February 17, 2017 was the worst day of my life.
I was 37 years old, and I was diagnosed with Triple-Negative breast cancer.
How? Why? Why Me? Why, is this happening to me?
I had no family history, I followed a healthy diet and I exercised three times a week. I nursed my children, so statistically it helps lower your breast cancer risk. Why did I become the one in eight women in the United States diagnosed with breast cancer?
As a journalist, I have covered countless breast cancer 5K runs and events and not once did I ever think that I would become part of the breast cancer epidemic. You hear so many stories and you think you know what cancer is, but you have no idea. Unwillingly, I became a member of an exclusive club that no one wants to join.
I was lying in bed, watching television with my husband when I felt a lump in my left breast. At that moment, I thought to myself ‘Is this something? Could it be?’
Two weeks later, I felt another lump on the same breast and that’s when I thought something was wrong and that I needed to get checked. After mammograms, ultrasounds, and a couple biopsies, I got the news. I didn’t want to believe it. All three tumors were cancerous. I was numbed, speechless and afraid.
This was going to be the craziest, most challenging roller coaster ride and I had no idea how many lows and highs I would experience. All I knew is that I needed to put on my seat belt. I knew it would be bumpy, and the big question: Will I be alive at the end of the ride?
The ride started off with MRIs, PET Scans, blood work, meeting several doctors, choosing an oncologist, port placement surgery along with fear, depression and anxiety. Everything was a fog. Things were moving way too fast and there just weren’t enough answers.
You think the day you learn about your cancer diagnosis is the hardest. For me, every day was just as hard. Hearing what type of breast cancer and the treatment I had to undergo was equally difficult.
Sixteen rounds of chemo. That was 6 months of my life! I spent twelve weeks taking Taxol, a chemotherapy medication. Also, every other week, I was injected with A/C, another anti-cancer drug.
I asked my oncologist, “What’s going to happen to me?” She tells me, “You’ll gain weight, lose your hair, eyebrows, and lashes.” Wait, there is more. Your nails will turn black due to the chemotherapy drugs. You’ll experience nausea, fatigue, appetite changes, mouth sores, stomach issues and the list goes on and on.
I wanted to get off this ride but I had to go through this storm and I was determined to survive. There were a lot of struggles and uncertainty, but I refused to allow cancer to win.
Cancer messed with the wrong person. I have three young children, ages eight, four and two. I want to be alive to watch my kids grow up. I needed to be brave for them. At that moment, I decided to keep my diagnosis a secret from them and that was my mission.
“Business as usual” is what I called it. No mention at all of the “C” word. They are too young to understand and I didn’t want them to worry about their mom. In order for my children not to find out, I couldn’t tell anyone. Only family and close friends were in on my “secret.” That meant no one at work knew.
For months, I put on my game face, got in front of the camera and conducted interviews as I normally would. In a strange way, work made it easier to get through breast cancer. I was able to forget about my diagnosis, it really was business as usual.
At this point, you’re probably wondering if the physical changes that come with cancer treatment affected my “on-air” appearance. There were slight changes, but nothing significant enough to have co-workers question if I were sick.
I was fortunate enough to use a scalp-cooling system that mitigates hair loss. It’s called cold capping. It wasn’t a walk in the park but cold capping helped me keep my hair. It allowed me to go to work without my appearance changing significantly, but better yet it allowed me to keep my diagnosis private. I had to be ready mentally to share my secret.
Cancer changes your life. You see things differently. I see women differently and I wonder if they are taking the necessary steps to protect their bodies. I thought of all the women my age range: my female colleagues, the moms at my children’s schools and every single woman I saw. Many of those women, who are in their 30s and 20s, know little about cancer.
You think it can’t happen to you. Better yet, many women are advised to not you worry about breast cancer until after 40. Statistically, a lot of women who are under the age of 40, like myself, should not have cancer, but it happens.
I sat down with three brave women to have a frank and honest conversation about breast cancer in women under the age of 40. Tamara Rodriguez, Lauren Mann and Myra Camino shared the challenges they faced as womein in their 30s battling the potentially deadly disease.
So, why share my story now? It’s time to be a part of the conversation and encourage all women, but especially women under 40 to pay more attention to their bodies. I want women to have that conversation with their doctors. I want women under 40 to check their breasts. I want women under 40 to talk more about this deadly disease.
Breast cancer doesn’t wait until you’re 40, so you shouldn’t wait either.
If it happened to me, it can happen to you.