Holy Moly! I am coming up on the ONE YEAR mark since my diagnosis. I don’t have much to say other than that I am completely humbled by my experience. I thank God for gifting me this new life- life after cancer. It’s because of my diagnosis that I live with a deeper sense of meaning, of value. There is more light, more laughter, more love. There are stronger bonds and relationships. There is gratitude.
Just recently I was able to share my story with a great group of women from New Ulm. One of my duties in this new life, my purpose, since my diagnosis- spread awareness, spread HOPE! It brought back so many emotions, so many feelings, that instead of keeping it to myself I thought I’d share it with you….
I’m Sara, I am 32 years old. I am a farmer’s wife, a mother of 2 toddlers and a full time employee at the Sleepy Eye Medical Center. I love to run, workout and I am super competitive when it comes to any activity- fundraising, squatting, running, you name it, I’m up for the challenge.
With that said, this is where my story begins.
This time last year, I was participating in a push up challenge. It was tough, but I could do 20 push-ups nonstop without having to drop onto my knees! It was October 2nd and man, my pecs were sore, which meant I was trying to massage the tight muscles when I noticed a hard grape like lump in my right breast. I mentioned it to my husband, Tyler and he assumed it was a knot or something from doing so many push-ups. That same weekend, after a few cocktails, I also pointed it out to my girlfriends at our Tiny House adventure. They also thought it was probably from doing so many push-ups. (Side note, if you haven’t stayed in a tiny house with some girlfriends, I highly recommend it)
A month went by, and I was in the shower, when I noticed it hadn’t gone away. I asked my dermatologist to feel it, I asked all my friends to feel it, and then at my physical on November 4th, I pointed it out to my physician. He didn’t seem too concerned given my age, but asked me if I would like further testing. I opted for more diagnostics, which consisted of a mammogram. On November 6th, I was fortunate enough to have my cousin, Megan do my diagnostic mammogram. After my first picture, I could see it, the grape like lump that I could feel in my breast in bright white. She had to call the radiologist to see if they would like more images, they did. After obtaining more images, Megan had to call again and that’s when she told me I needed to have an ultrasound. She gave me a hug and told me it’s going to be ok.
Before I even left work that day, I had an appointment to meet with Dr. Cori Jordan to go over my results of the mammogram. She was great and I will continue to consider her my captain during my journey, my advocate and my friend. I don’t know how she did it, but she called and stated that I was to have my ultrasound and biopsy done the same day. No questions about it, but I still had to WAIT.
That weekend, Tyler and I were headed to Washington State to visit some family who had recently moved out there. On the flight Tyler and I were separated which left me to my own thoughts. The pilot stated that if you looked out the left side of the plane you could see Mount Rainier…. And that’s when it happened. I cried- at the beauty of that mountain, the fact that I am not in control and the feeling I felt knowing what my diagnosis would be.
It was November 11th that I had my Ultrasound guided biopsy… thank goodness they numb you up. If you would ask Tyler, he would tell you the needle they shoved into my breast was at least 12 inches long! With my biopsy done, we had to sit tight and wait for the results.
On November 14th Tyler and I sat down with Doctor Jordan while she gave me my diagnosis, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It was seriously such a blur, the only thing I could comprehend was that I had cancer and my husband was crying. Dr. Jordan commented on the tumor’s receptors, Nottingham score, and next steps which included an MRI to check my lymph nodes, I needed to consider what type of surgery, meeting with a genetic counselor and a plastic surgeon……. I was shaking, my husband was crying but Dr. Jordan and Krissy took care of us and all the details. We were passengers and they were the captains.
On November 18th, I had my breast MRI. This was also the day I met Andrea for the first time, she was filling out the ultrasound paperwork that I had completed a week earlier. We didn’t say hello, but for some odd reason, I remember seeing her and Jon sit across from Tyler and I while we waited to be called back. A breast MRI is not pleasant, I had to lie face down with my breast bone resting on some hard plastic. My arms were above my head and their contrast made me feel like I wet my pants! Seriously though, the ladies at NUMC were amazing. They put a pink ribbon on the door frame, helped me get as comfortable as possible and walked me through the entire process. I wish I could remember their names, because they deserve a shout out.
Within a couple of days, I got told I would need another ultrasound guided biopsy of my lymph node because it showed some thickening. That was done, according to my husband with a much smaller needle. After lots of prayer and manifestation, the biopsy results came back negative!
November 22nd, I met with my plastic surgeon and told her that I was still waiting the results from my genetic testing, but given my age that I had opted for a double mastectomy to give myself the best odds of never having to go through this again. Fun fact, breast feeding creates saggy boobs, which means you have a greater chance of saving your nipples. Thanks to my children, I still have my nipples!
December 5th, I met with Dr. Jordan to discuss my surgery that was scheduled for December 13th, CANCER EXODUS day. Double Mastectomy, Tumor tracing, drainage tubes, restrictions, reconstruction, etc.
Fast forward to surgery day. We checked in, I got all gowned up and we started meeting with members of my team- anesthesia, my surgeons, nurses and some radiology staff who came in with a metal box with a hazard symbol on top, that’s right they injected me with something that destroyed Chernobyl, thankfully I don’t glow green and have a new third eye.
I woke up with 3 drainage tubes, an implant and an expander which meant they removed some lymph nodes due to concerns of cancer being present. Again, we wait. These drainage tubes were most uncomfortable- one in the armpit and one in each breast. Thankfully the one in my armpit got to come out a few days after surgery, but if I’m honest with you, I almost pulled it out on my own. Not intentionally. I sat down on my tube and all I can say is, “ouch!” As for my expander- it felt like a plastic milk jug was in my breast. It was hard, odd shaped and uncomfortable.
I was unable to raise my arms, I couldn’t pick up my children or give them big hugs, I relied on my husband to help me with my sponge baths and wash my hair…. We had some good laughs though. If only you could have seen my husband’s face when he wiped my armpit and got orange chunks. He said, and I quote, “I think you have something growing in there!” We laughed and laughed. Don’t worry, it was betadine and deodorant!
I had many follow up appointments, but my main takeaways from those appointments were this: I have a CHEK2 mutation which meant I was at greater risk of getting breast cancer a second time, I also had some scarring in my left breast tissue—I made the right choice to have a double mastectomy. My tumor came back triple negative which meant I had to have chemotherapy, but the silver lining was that I didn’t need any radiation as my lymph nodes came back clear.
Chemotherapy came with it’s own education day and prep work- labs, echocardiogram, port placement, and chemotherapy drug review. Let me tell you this, when one of your chemo drugs is referred to as the Red Devil you get a little terrified.
January 15th. Day one of chemotherapy, was a one of a kind experience. The staff there are something else, there are truly some of the best nurses and volunteers I’ve ever met. Prior to receiving any chemo drugs, you get pre-medicated. Two medications for nausea and a steroid- which fun fact, if someone gives your steroid push to fast it makes your ahhm itch! I also want to add that it was also the day I met Matt- Lung Cancer. He sat to the left of me. He was receiving Taxol when he went completely unresponsive. (Yes, I also received Taxol and you better believe that I as afraid I would have the same type of reaction.) We still give him crap to this day and we would tell anyone and everyone not to sit in “that” chair because it was cursed or that if they were going to sit in it, they couldn’t pull a Matt. My second round of chemo, I met Andrea (you’ll never guess where she chose to sit). This time we actually said hello and shared our stories- same kind of cancer, same genetic mutation, same chemotherapy regimen…. We were each other’s cancer twin. Matt and I had to joke around with her, not only because of her chair choice, but because of the steroid medication she was going to be receiving. We told her the itching lasts for days! I also received Taxol, but thankfully I didn’t pull a Matt. I only suffered from feeling like my heart was going to pump out of my chest and that I was going to pass out. Minor.
Chemotherapy came with a plethora of side effects some not as bad as the others like menopause- wahoo, no period (except look out hot flashes) or hair loss, which meant I didn’t need to shave anymore and getting ready for work in the morning was so easy since I had didn’t have hair to fuss with. Some of the worst side effects included nausea, fatigue, pain and low white count. After each Red Devil treatment I got a little bomb called Neulasta to help my body create white blood cells. I called it the bomb because well, the nurse applies it to your stomach. It ticks and then WAM! A needle to the gut! Then 24 hours after it is applied it ticks again… slowly injecting your body with the medicine to stimulate your bone marrow to create new white blood cells. Which meant, I experienced excruciating bone pain. So bad it hurt to be touched. Those days were my darkest, but if you know me, I got right back up and kept moving. No sense in feeling sorry for myself, no sense in reminding myself how crappy I felt. I didn’t ever give myself the option to say, I give up. I manifested health and wellness, I moved my body, I prayed, I practiced gratitude, I stayed strong for my kids and my husband.
I learned so much during my cancer journey. Some things like:
- I’m an enneagram type 7- which means, I’m optimistic, versatile, high spirited…let’s just say it explains a lot about me.
- Cancer robs you of control over your life and body, but it also teaches us that we never really had control in the first place.
- To my children’s dismay, my hair doesn’t grow as fast as a chia pet. Seriously after every shower, Samuel would ask me if my hair had grown.
- You can meet some of your best friends during chemotherapy
- Cancer changes a person and changes the types of relationships you have with others
- Believe in God Moments- God speaks to us, we just need to listen. He was preparing me for my journey before I even found my lump.
- Things like this happen for a reason. My reasons:
- Spread awareness
- Inform others on the power of Mindset, Gratitude, we have to appreciate all the little things and the importance of believing in God
May 27th marked my last day of chemotherapy. I was so happy, but sad. I cried. I was fortunate to celebrate my “last day” while a couple of my friends will continue to show up week after week until their body no longer responds to chemo. That’s why I am here today. Early detection is everything. Listen to your body and for goodness sake, DON’T FORGET TO DO YOUR MONTHLY SELF BREAST EXAM!
My life continues to be a journey and it’s a journey I intend to live it to the fullest. I will take the time off, I will give all the snuggles, I will read all the books and play all the games, I will slow down, I will spend time with friends and family, I will continue to spread awareness and hope.
I will be forever grateful.
Thank you to my family, my friends, my nurses and surgeons, my radiologist and sonographers, my pathologists, oncologist and technicians. Thank you, B the Light for the HOPE Getaway (Rainbow Mountain coming soon!) Thank you, New Ulm Cross Fit for the great workout in my honor. Thank you, EVERYONE for the meals and donations, the thoughts, the prayers and well wishes.
Lastly, for our friends and family that continue their battle with cancer. Let us pray,