Your Life Can Be Beautiful After Breast Cancer

January 10, 2024

‘You don’t have cancer. This feels like a cyst. You just turned 30 and you are active, healthy with no family history.’ This is what my doctor told me. But something just didn’t feel right. Although I had no symptoms other than a small lump, I pushed for an ultrasound with tears in my eyes. My doctor was hesitant to send me because it was the beginning and heat of Covid-19. There was so much uncertainty but thank God I pushed, advocated and explained why I needed further confirmation. 

Ultimately, I received the ultrasound and things moved quickly when the lump appeared suspicious. I had a biopsy and was diagnosed on April 23, 2020. I will never forget that day. I went to the appointment alone, again, because of Covid-19 restrictions in the hospital. I had no one to hold my hand or cry on when I heard the words, ’You have triple negative breast cancer. Grade 3.’ The words that flew through the room. Chemo. Surgery. Radiation. Egg preservation. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Me, a 30 a year old who had never been admitted to the hospital once in my life, was active, ate healthy and had no family history of cancer. I mustered the words, ‘How long do I have?’ 

My medical team then said, ‘TNBC responds well to chemotherapy. We are going to do the best we can. You are young, healthy and strong with a whole life ahead of you.’ 

‘Will I lose my hair, will I lose my breast, will I never have children?’ 

‘Yes, chemotherapy does cause hair loss, we will see after your scan if it has spread and do a genetic test to see if you have a cancer gene to determine what type of surgery and if reconstruction is needed. As for children, chemotherapy can impact fertility, but you can preserve your eggs prior to treatment.’ 

Overwhelming is an understatement. After my initial meeting, like I’m sure most newly diagnosed people do scrambling to make sense of it all, I researched all I could find about TNBC. It’s rare, it’s not hormonal, it’s aggressive with lower survival rates. What I also learned was that chemo was literally my only shot. Given the aggressive type of cancer, once my scan revealed the cancer was contained to that one lump, I didn’t want to risk waiting. I did not do egg preservation, as much it hurt me deep in my soul to be potentially letting go of motherhood. I needed to give it my best shot to heal from this awful disease. I did what is called “dose dense chemotherapy,” which is basically just blasting you with higher doses, which made every session recovery that much harder. The physical pain was dreadful and there were many days where I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but the mental pain of feeling so alone in every appointment was agonizing above everything else. I didn’t see my family’s faces for months because of masks, no visitors, no hugs, no shoulder to cry on. Cancer is incredibly hard and isolating as it is, but cancer during Covid-19 was just ruthless. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. 

After feeling like I barely made it to the finish line of chemotherapy mentally and physically, my genetic testing results came back as normal. This was a relief, but it also was puzzling as it confirmed that my lump was just a random cancer. No one knows why this happened to me. I was meant to have surgery to remove the lump that was no longer there after chemo, which meant those grueling side effects after treatment were worth it. I still had surgery to remove the marker that was placed and tissue to check my margins. I also had a few lymph nodes removed to see if any microscopic cancer was left behind. 

With having felt so down throughout this entire experience, it felt like a miracle when I learned that I had a full pathological response — no cancer found, not even a dot. My surgery left me with a small scar on my right breast and you wouldn’t even notice it. All this said, at the end of treatment, poisoning my body, getting cut open and basically burning through radiation, I ultimately felt weak and like I lost my sense of femininity. But I kept reminding myself, and I still do, that I made it out alive. All I could do is continue to live with the sense of gratitude and love for life. And I am so grateful I get to do that. 

As a few months passed by, no more appointments except follow ups, I learned I wouldn’t need additional treatment because of my pathological complete response. I could finally focus on feeling like myself again, creating a new life for myself. I was up and running back at work, back at the gym, moved into my new condo, was dating a man I had love for. Life was starting to feel normal again or as normal as it can after something like this happens to you. In 2021, more than a year after all my treatment, without intention, I got pregnant. It was the spontaneous surprise I wasn’t ready for, but now is the best part of my life. There is a lot more tragedy and deep, hard times I’ve experienced than one blog can explain, but through everything I’ve been through, I’ve always chosen to fight for the life I want. Now, I’ve been blessed with a beautiful, healthy baby girl. My hair is longer than ever after losing it to chemo. I’m in better shape than I was before I was diagnosed. There is so much beauty in my life now because I’ve chosen to live THIS life.  

I will always bear the scars of the mental and physical pain I have carried in my life, and I will always be healing from it all, but I believe life can be beautiful again. And I hope this reflection can help bring hope to others that their life can be beautiful again too. — Helen

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