From victim to victor.
It began when I was pregnant with my third son. It was a very challenging pregnancy and looking back, I wish I could have done things differently. When he was born, I remember feeling a lot different than my other two pregnancies and even after they were both born. It felt like my world was caving in and I couldn't comprehend what I was feeling.
When I was on maternity leave, every day felt so heavy and it was a struggle just to get up. I didn't tell anyone, not even my husband, because I didn't want to look weak or ungrateful to be staying home to care for my son. My son felt like a burden to me and I couldn't explain why. So I just kept everything to myself because I was supposed to be happy and blissful, just like the way I felt with my first two boys.
I felt guilty because I should have been joyful about having a healthy baby so easily even though he wasn't planned. What I didn't realize then was I suffered from post partum depression that was diagnosed a year later. I was also diagnosed later with generalized anxiety that I kept to myself before finally asking for help.
My physician referred me to a therapist. I had one session and was glad I was able to finally tell someone my deepest, darkest, feelings. Then, it came to a halt one cold February evening of 2019 while I was in the shower.
It began like all the other nights before. I remember feeling a hard moving "marble" under my right breast. I thought, it's probably nothing. I have an appointment with the doctor in March, so I can have her check then. Although I kept telling myself it was nothing, I kept wondering, what if it is something?
I've had a lump before that turned out to be benign. Also, my mammogram 4 months ago indicated that everything looked clear. So this time shouldn't be different.
Two months rolled by and I finally got to see my PCP. She asked how long I felt the lump and I said just 2 months. She wasn't sure what it was either, probably just a cyst, but wanted me to go to radiology anyway.
Okay, I thought, that wasn't exactly reassuring, but at least she didn't seem too concerned. Maybe it's nothing. As soon as I could, I booked an appointment to get an ultrasound at the breast center. By this point, I was getting flashbacks of my experience last time when my lump on the other breast turned out to be a fibroadenoma (a benign breast lump).
I was scaring myself with all sorts of scenarios. What if it's the big C? What am I going to do? How am I going to take care of my kids? Maybe I'm worrying over nothing. I've always been a worry wart, so nothing I did to calm myself worked.
In a few weeks, I was in radiology, getting ultrasounds of my breasts. This felt familiar, so I wasn't too worried. I've had tons of ultrasounds before, so this is just another thing that I have to get through. When the procedure was over, the doctor said she'd look at the scans and let me know what she saw.
Minutes ticked by and it seemed like she was taking forever. When she got back, she said the image didn't look very clear, so I'd need a biopsy. I started getting worried. Okay, I've had biopsies too, so I shouldn't panic.
I scheduled the biopsy and everything went okay, just a little pain toward the end. The doctor said I should get the results in a week. Of course, it was the longest week of my life. A nurse called me right around that time frame and asked me to schedule an appointment, which I did.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was supposed to go into work later that day, so I was able to squeeze in an appointment that Monday morning. On my way to the nurse's office, I had this feeling like it was going to be bad news. I tried to shake it, but something told me it was not going to be good.
When the nurse finally called me in, she asked how I was doing. I said fine. As soon as I finished, she said that the biopsy was positive, I had breast cancer. Even though I had a sort of premonition in my car on the way over, it felt like someone took the wind right out of me. Right away I thought about my kids and started sobbing uncontrollably in my chair.
She handed me a tissue and said the good news was, it was caught early and was the most common kind, like it was supposed to make me feel better. It was cancer, the one thing no one ever wants to hear that they have. As she spoke to me about what to expect, I couldn't really listen to her.
My mind kept thinking about my children, my husband, and how I was going to continue to work and support my family. When I left the office, I called my husband right away to tell him the news. He took the rest of the day off. I called my boss and told him I couldn't come in and he said not to worry.
When I was back at home, I told my mother in law the news and we both cried in my kitchen. I was so glad she was there to comfort me. I couldn't believe it, I was a statistic. No one in my family ever got cancer, except one of my uncles. I was so tired that I only called my siblings that day and left the rest to my husband to break the news to everyone else.
From that point until the next year, my life was all about appointments, blood tests, scans, fears, and uncertainty. I won't get into the details of my treatment plan, but I will outline the main parts.
I got a mastectomy in June, 4 rounds of chemotherapy from October 2019 to January 2020, and breast reconstruction on the right side on July 2020. Thankfully, the doctors agreed that radiation was not recommended. Now I am on tamoxifen and will continue this for 5 years along with periodic checkups.
Thankfully, I found a couple of professional therapists who specialized in cancer patients, by the time I was diagnosed and going through treatments. They suppported me, helped me to express myself, and sort through all my issues. One even told me cancer was linked to resentment, which I held so long inside.
Some people said getting cancer was a gift. During the treatments, I couldn't fathom how anything this difficult could be seen as a good thing. It wasn't until months later, that I could see the silver lining.
When I asked my doctor what caused the cancer, he said nothing, you just get it. Even after all the treatments, none of it is 100% certain. Everything that I took for granted in the past, like my health and looking forward to living to 90, were no longer a guarantee. Although my doctor said that nothing caused the cancer, I knew in my gut that it didn't just appear out of nowhere for no reason.
One of the many tests I had was the one for the BRCA gene and about 67 other genetic tests for cancer. I tested negative for all of them and knew in my heart that genes were not a factor. I believe that it was a mental, physical, and spiritual misalignment that caused it.
All of the unresolved trauma that I had experienced finally surfaced and took the form of a tumor. I ignored the flashing red lights my body signaled at me as I steered the course of my life. My wrong perceptions, limiting beliefs, putting myself last, taking care of others, working, stress, tiredness, lack of self-worth, negative thinking, ruminating thoughts, unwillingness to ask for help, depression, anxiety, mom guilt, martydom, and wanting to disappear from it all.
As strange as it may sound, maybe the cancer was there to save me from myself. The very real threat to my existence was what I needed to apply the brakes and finally give myself permission to meet my own needs. Now I was allowed to take care of myself without any guilt. Perhaps it was a gift of a second chance; to love, learn from, and enjoy each precious moment of life. At least I chose to see it that way.
This is what led me to the path that I am taking today. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do know what it's like to be too busy to care for myself and go through life on autopilot and I don't ever want to go back. With a lot of reading, trying out, testing, and experimenting, I was able to find more meaning, joy, and bliss in my life. Now I am sharing the gift I learned from my journey with you.