By Maja Adolfo-Piwek
My story is not like everyone else’s. Not because I have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer at 39. Not because I have a child. I am a mother raising a child with severe Autism and it comes with many challenges and hurdles. He depends on me 100 percent.
February 28th, 2018 is when a new chapter of my life began. It was the day my husband and I found out that my breast biopsy results confirmed I had breast cancer. In shock and disbelief, I sat there as if seeing a ghost. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t cry. I did nothing but sit there and look at the doctor, hoping she would tell me that there was some sort of mistake. I looked at my husband and his eyes were red. He was in shock as well.
I didn’t sleep at all. The next day I went straight to church and bawled my eyes out by myself. I sat there for hours, asking why me? What did I do to deserve such an awful disease? I have so much on my plate already. Why, God, why?
My doctor booked me for further testing to see if the cancer had spread before deciding on a treatment plan. As she sat us down, I could see in the corner of my eye that my husband’s legs were shaking as my doctor was about to tell us the results. First she said, “it has not spread”. A sound of relief came out of both of us. Then, “But it has started spreading to your lymph nodes in your armpit from your breast.” My tears started falling and I was so terrified for myself but most of all for my family.
I felt so broken inside and had no clue how I was going to fight this. Scary thoughts came into my mind like, am I going to die? Who’s going to take care of my son when I’m gone? He needs me.
On March 22, 2018, I had a single mastectomy with lymph nodes removed. It was terrifying to think about losing a part of my body to cancer. My breast that fed my son when he was born, that gave me my femininity and sexuality. Scary thoughts came back surrounding surgery and whether I would wake up after it.
I had a difficulty taking care of my son during this time and had to reach out to a respite home to take care of my son during the week while I tried to get better. He came home every weekend with my husband’s supervision. This was so hard for me knowing that I wasn’t able to care for him like I usually do. But I know that I had no choice and had to focus on my health in order to be here for my son. My husband was such a trooper and helped me so much.
A few weeks after my surgery we were called in for the results of my pathology report. Scanxiety had kicked in because what else can go wrong at this point?
I received the rest of the terrifying news of my diagnosis. I had Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer with Metaplastic features and had three out of 10 lymph nodes test positive of cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is one of the most aggressive and lethal types of breast cancer and accounts for about 15 % of all breast cancers diagnosed and occurs more frequently in younger women.
At this point, I had no clue how much more scared I could be. What are the chances of me having breast cancer and if that wasn’t enough, what were the chances of me having this aggressive type? Unlike other types of breast cancer, TNBC lacks targeted therapies available for this disease.
Endless cries, endless questions, endless thoughts crept in. The thought of not being here for my son to see him grow up, to take care of him, to make sure he will be okay has been hard emotionally because he depends on me completely.
There was some good news in the pathology report, however. It said I had ‘Clear Margins’ after my single mastectomy, which means all of the cancer was removed.
Almost a month after my surgery, I underwent four months of aggressive chemotherapy where I lost my hair, my femininity. I didn’t look like me anymore, I felt lost and I looked sick, like I got hit by a truck. I also received 16 cycles of radiation therapy a month after my chemotherapy.
Just before my chemotherapy started is when I decided to reach out to Rethink’s Young Women’s Network. It helped me while I went through some really bad days, when I needed people the most because the women in the closed Facebook group understood me and there was no judgment.
Then one day I woke up and saw the light. The light that told me to fight this beast and that cancer was not going to control my destiny. That just because I was given Stage 3 TNBC breast cancer doesn’t mean my life is over. I have a daily blessing in my life—my son—and he is the reason why I fight and don’t give up every day. I refuse to go down without a fight, no matter how difficult or unfair life will be at times, I will never give up.
If I begin to tell you the ways in which breast cancer has affected my life, we’d be here all day. It has not been easy. Hearing those three little words, “You have cancer,” broke me to pieces. I had to reach deep inside my soul to have the strength and courage to face this overwhelming battle at the moment.
This whole experience has taught me so much. It has taught me to be grateful for everything. The air you breath – you are still alive and living! To live in the moment and make every day count. To put my energy on things that make me happy. To love yourself and always remember that self care is so important. To nourish the mind body and soul.
As I sit here thinking about everything that I have gone through so far knowing that I still have a long road ahead of my battle with cancer, I want to use this experience and make something good come out of it. I want to help the breast cancer community and spread awareness, inspire and advocate for this awful disease.
Strength, Courage, Faith, and Hope