Young people can be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. For Stage4Lifer, Dionna Koval writes about learning she had metastasis to her bones at age 42.
I had my first mammogram on my 40th birthday and continued to do them each year after that. In April 2014, months after my annual mammogram, I just finished moving into a new home and started having pain under my right breast. I thought I pulled a muscle from moving and ignored the pain. By the next day the pain was so unbearable that I couldn’t breathe.
My mother finally convinced me to go to the emergency room. Once there they did a series of tests, including a CT scan. By mistake the tech did the scan higher up on my breast; thank God she did because that’s how my lump was found – along with 3 broken ribs. My last mammogram was done in September of the prior year so I wasn’t that worried but in the back of my head I kept thinking what if. I was sent to do another mammogram and ultrasound. It was then that the radiologist told me he was positive it was cancer without even doing a biopsy. I had the biopsy done, and the wait for the results drove me nuts. Sure enough on April 25 I was told I had breast cancer.
Hearing the words, “You have cancer,” at 42 was like a punch in the gut, especially since I had my mammograms regularly. My life came to a halt. I have a son and am divorced. I wondered how I was I going to get through all this. Little did I know, I hadn’t even heard the worst news.
By that Monday I was contemplating whether I was getting a single or double mastectomy. Before I could make a decision, my surgeon called to tell me that we weren’t doing the surgery anymore; my doctors learned that the cancer had progressed to my bones – I was officially diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Once again I was devastated. Many thoughts ran through my head. I thought my diagnosis meant I was going to die soon.
I met with my oncologist the following Monday and couldn’t even hear what she was saying. It was tough for me to wrap my head around all of the terms being used and the news overall. The type of cancer I have is ER/PR-positive. My healthcare team and I decided upon a treatment plan and I started that day. It consists of three injections of Faslodex and Lupron. Here I am, in my early 40s, and put straight into menopause. I was told my cancer would respond best to this treatment, and I’ve been on it for the last 2 years.
At the beginning of my journey, I realized that I didn’t even know a lot about this cancer and neither did my family and friends. Why is it that something this serious was never talked about? How could I have lived without knowing more about MBC? Now that I have this diagnosis, how long do I have left? This cancer will eventually kill me but I’m not ready for that. I need answers, I need a cure! I’m living my life as I always have done but with more of a mission, if that makes sense. Since I don’t have the answers I need or want I will not let anything stop me from enjoying time with my son, family, and friends.
Looking back to the beginning of my nightmare, I can’t imagine doing any of this alone. I learned a lot about myself and people that I thought were friends. My biggest support system has been my parents. I live with them now because there are times I need help. I feel secure and safe knowing I have them in my corner.
My biggest fear is dying soon and not seeing my son graduate from high school, start college, get married, have children. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m there for every milestone my son has. I don’t care how sick I am or how much I’m hurting – I will never miss time with him.
This journey was not one I would ever have chosen but this journey has made me stronger than ever. This journey allowed me to meet other strong women like myself. This journey will help me educate women who don’t know what MBC is. This journey motivates me to raise my voice for for those that need to understand our need for a cure. I might not be able to change the world as quickly as I’d like, but I will make a change. I plan on saving my own life, to be there for and with my son. This journey has not taken the fight out of me. I will live my life with determination, purpose and most of all love. Negativity doesn’t belong in my life and “no, I can’t” isn’t something I say. This journey may have chosen me but I will make this journey the best one yet!
You heard Dionna’s voice. Raise yours. Join #Stage4Lifer on social media.
Dionna Koval is 44 years old and was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 25, 2014. She later learned she had stage IV disease that spread to her bones. She’s lived with the disease for more than two years. She completed LBBC’s Hear My Voice: Metastatic Breast Cancer Outreach Volunteer Program training this past April. When she’s not educating others about MBC, she enjoys spending time with her 14-year-old son, family and friends.