Cancer changes everything

My story..

There is a reason for this blog. I always said I wanted to write a cookbook of all the family recipes for my three daughters. I imagined it would be a fun present at a bridal shower or housewarming. To show a more personal side of those who came before them. The memories of our loved ones live on in these little bits of history. I have been putting recipes aside for years and worked on it here or there, because I always felt I had the time to get it done. Then things changed. Cancer happened.

Therefore, I had no time for the book and decided on a blog. I want to get it all down and accessible for my girls … just in case. That is the brutal truth.

It was July of 2017 and I was more physically fit than I had been in 15 years, so I was feeling pretty good. We were planning my daughter’s high school graduation party and getting her ready to go off to college. We were having her party and I had about 30 people in my backyard and it was getting a little buggy out. I felt like I had been bit by a mosquito and I went to swat it away and felt a lump. A very distinct, like someone had stuck a marble in my bra kind of lump! How come I had never felt that before? How could I have missed it? There was no question, this was bad. My feeling was not “Oh no, I have a lump”, it was “Crap, I have cancer!”  I knew immediately what it was and that it was bad. 

I set up a mammogram and told my husband I could go by myself because I was trying to be strong and this appointment wouldn’t tell me a diagnosis, it was just to prove there was something there so we could move on to the biopsy. He needed to save those vacation days. I was all business. Big mistake. 

They did the mammogram twice and couldn’t find anything, yet they could feel it, so they decided to do an ultrasound. She took one look at the screen and just walked out! What the hell?  A man came in and introduced himself as an oncologist. He looked at the screen and turned to me and said “I am sorry, I don’t need a biopsy to tell me this is cancer.” 

And I was by myself. And I had to tell my husband…over the phone, in the car. He lost his mother when she was in her fifties to cancer and I knew this is what he would be thinking about.  Not again. I think that moment may have been the worst.

Even though in my head I knew… to hear those words is mind numbing. You can never be prepared. Things moved very quickly after that. It was recommended that I have a lumpectomy and radiation, but after speaking to my family and my children, it was decided I would go with a full double mastectomy and reconstruction followed by chemo. Best decision I ever made.

So, on the first day of school for my children, I had a double mastectomy/reconstruction, followed by 12 weeks of Taxol and 14 infusions of Herceptin. This process ended at the end of October 2018. After the mastectomy, I was told I had Stage 1 Triple Positive Breast Cancer and that it had not reached the lymph nodes. I am very lucky, they told me based on the rate of growth they saw throughout the process that the lump had been there about two weeks when I found it and it was already big! If I hadn’t found it that soon, It would have been a much more dire situation.

There are so many more stories to tell: the 4 ports because that was a disaster, shaving my head, pretending to feel okay in front of my children, telling my children, losing my job and trying to find a new one in the middle of chemo. Finding a job at the YMCA, who welcomed me and introduced me to the LIVESTRONG program that changed my life,  My husbands cousin who introduced me to my doctors (Dr. Michelle Gadd, Dr. Eric Liao and Dr. Beverlly Moy) at Mass General Hospital Cancer Center who saved my life, My wonderful friends who convinced me to join them in starting a Pan Mass Challenge Kids ride to raise funds for Dana Farber Cancer Institute. My friend Andy and his PMC team who honored me on their ride. Shannon, a Triple Negative Survivor, who I barely knew and who showed up at my door with books, goodies, tips and a shoulder to cry on. That is what it is all about it.  I am a very lucky person, I have a wonderful husband, who stepped up, as I knew he would, and took care of it all. He is truly a blessing. My sister who drove an hour every week at 6:00 am to get my youngest ready for school and on the bus. Jen and Carolyn who drove my middle child to school every day. My oldest who kept me laughing and entertained with her college adventures. I had friends and family who rallied around me and got me through it. Someone once told me “It is the club you never wanted to be in, but you are in it and you are not alone and we can do this, if we support each other!”  Now it is my turn to do the same thing for the people in my life. 

Discovering LIVESTRONG and becoming a mentor, all while working at the front desk at the YMCA has introduced me to so many amazing people. I have found that I am on the front lines and have the opportunity to introduce people to LIVESTRONG at the YMCA and the amazing people that run it. These people have become family. Only those who have been through it can truly understand what you are feeling.

I am a different person, a better person. I know I should say survivor, but I am not so sure about that word. I still deal with it every day, the PTSD, the neuropathy, the Tamoxifen and its side effects and the mild Lymphadema. Honestly, to say I HAD cancer seems weird. I don’t think I will ever feel that it is truly gone. But my motto throughout the whole thing was and still is “Fake it till you make it” and that is what I do for my children, so they don’t have to worry about all this. 

So, this blog is my gift to my children and if no one else ever reads it, that is fine with me. Because I am grateful just to be able to do it.

When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does too…. Terri Clark

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