I was diagnosed in January 2018, at age 39, happily married with a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. I was in the middle of my 19th year of teaching middle school math. My diagnosis was Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma/Stage 2, ER+/PR+/HER2-.
Family history: An aunt of mine had breast cancer when she was younger, though my genetic testing showed mine was not hereditary.
How did you find out? I noticed a lump in my left breast while showering. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I already had a follow-up appointment for a different reason in a week so I figured I would just bring it up with my doctor then. My doctor took the situation seriously and scheduled me for the soonest mammogram she could. This was my first mammogram.
What was your treatment plan? Bi-Lateral Mastectomy with DIEP Flap Reconstruction, a total of 6 surgeries. Tamoxifen daily for 10 years along with monthly Zoladex injections for 5 years.
What was the most difficult part for you? My biggest challenge wasn’t physical, it was mental. Knowing that I was going through something that was going to affect my children’s daily life was hard. Missing out on things while recovering was difficult. I’m a mom. Moms are always there. My children persevered beautifully with the help of family and friends, and I believe have come out stronger because of their experience.
“Working hard every day to keep a positive attitude paid off tremendously. Life is a gift, we are all going to have obstacles.”
Anything surprise you along the way? What surprised me overall is that attitude really is everything, no matter what the obstacle is. Yes, the test results, treatment and healing of scars is important, but that isn’t what ultimately got me through. Working hard every day to keep a positive attitude paid off tremendously. Life is a gift, we are all going to have obstacles. My husband’s first words to me when diagnosed were not “I’m sorry” or “Why Us?”, they were, “We Got This!”. That got me through, and is now tattooed on my left arm in his handwriting to remind me to keep a positive attitude because no matter what, We Got This!
Who were your biggest supporters? If I started to list my army of family and friends who were supporters, it would fill this whole magazine. I could never repay any of them for the level of support and motivation they gave me. At the top of my list would be my amazing husband. He was by my side the entire time, never let me be alone recovering or at appointments. The model of unwavering love and support my children witnessed with him is something I know they learned a lot from. Cue the music, “He’s one of the good ones”.
What doctors can you recommend to others? My primary care physician, Catherine Heilig CRNP, Calvert Internal Medicine, Prince Frederick; Dr. Nagi Khouri, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore; Dr. David Euhus, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore; Dr. Justin Sacks, formerly Johns Hopkins, currently Washington University in St. Louis; Samantha Stifler, PA-C, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore; and Dr. Antonio Wolff, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore.
One tip or piece of advice for others? Listen to your body, always. It will tell you when to slow down, when to listen and when to stop. Then trust your doctor, they are the ones with the knowledge and continued research, not Google. Ultimately, nothing is more important than your health. When you have your health, you have everything. And love your people, love them hard because you never know what tomorrow will bring.