When COVID came to the United States, I lived and worked in an area with limited medical resources. Because my husband has many medical issues, we were looking to move to a new city with greater access to care. When our daughter moved to Rochester to pursue her career, we decided to follow her because of the outstanding reputation of the hospitals in the university system. Little did I know that this decision would significantly impact my life.
After receiving a biopsy of my left breast in January 2021 concerning imaging findings, I discovered that I had breast cancer. I kept returning to the words on the page “carcinoma in situ.” My heart felt heavy, and I was speechless. While reviewing my result, I received a call from my radiologist, who confirmed the diagnosis. I received another call from my doctor, who made referrals with several different specialists for further testing and management.
My husband was by my side. He immediately started crying and wrapped me in his arms. My daughter was also at our house She comforted me with the words, “We’ll get through this together,” making me feel like I was not alone. When I went to bed that night, so many thoughts went through my mind: “Am I going to die?” “Am I going to need chemo/radiation?” Will I live long enough to see my grandchildren?” I was scared, anxious, and could not sleep. I was able to see my primary care physician before seeing the surgeon. She was the first to refer me to the Breast Cancer Coalition; however, I was so emotional and weepy that I could not grasp the information.
Fortunately, I met with my surgical oncologist a few weeks later. She was able to answer all of my questions. My doctor explained that I required surgery to treat my cancer, but overall, my prognosis was great. As an additional step in my workup, I had an MRI-guided biopsy of both breasts, which further revealed cancer Stage 0 in my left breast. Also, the lesion in my right breast was ultimately determined to be Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Stage 1a, ER+, PR+, HER2-. I elected for a bilateral mastectomy with latissimus dorsi reconstruction on March 18, 2021. I had complications that required three blood transfusions, and my stay in the hospital lasted 4 days longer than anticipated. I also had an infection on my breasts which resolved after completing a course of antibiotics. My surgery was successful with no evidence of residual disease. The margins were cleared. Encouraged by the results of the surgery, my doctors gave me the good news that I would not need chemo or radiation but recommended an aromatase inhibitor for five years. I felt relieved hearing this and over the next few days, I made significant progress.
My cancer diagnosis made me appreciate life even more and encouraged me to fully participate in my hobbies like Zumba and swimming. I tried to eat healthier. Before I knew it, I had eclipsed the one-year mark since my diagnosis. I rewarded myself and bought a Townie Bike I had been wanting. On one ride, my GPS got me lost. I had to pull into a parking lot and re-enter the address. At that moment, I lifted my head and saw The Breast Cancer Coalition sign. I recalled how scared and anxious I was when I was newly diagnosed. Now, I saw a beacon of hope. I ran inside and introduced myself. I met with Ali. Although we were wearing masks, Ali’s eyes showed so much compassion as I spoke with her. A few days later, my husband and I saw Holly who listened attentively as we shared the journey with battling cancer. I received a PALS tote which made me tear up as I saw the beautiful things inside.
I joined The Breast Cancer Coalition, which enriched my life. I started participating in support groups, Tai Chi, Voices & Vision workshop, and Surviving & Thriving on Aromatase Inhibitors class. I even attended the Ibero- National Cancer Survivors Day event in Rochester with Tina and represented the Coalition. I have met many women from all different backgrounds who have suffered from cancer. We have talked about our hopes, joys, and fears. We motivate and encourage each other constantly. It is because of The Breast Cancer Coalition that I feel a sense of community and do not feel that I am on this journey alone.
I enjoy riding my Townie bike and strive to ride it 15-20 miles a day. I know now that the GPS didn’t get me lost. God directed the GPS to get me to the place I needed to be.