I’ve always considered myself a healthy person. Clean eating and regular exercise have been a priority and have allowed me to play competitive beach volleyball. The summer of 2016 was a particularly good season for me and at 47, I managed several second-place tournament finishes. In the last outdoor doubles tournament of the season, I finally won a tournament. I felt on top of the world.
I went for my screening mammogram the following morning and as usual waited for my results. Because I had dense breast tissue, I was offered an ultrasound which revealed a mass in my right breast as well as two enlarged lymph nodes prompting an immediate biopsy. The radiologist called me the next day to tell me I had lobular cancer in both my breast and lymph node. This was the most devastating day of my life.
I elected a bilateral mastectomy to avoid future “false negative” mammograms. Surgery was uneventful but my pathology report revealed 5 sites of cancer in my right breast, 2 in my left breast and 27 of 29 lymph nodes positive for lobular breast cancer. Follow up CT scans showed some concerning lesions in my pelvis but a follow up PET scan was completely normal and I was assured the cancer had not progressed beyond the lymph nodes. I underwent 20 weeks of chemotherapy followed by 7 weeks of radiation.
Throughout my treatment I tried to live as normal a life as possible. I continued to work full time and got back on the volleyball court. I wanted to put cancer behind me. What I didn’t expect was the incredible anxiety that struck me after I finished treatment. I had stage IIIC breast cancer and besides taking a hormone blocking pill I didn’t feel like I was doing anything to prevent the cancer from recurring. This anxiety started interfering with my ability to work or enjoy time with my family. It was at this time that I became acquainted with the BCCR. I signed up for the Coalition’s free Mindfulness & Meditation classes for breast and GYN cancer survivors. The class introduced me to women with similar experiences and taught me meditation skills to help me deal with these difficult feelings.
I went on to explore other services the Coalition offered and soon found myself part of an incredible support system that if not life saving has certainly been quality of life saving. I tried other integrative therapies to help with my anxiety and the side effects of treatment, including yoga, acupuncture and massage therapy.
I began to feel like myself again and returned to competitive volleyball, enjoying time with my husband, 3 beautiful daughters and friends, and had renewed satisfaction in my job as a physician.
In October 2018, after playing in a volleyball tournament, I noticed numbness down the back of my right leg. An MRI of the pelvis revealed my sacrum had been almost completely replaced by cancer that was pressing on a nerve. The MRI also showed multiple cancerous lesions in my pelvis, lower spine and hip. It was clear that the original areas seen on the CT scan 2 years prior had been small cancer lesions. Follow up scans showed cancer in other bones, but fortunately the rest of my body was cancer free.
Even with a new regimen of oral chemotherapy and a new hormonal therapy, the cancer progressed in June 2019 to involve more bones as well as lymph nodes in my neck. I have started a different oral chemotherapy and am monitored with frequent scans. I am living with stage IV cancer. I know that I cannot be cured, but I hope to live a long life and die with cancer, not from cancer. I continue to care for patients, play volleyball, cycle, hike and remain as active as I can.
One of the most important things I learned from the Coalition’s Mindfulness & Meditation class was to live in the moment and focus on today because it’s all any of us really have. At one of the annual Coalition’s Advanced Breast Cancer Seminars, a speaker shared a Confucius quote stating “We all have two lives. And the second begins when we realize we only have one.” Thanks to the Coalition, my oncologist and my amazing friends and family, I am LIVING that second life and enjoying every day.