and Hercepton infusions weekly. I decided on a tram flap reconstruction in September 2008, scheduling surgery in between my infusions. I began the long road of treatment, again. During this entire year I had many realizations while journaling. I felt that my experience might help someone else. I had always wanted to write, maybe this was a good jumping off point into a new world of being an author.
“I had no idea!” I laugh to myself now. My life changed directions but I was going with it.
Heather is the author of Not My Mother’s Journey. Her story continues next week.