As we approach Mother’s Day, we have a special guest post from Coach Heather, sharing her own family’s breast cancer story. This year, her mom will be celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time as a breast cancer survivor, and Coach Heather is sharing their journey together to remind us all the ways breast cancer can affect any one of us. We all think our moms are one in a million, but when they also become 1 in 8, everything changes.
Truly, never did I think that the 1 in 8 would be my mom. There has been zero history of breast cancer in our family. But sure enough, on the afternoon of February 18, 2019, she received the call with me by her side. I didn’t even have to ask…because I already knew. I could tell by the expression on her face. She had breast cancer.
The call came five days after her annual mammogram. In those five days she had two mammograms, an ultrasound, and a biopsy. They weren’t messing around…bam, bam, bam. This was all taking place in the hospital where she spent 37 years of her career and she had her “people” all around her.
Even after the call, we were in shock. Wait, what? Breast cancer? She had had no symptoms, no lumps, nothing that would ever concern her or lead her to believe she was at risk. She immediately started looking to blame this on something that she had done. Maybe she drank too much wine, maybe she consumed too much caffeine. She needed an explanation.
Now, after some of the dust has settled, she is far more educated and realized that regardless of whether there were symptoms or not, she WAS at risk merely because she was aging, and because she was a woman. Sometimes, there is no explanation or logic.
The day after she heard her diagnosis, she left for a scheduled vacation. While I had the opportunity for the news to sink in and the chance to be angry, sad, and feel the roller coaster of emotions, she had to remain calm and cool because she didn’t want to put a damper on the vacation for those she was with. At least until she came home.
One week later we had a 3-hour appointment at the Cancer Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Macomb. We were so nervous, knowing that once this train left the station, it was rolling and there was no going back to life “before cancer.”
So, like we do in most situations, we walked through those doors optimistic, joking, and ready to tackle whatever came next. We met a wonderful surgeon who really laid it all out there. My mom had invasive ductile carcinoma, Stage 1, with a tumor smaller than a pea. A lumpectomy was discussed and the treatment plan that the surgeon, oncologist, and radiation oncologist laid out was far better than we originally thought. The surgeon said “We caught this early. You are not going to die from breast cancer!”
Cue the BIG sigh of relief! But Mom still had so much ahead of her.
The next week we walked back into Henry Ford for what Mom kept calling “three procedures.” We arrived at 8:30am for her 12:30pm lumpectomy. Prior to the actual lumpectomy, she had wires inserted to act as a roadmap for the surgeon, took a quick trip to nuclear medicine where she had dye injected into her nipple to further direct the surgeon to the location of the tumor, and then finally went into surgery. It went as well as it could go, and we were on our way back home by 3pm. Mom felt great by 5:00pm, ready to eat Chinese food, and only needed two Aleve per day for the next few days. She was very lucky, and we knew that.
Outside of the breast cancer diagnosis, things have gone as well as they can for someone dealing with this life changing news and journey. About a week after the lumpectomy, Mom’s biopsy results came back with clean margins and no trace in the lymph nodes. Great news! Oncology testing results showed that chemo would not be necessary. So, a month of radiation and then five years of medication would be coming next.
My mom is all about positivity but still knows that her life will never be the same. The days of reading breast cancer books, really “hearing” commercials related to breast cancer, checking labels for soy, and frowning on the red wine she used to love, are the new normal now. She doesn’t want to do anything to contribute to the development of another estrogen-induced tumor.
To say she is and was scared is an understatement. But much good has come of this as well. She is far more concerned about taking care of herself in regards what she consumes, her exercise regimen, and health in general from this point forward. She is also determined to share her story in hopes that her friends will understand the risks, re-evaluate their daily behavior, and (most importantly!) get their annual mammogram. As we always hear, and as Mom has learned, early detection is key.
I am part of a group of 9 women who have been friends since high school and in recent years, as we rapidly approach 50, I often wondered who would be the 1 in 8 to get breast cancer. Knowing the statistic that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, I was prepared that surely it would be at least 1 of us. I just never thought it would be my mom. But breast cancer can affect any and all of us. Now she’s not just one in a million. She’s also 1 in 8, and she is never going to quit.