How could anyone anticipate that at age 43, I, a newlywed, a far too-young grandmother, manager, and student—with one class remaining towards my Master’s degree—would experience life changing-events that would alter not only my lifestyle, but my entire outlook on life itself? For the past few years, I had followed all suggestions for routine screening for breast cancer. I had consistently scheduled routine exams around my birthday so that these oh so important appointments wouldn’t get lost in the busy shuffle of life. However, 2013 was much different. I scheduled my mammogram at the end of the year only to avoid insurance issues of possibly paying for multiple exams in one year. The exam itself revealed a small mass, but nothing too concerning.
My OB/GYN doctor, who told me that breast cancer is unpredictable, referred me to a general surgeon. He, instead, would bypass the biopsy process and take me directly to surgery to remove the mass. I had asked to postpone this minor surgery by several weeks; however, he convinced me that it wouldn’t be a wise idea. Within two weeks, I was scheduled for surgery, which resulted in the removal of two masses rather than one. One of the masses was definitely identified as cancerous. Because of the size of the tumors as well as the location, early detection worked in my favor and radiation was the recommended treatment program. After meeting with oncologist an several weeks later I was advised that the original treatment recommendation would not address my cancer. I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which only responds to chemotherapy. I sought a second opinion at MD Anderson and met with Dr. Catherine Akay who focuses solely on breast cancer. Additionally, she suggested that I undergo BRCA 1 & 2 testing because of the diagnosis, my age, and the fact that there was no family history of cancer.
Throughout the initial process I received support from family, friends, and even my church members. I believed that my strong faith would help me through this ordeal and viewed my diagnosis, treatment, and altered lifestyle as life’s temporary detour. It was a true test of faith when the BRCA test returned positive results. I was now facing a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. After each diagnosis, I prepared myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually only to be taken down another path that was more frightening than the first. My life was an emotional whirlwind. But rather than staying in the negative, I took a proactive approach. I believed that God did not bring me through past ordeals—I had experienced the death of my husband, mother, and both maternal grandparents in a 15-month period—to allow cancer to take over. I was determined to view this as an awakening, my epiphany to start enjoying life to the fullest extent. I realized that I had become so consumed with so many others, their problems, and situations, that I didn’t focus enough on me. Enduring treatment allowed me to contemplate so much and re-prioritize what’s important.
Experiencing six months of chemotherapy under Dr. Sunil Patel, and a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery under Dr. Edward Chang in a ten-month period was a lot. It was definitely my trial of faith and endurance. I was determined to finish what I started. I returned to Rice University, finished my Master’s degree, and I am now spending every moment focusing on the things that bring me joy. I am still facing minor revision surgeries and a hysterectomy, but life is too complicated and too short to not appreciate every moment. Each day is another blessing and an opportunity to live and to let someone know that despite individual circumstances, one can overcome obstacles, achieve wondrous things, and inspire others to keep moving forward.