For 33 years I have proudly worked as a cardiovascular nurse specialist at Mercy-Iowa Heart Center in Des Moines, Iowa. I am involved with directing and coordinating care for patients with heart attacks, heart failure, valve disorders and rhythm disturbances. I considered myself healthy, physically fit and knowledgeable about health care in general. I was diligent with preventive visits and routine mammograms. I was aware that one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer; however, I never expected to be one of those eight. Many women attest “they just knew something was wrong”, I was the opposite. I just knew my biopsy would be negative. I didn’t fit the profile. I was wrong. On October 15th, 2013, I was informed that I had breast cancer.
I was immediately exposed to a new language: invasive ductal carcinoma, high grade, poorly differentiated, triple negative ---adjuvant chemotherapy, mastectomy vs. lumpectomy and radiation therapy. I was also advised to get genetic testing for BRCA 1 and 2 mutations. It was overwhelming, even with a health care background. I proceeded with dose dense chemotherapy every other week x 8. A repeat MRI showed the tumor had reduced in size from 3 cm to 1.3 cm. Following discussions with my surgeon, oncologist, and radiation oncologist (an amazing team), I had a lumpectomy on March 11th followed by 33 sessions of radiation. I completed treatment June 13th, 2014.
I originally had difficulty using the word “cancer.” I just wanted to put “my big girl pants on” and get through the treatment. I did not want to be the cancer conversation or focus of pity. Lucky for me, I am surrounded by friends, coworkers and family that were patient and allowed me to come to terms in my own way. I am especially grateful for the cancer survivors that seemed to magically appear to share their stories, offer support, or just listen. No one else quite understands what it is like to experience chemo brain, metal mouth, numbness in feet and fingers, deterioration of your nails and to top it off ---loss of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Though the side effects are all tolerable; it was helpful to hear from the survivors. Their stories were invaluable in my recovery.
I am in process of transformation. I know my treatment is not a cure and that I am at risk for recurrence. There will be long term surveillance and follow-up. I have a positive outlook and am confident I will integrate my new learning and experiences and focus on helping others. I vowed as soon as treatment was complete, I would get involved with raising awareness and serving as an advocate.
Two weeks later, I was notified that I was accepted to participate in the Above + Beyond Cancer journey along the Inca Trail in Peru. This is a mission to elevate the lives of those touched by cancer, to create a healthier world. This amazing trek consists of survivors, caregivers and advocates to bring light to cancer, mission and optimal health of body, mind and spirit. Machu Picchu was on my bucket list, and I am humbled to be able to journey with this amazing team.
As part of this mission, we are committed to fundraising for the organization and to sponsor our trip. Any contribution you can make to this cause would be greatly appreciated. I am so incredibly grateful to family, friends, coworkers, caregivers, survivors and advocates. I am so blessed to have you in my life.