I should probably start off by saying that prior to my cancer, I had never performed a self breast exam before. One day while taking a shower, I just decided for the first time that maybe I should check myself out. Needless to say, I found a small lump on my left breast about the six o'clock position. I checked the other side to see if maybe it was just normal anatomy. There was nothing on the right side, so I thought maybe it was just a cyst or a fibroid tumor. I made an appointment the following week with my gynecologist to have it checked out. Deep down I had a feeling it was going to turn out bad. It was just a gut instinct. The gynecologist told me the lump was about the size of a pea and that I had nothing to worry about, I wasn't in the age range, had no risk factors, etc. He referred me to a surgeon anyway just to be on the safe side.
I saw the surgeon a few days later and he told me that it was normal for my age (which was 22 at the time) to be lumpy and it was probably a fibroadenoma (benign). He tried to drain it at his office, but it was solid so he concluded it wasn't a cyst. He scheduled me for an outpatient biopsy 5 days later. I went in for the biopsy on a Wednesday morning and the surgeon said everything looked great and should have nothing to worry about. Later I even requested copies of my biopsy and surgery and the surgeon described my lump as being consistent with fibroadenoma.
Two days later, I went up to Wisconsin to go fishing with my boyfriend and his family for the weekend. I called home to tell my mom that we had made it alright and I could tell by her voice that something was wrong. I kept asking her to tell me, and finally she said, "Katie, I'm so sorry honey. Your tests came back bad." I'll never forget what she said or how I felt at that moment. I started to cry and asked her how long I had to live. I had never had any previous experience in my family with cancer, so I thought that was it, you only had a certain amount of time left.
We left for home immediately since no one felt like fishing anymore. I was scheduled for a lumpectomy with lymph node removal the following Tuesday. I had one lymph node out of fourteen that was positive. That meant chemo. My oncologist prescribed 8 cycles of chemo (4 cycles of adriamycin/cytoxan and 4 cycles of taxol). The first four cycles were the worst. I felt nauseous for at least 3 days after each treatment and it seemed to last longer with each treatment. Taxol wasn't too bad except for the severe leg cramping, but that's what they make Vicodin for. I hated adriamycin so much that they had me take Ativan before each treament to mellow me out. I've never been big on needles and it was a challenge every time I went for a blood test or chemo to find a vein. They still have a hard time finding a suitable one when I go for routine exams.
Radiation was a piece of cake. Six weeks of a sunburn and it was finally over.
The best part of cancer was that my boyfriend stuck by me the whole time. He took me to all of my chemo sessions and stayed with me when I came home and felt sick. He even proposed to me after my fourth cycle of chemo. It was great! We just got married on July 15, 2000.
I know that God didn't give me cancer to make me sick or to kill me. I've come to realize that I was given cancer as a gift. I know that sounds strange, but it's how I feel. I think I have to take what I've gone through and help other women in similar situations because I was so aggravated not having anyone my own age to relate to. I've even considered writing a book, but I don't know where to start. Maybe someday I will get around to it. Right now I've joind the Chemo Angels group. I've volunteered as an angel and have been assigned to a woman in Philadelphia who has breast cancer. She's 43, but we've become great friends. I send her little notes, or email, or small gifts about once a week to let her know someone is thinking of her during this difficult time in her life.
I still feel like I need to do more though. Maybe my book is the answer. My biggest concern right now is not about having the cancer come back. I'm afraid it may be difficult to have children after all of the chemo. I'm also taking tamoxifen for five years. It's been two already, and I can't get pregnant while I'm on it so I have a few years yet until we can try. My best advice for anyone going through cancer of any kind would have to be "keep a positive attitude, no matter what." I truly believe that is what saved me. Attitude is everything. I went to every treatment with a smile on my face and never complained to anyone how sick I felt.
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