LBBC would like to introduce our newest guest blogger Laura Ross. Today she shares her breast cancer journey and how she became familiar with LBBC’s programs and services, specifically our annual Fall conference.
Driving on I-95 South in Philadelphia, late October 2011, I passed a billboard for Breast Cancer awareness month. “Ah” I said, “I never want to be part of that club!” One month later I would be handed my membership, and would begin a journey that changed my life.
November 18, at age 41, while snuggling my 3-year-old daughter Aliya, her head hit a hard pea sized spot in my upper right breast. Calling my other daughters, Gianna and Isabella, into the room, I asked them if they could feel it too, and indeed, they said they could. I didn’t really think too much of it. I had never even had a mammogram. I called my gynecologist and made an appointment. She too, could feel it, and scheduled the mammogram for early December.
After the testing was over, the doctor who performed the biopsy looked at me and said, “This is definitely breast cancer, when you get the results on Monday expect it to be cancer.” Uh. OK. I was completely shocked. I was completely alone.
Breast cancer was foreign to me. No one I knew had breast cancer. I was the “1 in 8.” I was the ONE.
The phone call came. The tumor was invasive ductal carcinoma, triple-negative, Grade 3. I also had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
The holidays were coming up quickly but all I could think about was this fast-growing tumor. Appointments were scheduled and I met with the surgeon who spoke terms I had never heard of before. She recommended a lumpectomy with chemotherapy and radiation. Triple-negative breast cancer was particularly aggressive and needed to be treated with chemotherapy, even if it was stage I, which she believed it to be. I recorded her on my iPhone, so I could listen to it later, in case I missed something. Looking back on that conversation, everything that she told me could possibly happen, did happen.
The children and I decided we were going to make a mold of my breast before the upcoming surgery. I am an artist and a professional baby doll sculptor, and it seemed only fitting to attempt to make a “falsie” from the mold of my own breast. We laughed that night, trying to get my little, mangled breast into a shallow bowl to make a mold of it. I had to explain to my girls that “mommy’s boobie is sick and the doctor needs to take it off.” Aliya asked, “When will he put it back on?” Never. He will never put it back on.
The mastectomy was scheduled the end of February, just in time for two of my daughter’s birthdays. I sat in Chuck E. Cheese with my drains neatly tucked into a button up jacket, with my very good friend handling the entire production, so that my kids would still have a “normal” birthday. A few weeks later, another friend decided that we would get our hair cut off together and she cut her hair into a short style so that I wouldn’t feel alone as I prepared for the changes that were coming up with chemo.
Chemotherapy began end of March and lasted through beginning of July. I lost 18 lbs and my oldest daughter lost most of her first year of college dealing with a mom who was sick and helping her dad take care of her younger sisters. I would pick her up immediately following chemo at college so she could be with me on my sick days. Somehow we managed to get through it, with daddy taking on some of mommy’s roles, and the girls all helping with chores.
When the whole experience was over and the oncologist said “see you in 3 months,” I was left feeling very alone. Friends wanted me to celebrate. Celebrate what? This could come back. How was I supposed to go on, knowing that this could come back? How do I move on from here?
I decided to Google, “How to live after Breast Cancer.” The top choice, which practically jumped off the page, was “Living Beyond Breast Cancer.” I clicked. I began reading. I said to myself, “This is EXACTLY how I feel!!!! I am NOT ALONE!!!!” I actually could not believe it. I didn’t realize how many women felt the same way I did. It was the first step in healing. It was the first step of my new life after breast cancer.
In the fall of 2012 my daughter Gianna, and my mother Barbara and I attended the first Living Beyond Breast Cancer conference. It was an overwhelmingly amazing experience to see all the other women who are fighting and surviving. It completely changed my life knowing I had a new set of friends who DID UNDERSTAND. After the conference was over I was able to keep taking the steps in healing. I realized the importance of helping other women who are newly diagnosed, or women who haven’t yet taken their first steps to move on into their new phase of life. I decided to answer the call from LBBC and filled out their questionnaire to be a helpline volunteer and was trained the following summer, when I was 1-year out of treatment. I feel I have a special calling to give my support to women who are in need of someone to listen to their story, so they do not feel alone. Every story is different and special. Every woman has their own journey that is unique. I’m proud to become a part of their journey and hope to continue my volunteer work with LBBC in the future.