HEARING the word “cancer” is scary. I never would have imagined, not even once, that I would get cancer. But it happened.
I tested positive for breast cancer in 2010. Fortunately, my doctors detected it “relatively early.” Now in my seventh year in remission, I feel lucky and thankful that I was able to beat cancer. I consider this to be one of my life’s greatest victories. I am more than halfway through my 10-year “cancer watch.” My journey to recovery has been anything but easy. No matter how tough it gets, I made a vow to continue to fight.
This is my story.
In 2009, during a routine wellness medical check-up, the doctor noticed a lump in my left breast. Concerned, she advised me to have it checked out by specialists. However, before I could schedule an appointment with the right specialists, I found out that I was pregnant.
My gynecologist assuaged my fear with an explanation that lumps in breasts are quite common during pregnancy and are usually harmless. She recommended, however, that the lump to be examined by specialists as a precaution after I would have delivered my baby.
Believing everything was fine, I simply ignored the lump in my left breast throughout my pregnancy. After giving birth, I spent most of my time in routine activities, like caring for my baby and doing my housekeeping tasks. I simply forgot all about the lump and the doctors’ advice to have it checked out by specialists. Since I didn’t feel any pain in the area where the lump was, forgetting about it proved to be quite easy.
A year and two months after giving birth to my baby, I still had left the lump in my breast unchecked until one day when my child accidentally kicked my left breast at the exact location of the lump. Almost immediately, I felt this numbness emanating from my left shoulder and creeping all the way down to my fingertips. Realizing that the radiating numbness was not normal, my husband and I promptly made an appointment with an urgent care facility to determine if there was anything serious going on in my body.
Having examined me and done some tests, the doctor at the medical facility advised me to go through an ultrasound scan as soon as possible.
That night, we set up an appointment for the ultrasound test the following day. The test took an hour. Thereafter, a nurse told me to wait and that a doctor was coming to talk to me.
Waiting for the doctor felt like an eternity. I was very anxious to find out what was going on. Could there be something wrong with me? When the doctor finally came inside the room, she stood right next to me, saying, “Melody, how am I going to say this to you? Does anyone in your family have or had cancer?”
“No, doctor,” I replied.
“The thing that you have in there looks like cancer. But I am not sure yet. We need to do some more tests to make sure.”
I left the room in total disbelief. I decided not to tell my husband yet about the strong possibility that I might be suffering from cancer. I only told him that more tests were being requested by the doctor. From that day onward, I went through a series of tests prescribed by the doctor — MRIs, biopsies, blood tests. A lot of those tests were uncomfortable and quite painful, but I knew they had to be done. My painful and difficult journey had begun.
The afternoon of December 8, 2010, will forever be etched in my memory. My future became more uncertain than ever before because, on this unforgettable day, I received the test results. Since my husband was at work, it was just I and my baby at home. The final verdict: BREAST CANCER.
Upon getting this horrible news, I was initially in denial and had mixed emotions. I started thinking that this might be the end of the road for the relatively young 34-year-old “me.” What’s going to happen to my kids and my husband? I felt so terrified and worried about my family.
How was I going to tell my husband about my cancer diagnosis? Finding a way to gently break the news to him, believe it or not, was the hardest part for me. I broke down in tears while looking at my baby in her crib. After gaining enough composure, I called my husband and informed him that we needed to talk about “something” at home. I told him not to worry. But while waiting for him to get home, all I could think about was the family that I was not ready to leave behind yet.
At home, I told my husband about the heart-breaking news. We both broke down and cried, holding each other as if trying to draw strength. In cold silence, our two agonized hearts screamed.
After the initial shock, we vowed to move forward and seek all the necessary treatments available. We did numerous consultations with different specialty doctors and medical professionals — oncologists, surgeons, therapists. During one of those visits, my oncologist recommended a mastectomy, which would completely remove my left breast. Based on test results, cancer had penetrated numerous areas of my breast tissue. A simple lumpectomy, which involves removing only the tumor instead of the whole breast, had a low probability of success in removing all the cancer cells. My surgeons echoed the same recommendation. I agreed.
On February 17, 2011, I went under the knife which completely removed my left breast. That done, the surgeons put an expander in its place for implanting an artificial breast on a later date. The surgery lasted about three and a half hours.
A week after the surgery, my oncologist informed me that the cancer I had was a stage 2, grade 2. But with the removal of the cancerous tumor, she revealed the best possible news a cancer patient could ever hear: I WAS CANCER-FREE! My husband and I heaved a sigh of relief. We did it!
We stopped cancer right on its tracks! Our hope for the future was starting to turn bright again. Recommended follow-up treatment after my surgery was chemotherapy only; no radiation therapy. That sounded like a surprise bonus to my ears.
I went through a total of 16 chemotherapy sessions. In between those sessions, I had daily injections of cancer-preventive medications. During this period, I had to endure all sorts of chemotherapy side effects ranging from nausea to excruciating bone pain. To say that these side effects were tough to handle would be an understatement. Some other medical issues resulting from chemotherapy manifested themselves down the road and required surgical procedures. Thankfully, I survived all of them as well.
Today, the only visible indication that I had cancer treatment is my continuing battle with hair loss. Losing my hair is no big deal even if I do miss my pre-cancer hair. What’s important is surviving and being there for my family. Frankly, I’m too busy making the most out of my second lease on life to worry about having a full hairdo.
My battle with cancer is not completely over. There still looms the possibility of recurrence. I keep in touch with my oncologist to monitor the progress of my post-chemo treatments, which include more rounds of injections, blood tests, and maintenance pills. As with chemotherapy, these post-chemo treatments carry with them excruciating side effects.
Some days are better than other days but I stand firm in my faith in God for the strength I need to continue fighting. Today, I am very grateful for the love and support of my beloved family. My husband and my kids are the reasons why I fought hard and will continue to fight until my battle against cancer is won.
Please allow me to reach out to every one of you who are afflicted with cancer. Please know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence anymore. It is survivable with effective treatments if detected early enough. Don’t allow cancer to beat you.