I took pretty good care of myself. I kept somewhat active, self-checked, and had my mammogram. Cancer doesn’t care, and it doesn’t always show up.
My story started in October of 2016. I was moving some furniture, and I thought I hurt my back. Over the next few months, things escalated until I was having multiple back spasms and was in a tremendous amount of pain. I went to my primary care physician (PCP), tried a chiropractor, went to physical therapy, and finally saw a back specialist. The thing is, I only had X-rays done, and bone lesions don’t show up on X-rays, apparently. The specialist sent me home without any answers. I was in tears leaving the office, because I knew something was wrong. No one seemed to believe me.
At one of my many visits to my PCP, she gave me the results of a spot we had tested on my leg that hadn’t been healing. It wasn’t cancerous. I remember saying I was glad I didn’t have cancer. I guess one test doesn’t check for all cancers. I wish someone would come up with that test! Did you know that a cut or sore that doesn’t heal can be a symptom of cancer?
My spasms continued to get worse. They would come on so quickly and be so painful that I’d be screaming. I even had a few instances where I was close to passing out from the pain, and my husband Mike had to catch me before I hit the floor.
In late February 2017, after being unable to get out of bed for a few days, it was clear I needed to go to the ER. An ambulance came and I was taken to Placentia Linda Hospital that night, where I was finally diagnosed. Some amazing nurses helped me find my way during those early days, and I will never be able to thank them enough.
My diagnosis was stage IV de nova metastatic breast cancer. I am “er+/her-,” which means for me, estrogen is my enemy. It is what my particular type of breast cancer feeds on. Stage IV is the final stage, and there is no cure. “De nova” means that I didn’t have any early stages of cancer prior to my diagnosis. “Metastatic” means that my cancer has spread from the primary source location. In my case, the breast cancer has spread up and down my spine.
Because of the amount of cancer on my back, my bones were weakened. It was discovered that I’d suffered 8 compression fractures in my back and went from being 5’9” to just over 5’3”. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but losing 6 inches in height has been one of the hardest adjustments for me.
After my diagnosis, a plan of action was put into place. At the St. Jude Cancer Center, we found wonderful, caring, knowledgeable doctors and nurses. I had back surgery to repair some of the fractures. I had radiation, chemo, and physical and occupational therapy to help me get back to living my life. I spent months in a hospital bed in my room. I had to put on a brace anytime I wanted to get out of bed, and I was wheelchair bound. I had to have help doing the most basic things. My friend, Kristen would come over to wash my hair, and her husband Dave got a fantastic set up so that I didn’t have to leave my bed during the process. My friends took turns taking me to therapy every week, putting my wheelchair in their cars, and helping me get in and out of my appointments. I had friends sitting with me at every chemo infusion, helping me through.
Friends brought us lunch and dinner for weeks. As I gained strength, I had so many visitors and each one lifted my spirits! I could go on and on about all of the support my family and I received. I felt and continue to feel so lucky.
Telling my daughters, Jessa and Lauren, my diagnosis was probably the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. They don’t deserve to have their lives turned upside down by cancer. It’s not easy for adults in times like this, but imagine trying to find support from teenagers. Their friends were nice, but it was nearly impossible for them to understand what Jessa and Lauren were going through. As my friends came closer, their friends seemed to distance themselves. As time has passed, I look back and am so proud of their strength and resilience through such a tough time.
I’ve done my best to remain positive and to stay focused on why I keep up the endless fight. I fight for Jessa and Lauren. I stay strong for Mike. I smile and laugh because of all the amazing friends I have in my life. I will never give up because I have so much to live for.
Now, almost two years later, here I am. I’ll never be cancer free, but I can hope to be stable.
I can hope that every day I’m stable, there is research happening that will lead to a cure. I know that every day I’m stable, I’m moving one day closer to seeing my daughters graduate from high school, graduate from college, possibly walk down the aisle and have children of their own.
Every moment matters! You can find me spending my moments watching Jessa on stage and Lauren in water polo and swim, spending time at home with Mike, going to the high school football games (go Hawks!), spending time at the beach (especially the dog beach with Lucy), and going out with all of my friends. There is so much love and support around me, and I am truly grateful for everyone in my life. Every moment really matters.