A year ago, I was living my dream. Married to a wonderful man, Danny, and with two young children to raise, Karl, 7, and Marcus, 4, I had given up a career in accounting to be a stay-at-home mom. At age 34, I was enjoying life, helping my children with their homework and going to their soccer and baseball games. I wasn’t expecting to have to face a life-threatening illness. But when I felt a lump in my left breast, I knew instinctively that something was wrong.
Although there’s no history of breast cancer in my immediate family, I have always had fibrocystic breasts and was diligent about performing regular breast self-exams. This time the lump felt different and it hurt. Because of my age and picture-perfect good health, my gynecologist initially dismissed my concern, saying that he didn’t think the lump was anything to worry about and that he would check it again in a year. But as another 4 weeks passed and the pain in my breast persisted, I decided to take control and insisted that I have a mammogram.
Ready to Fight
Having accompanied my mother to her mammogram screenings, I knew that when the radiologist came into the exam room after looking over my test results, the news wasn’t going to be good. He said that I had a 5-cm mass in my left breast and that he was sure it was cancer. A subsequent biopsy confirmed that I had stage III, grade 3, HER2-positive infilitrating ductal carcinoma. After allowing myself to feel all the emotions brought on by this diagnosis, I was ready to fight the cancer head on.
I was given four rounds of a cocktail of doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, plus 12 courses of a combination of trastuzumab (Herceptin) and paclitaxel to shrink my tumor, and then I had a lumpectomy. Unfortunately, the pathology report showed cancer cells present around the tissue margins, so I decided to have a mastectomy and a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, plus 33 doses of adjuvant radiation to get rid of any errant malignant cells.
Before going through with the treatment, I let myself grieve over the loss of my breasts, and then I decided that with or without hair and with or without breasts, I was still the same person. I still had a life I loved and young children to raise, and I wanted to do whatever was necessary to get back to good health.
Importance of Faith
From the moment of my diagnosis and throughout my treatment, I explained everything that was happening to my children so they wouldn’t be afraid. I told them the medication I had to take to kill the bad cells in my body would make my hair fall out, and even let Karl shave my head to take away the seriousness of the situation.
Although the pathology report from my double mastectomy showed that this time the margins around the tissue were clear, there was rapid cell growth in the blood vessels of the specimen.
Despite this setback, and throughout the whole cancer journey, I’ve never lost faith in God or in my doctors, confident that I am completely healed. I’ve been blessed to have a wonderful family that encourages me, and a terrific team of physicians and nurses who treat me like a member of their family and not just another “chart.” Having that level of personalized care has made a huge difference in how I perceive my cancer and my prospects for the future because I can sense their passion in wanting to keep me well, and I’m grateful.
I know my future holds great things for me, and rather than get stuck in the now, I’m planning this year’s summer vacation and my children’s ongoing school curriculum. I refuse to let the fear of a cancer recurrence take over my life. ■
Sonia Ray lives in Rex, Georgia.