In 1991, at the age 11, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease stage 2A The doctor told us that it had an 85% cure rate and that it would require 36 treatments of radiation.
Through everything my family never treated me any different. I remember my sister telling me if I lost my hair she would polish my head, my mom sitting with me at night while I slept. When I had my spleen removed she encouraged me to get up and walk around so I could get out of the hospital faster. My dad drove me to and from treatments so I could go home and be around my family and friends.
Everything was finished and my life could go back to normal, I would have to go for follow-up appointments but after 5 years I was in remission.
Now let’s fast forward 17 years. It was March 2007 and I was at my yearly appointment. I had mentioned to my oncologist, Dr. Mandel, that I had noticed a lump on my right breast; she referred me to a specialist at the Women’s Breast Health Center. I went to see the specialist, had a biopsy and mammogram done. In August 2007, I found out the news that I had breast cancer. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening….again. Doctors had told me there was a possibility of breast cancer due to the radiation I had previously, but you think that it will happen later on in life not when you’re only 28 years old.
Even though I was devastated and in disbelief I thought “ I’m not going to let this get me down”. I had my lumpectomy in September and I also had some lymph nodes removed. I spoke to a radiation and chemotherapy oncologist to find out about treatment and found out that I would be having 6 treatments of chemotherapy (FEC and taxotere) over 18 weeks. Speaking with the radiation oncologist was different as I found out that I wouldn’t be receiving radiation due to my treatments at age 11, and my only other option was a mastectomy.
At first I couldn’t believe that I would be losing a breast at such a young an age. In April 2008 I had my mastectomy and remember waking up and feeling like I was in a dream. I looked down and saw the wrap, felt my chest and then reality set in and I could feel the tears. My family was there to greet me after my surgery. All the pain and tears disappeared because seeing them made me feel that everything was going to be ok. My doctor and nurses suggested that I stay overnight but I was determined to go home where I would be more comfortable. A few hours later I was released.
While on chemo I also had a spot removed which turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, had a prophylactic mastectomy to my left breast and in January 2011 had my thyroid removed and was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.
During this whole ordeal I never let it get the best of me. I still lived/live my life and enjoyed/enjoy everything. I have travelled to Honduras and Cuba. I did a 12km bike ride for cancer when I was 11. I got a chest tattoo covering my mastectomy scars, posed for a book called Breast Stories, and I go out with friends and dance. Most recently at Relay for Life 2012 I got engaged to my soul mate and love of my life.
Going through cancer 4 times didn’t make me weak or vulnerable, it made me stronger. I realized not to take the small thing in life too seriously, to live every day to the fullest, laugh and love….a lot and never take anything for granted. Looking to the future, I will keep believing that I can do anything. I never let the disease beat me, I beat it…4 times and whatever comes my way I will come at it full force and just keep having a positive attitude.
I did an interview when I was 11 and there was something that I said at the end that still sticks with me today.
“Don’t think of this as a bad thing or giving up, just keep going on with your life.”