Please share your story: : It was a Saturday in May of 2014. I was laying on my couch watching tv when my little pup climbed up on my chest. Where he stepped on me hurt, like someone pressing deep on a bruise. I touched the area and instinctively pushed around. Then I placed my hand on my other breast. All I can say is they felt different. Because I was only 33 years old, I talked myself out of it meaning anything. Until I noticed it was uncomfortable to sleep on my belly. I looked up how to properly do a self breast exam, and did one. And felt the same lump on my right side. Standing there in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, I called my gynecologist. I had to wait 4 days to get in. I researched like crazy and found so many encouraging things. Things like 80% of lumps aren't cancerous. Cancer doesn't cause pain. Risk factors of obesity, drinking and smoking...none of those applied to me. Check, check, check. It must be a cyst. I saw the PA at my gynecologists office, and she said she wanted me to get an ultrasound, and then a mammogram if they felt it was necessary. 2 more days of waiting. As I laid there on the ultrasound table, I knew that I had cancer. She was taking way too long. And were those tears in her eyes? She knows. I know. I have CANCER. I had the mammogram, and got called in to the radiologist. He told me I needed a biopsy. That is all I remember. I called the surgeon who operated on my mother, and the fastest appointment they would give me was the following week. More waiting. Until my gynecologist called the next morning and asked when I got scheduled for a biopsy, I told her, and she then said words I will never forget. She said "the radiologist called and he's very concerned, and I am very concerned. I want you to have the biopsy today". I knew it...I knew it in my head but now I knew it in my heart. I had cancer. How could I possibly have cancer? My surgeon excused my mother and boyfriend from the room when doing the biopsy. It was just him and me. I asked him point blank if he thought it was cancer. I was ready for the crappy response of "let's wait and see". But he didn't say that. He touched my arm gently and said "yes, I do. But I am going to take care of you". When my cancer was confirmed days later, I was ready for the news. Ready to fight like hell. But I cared most about 1 thing. I hadn't had the chance to have kids yet. In 1 month, I had a mastectomy, genetic testing, underwent fertility preservation and started chemo. I was officially diagnosed with stage 2B ER+ Sentinel node positive axillary node negative breast cancer. I was very open about my battle, creating a private Facebook group for people to follow my story and encourage me along the way. It was my own personal army. I blogged weekly, pouring my heart out for anyone who cared to read it. And I kept moving forward. I went back to work when I was cleared to (I'm a pediatric physical therapist). It was then I shocked my team of doctors by asking if I could run in the Chicago Marathon, which would take place in between my 6th and 7th rounds of chemo. I had already signed up to run in honor of a patient of mine who lost his battle with a brain tumor. I knew I may only be able to get across the start line, but I didn't care. I just wanted permission to try. My oncologist said I could do as much as I wanted to do. And that gave me another purpose to fight on for during my treatment. I'm proud to say I finished 14 miles of the marathon that year, making Charity a Row my finish line. Every step out on the street that day made me forget that I was a cancer patient. I may not have crossed the finish line, but I will always think of that race as my best race of all time. I proved to everyone around me, and myself, that cancer may have chosen me but I chose to fight back and refuse to let it own who I am.
I went back and ran the marathon again in 2015, celebrating 1 year cancer free, and crossed that finish line.
I sit here now, just over 2 years cancer free, reflecting on how much life has changed for me since that May weekend back in 2014. Life will never be the same after you've been told you have cancer...but it reminds you that the time you have left is a gift.
How has your story shaped who you are today?: I found a strength, a passion and courage in myself that I never would have known I had, had I not been faced with cancer. Cancer has helped me relate to the children and families whom I work with on a different level now. I am open about my story, my journey, and I think it helps to know that they are working with someone who has "been there too".
What compelled you to share your story?: If I could get one message out, it's that I wish for all women who are faced with this terrible diagnosis to know that they are brave. They are strong. They will continue on, they will fight the beast and they can be the one in control. I took control when I somehow managed to run 14 miles of a marathon in the middle of my chemo treatments. I missed only 1 day of work because of pink eye. Otherwise I got up everyday, and lived my life exactly as I wanted to live it. I decided how I was going to feel that day and what I was going to do. And I wish the same for anyone who is in the same shoes.