by Debbie Mobley
In the Spring, I was really enjoying life. I was 28 years old, married to a great man for 3 years, living in our first home, and looking better than ever. I was just about in my third trimester and was having a very easy pregnancy. I just loved being pregnant. But my wonderful world was about to be turned upside down with a breast cancer diagnosis, something I never thought would happen to me.
I was lying on my side in bed one night and felt this pain in my right breast. The next morning during my shower, I did a self-exam. I felt this huge lump that just seemed to pop up overnight -- I had never noticed it before. I thought it was just a clogged milk duct, so I brushed it off. I decided if it was still there in another week, I would call my OBGYN to see if I should come in. A week came and went, and about two weeks later I called my OBGYN's nurse.
She said that what I was experiencing was not normal and to come in ASAP. Well, that scared me to death, but I still was not thinking "cancer." I knew my great-grandmother had died from it in her 50's, but my grandmother and mom had never had any problems.
At my appointment, I saw another doctor because mine was out delivering a baby. He gave me a physical breast exam and said that he thought it was nothing. But he wanted to be safe, so he sent me across the hall to a breast surgeon to have it checked further. The breast surgeon also thought it was nothing, but she did a FIN (fine needle biopsy) and aspirated some fluid from the lump to have it analyzed. I went back to work teaching second grade and put it out of my mind for a day.
But the next afternoon as I was busy doing after schoolwork in my room with a former student's help, I got a phone call on my cell phone. It was the breast surgeon. She said she had the results of my test and it was breast cancer. I remember that my first thought was that I was going to die and I was going to loose the baby. At 26 weeks pregnant, I just didn't see any way out other than that.
I barely heard the doctor say that she could meet me at her office that evening at 6:30pm. I knew that meant that this was very serious. I agreed to the meeting and immediately called my husband at work. I told him that I had cancer and I just became hysterical. I felt like I couldn't breath. He told me to calm down and drive carefully home and he would get there as soon as he could. I got off the phone with him, went back into my room, and told the student who was helping me that I had to take her home early because I had an urgent appointment. I don't know how I remained calm in that moment.
I got my student helper home and made it to my house without incident. I walked into my baby's nursery and just fell to my knees and cried. I thought "this will never be." I will never know what it is like to be a mom. My life is over and so is my baby's life. It was the worst feeling in the world. I managed to compose myself by the time my husband got home and he found me on the couch watching TV having a snack. He had the look of sheer terror in his eyes, but he remained calm. We had no idea what we were dealing with, so there was no point in fearing the worst just yet. Easier said than done!
At the surgeon's office that night, we were faced with the picture of our future. She said my baby should be fine, but that my tumor was very large and most likely had spread to my lymph nodes. She recommended I have a mastectomy that Friday to remove my right breast. Then I would do chemo while pregnant. I didn't hear much else than that. I felt no comfort in her words and her reassurances that the baby would be fine did not console me. My husband and I left there in complete shock and bewilderment, still not knowing what was going to happen to me.
The next day we met at the surgeon's office with an oncologist and she took us through the steps of chemotherapy. She said that the baby would be fine and suffer no ill effects from the chemo. And she also said that my tumor's size put me at Stage 4 breast cancer. That meant that cancer was going to take my life shortly no matter what they did to me. My baby would be without a mother and my husband would be forced to raise the child on his own. She said the typical survival time for Stage 4 was 18 months. I had to call my boss the next morning and told her that I would not be coming back to work -- ever.
We obviously didn't like what the doctors had to say. All of this was happening too fast. We wanted another opinion from someone who had seen this special kind of case before. Luckily, my father-in-law had some connections with a very reputable hospital and that afternoon a very well respected breast cancer surgeon called me. I told him my story (what I knew of it) and he listened. I don't recall what he said, but I remember that I felt so calm and sure after I talked to him. We were due to see him the next day.
At our visit with the new breast surgeon, I went through the same process of exam. We brought him my slides from the first doctor's diagnosis to be retested. We went home feeling like maybe the diagnosis was wrong and I didn't have cancer after all. But I did get a phone call later that day from my doctor confirming that I did have cancer. So we were back at square one, not knowing the future.
The next day my husband, mother-in-law, and I spent about 8 hours at my new doctor's office. I underwent a mammogram, a sonogram, and had a Core Needle biopsy done on the lump. The staff was so wonderful and supportive. They got everything ready for my first surgery, which was in just a few days. I also saw a high-risk pregnancy doctor who said that I would be fine and there was no reason for me to worry about the pregnancy. Things were looking a little better.
I had a sentinel node biopsy and mediport put in while I was 27 weeks pregnant. I had radioactive fluid shot into my breast the day before so that my key lymph nodes would light up under x-ray and my surgeon would know which few to remove to see if my cancer had spread.
The mediport was a coin-shaped disk that went just under the skin above my left breast. It would be used as a line to get blood, and a place for an IV for chemo. I woke from the surgery worried about the baby because we could not find any fetal heart tones. But after a few tries, my baby came around and we could hear the slowed heart rate (due to my anesthesia). A few shocks to the baby got it moving again. Meanwhile I was busy vomiting because of the anesthesia. I didn't get home until late that evening.
We got a call a couple of days later with the results -- no spreading to the lymph nodes at all! My cancer was contained in my breast. And it was also ER/PR negative, which supposedly was a good thing.
The next step was meeting with an oncologist to map out my plan for chemo. My oncologist wanted to start chemo right away. I would be given 3 cycles of Adriomycin and Cytoxin to try to shrink the tumor and catch any microscopic cells that may have gone elsewhere in my body. Normally someone like me would just have a mastectomy and radiation, but with my young age, my doctor didn't want to take any chances. I would be starting chemo immediately.
I was so busy with all of my appointments that I rarely had time to worry or feel sorry for myself. My new job was fighting this disease and making sure that my baby was delivered healthy and full term. I had so much support from friends, clergy, fellow parishioners, co-workers, and family. I received so many cards and had hot meals brought to me every night. I had people all over the world praying for me. I had a baby shower, went back to school to pack up my room, and continued on with life as best I could.
My first chemo was terrifying. The fear of the unknown is almost unbearable. My husband and 2 close friends were there with me for the entire time (6 hours) to take my mind off of what was happening to me. The chemo lab nurses were wonderful and helped me through one of the hardest days of my life. I was put on Kytril for nausea, so my effects were to be minimal. The worst was that I would be tired all the time and of course, lose all of my brunette hair.
After chemo I felt fine. I had to drink 15 glasses of water of day to flush the drugs out of my bladder, so other than going to the bathroom ten times that day, I felt completely normal.
But the next morning it hit me. I felt like a truck had run over my body. I was so tired and queasy. The only thing that helped was to lie down. Eating helped too, so the pregnancy pounds were packed on.
About 17 days after my first treatment, my hair began to fall out in clumps. It was devastating and probably the worst part of the entire process because it was sign to the rest of the world that I was sick and I didn't like that. So I went and had my head shaved, bought a wig and some scarves, and tried never to look in the mirror. My husband would massage my head for me every night until the very last stubble of hair finally fell out. I was definitely a cancer patient -- no more denying it.
I went through 2 more cycles of chemo while pregnant (three weeks apart from each other). Just as soon as I was starting to feel good, another cycle was due. But it got easier each time and the meds were really working.
My OBGYN was monitoring me closely and we were coordinating things with my surgeon and oncologist as to when the baby needed to be delivered. I had to be past 35 weeks. We had to time everything perfectly to make sure I was 3 weeks out from my last chemo so my blood counts would be up and I would be in the best shape possible for an induction. We set the date for Monday. I would be 37 weeks pregnant.
After 2 tries with a cervical pill that was supposed to cause contractions and start labor, I was finally admitted on Wednesday, July 19th to be induced. I went in at 7am and by 9am I was on Pitocin and the doctor had broken my water. I was in intense pain and blocked out much of what happened until about 2pm when I finally dilated to 4cm and could have an epidural. At 4:36pm after only pushing for 20 minutes, I gave birth to a little boy. He was 6 pounds 9 ounces, 20 inches long, and in perfect health. I was so relieved that he was ok. Now I could get on with the fight against the beast within me.
Exactly one week after giving birth, I had surgery to remove my right breast. Luckily, the chemo had shrunk the tumor down to 9mm, so I only had to have a lumpectomy. I also had all of the lymph nodes removed from under my right arm. I was in the hospital for 2 days, away from my newborn baby. My surgeon reported that the entire tumor was removed with clear margins, and that more chemo and radiation was ahead of me.
When I got home I was in a lot of pain. I could not hold my baby or move my right arm. I had a drain under my arm that had to be cleared several times a day. I could not breastfeed my son ever. But I was alive and the cancer was gone.
I had chemo a few weeks later. I went through 2 more cycles before I was done in October. I actually looked forward to my last chemo because I knew it would be a relief from the constant crying that my son was doing due to his colic. I slept for the entire 5 hours it took to give me my last chemo, then went out shopping and had a giant piece of cheesecake to celebrate.
Radiation began in late October. I went to the hospital everyday for 6 weeks to be radiated. I was placed in a giant insulated room. Lined up naked on a table, and could not move an inch for the treatment. It was terrifying.
The nurses would run from the room as the door shut and the radiation began. All I heard was the clicking of the machine. I felt nothing. A few weeks into it, my right side became very tender and I looked like I had sunburn on my right breast. The itching drove me nuts, but it was so easy compared to chemo. My hair started to come back and by Thanksgiving I had a nice little burr.
At the end of November when radiation was over, I didn't know what to do with myself. I had spent the last 6 months of my life fighting this and being in and out of the hospital and doctors' offices.
It was like I was being let go. I was afraid to live a real life again. After 2 weeks of deep depression, I started my life up again. No longer did I have to fight. I had won. I only had to go back to my doctors every 3 months for checkups and routine tests. In an odd way I missed all the constant attention and procedures. They were comforting to me because I knew something was being done to kill the cancer.
It was hard for me to accept that I did not have cancer anymore. But I slowly got into the routine of being a new mom and enjoying my new healthy body - which looked much better with hair.
Two Years Later
Two years have gone by now and I am still in remission. My son is now 2 and is the light of my life. He is the reason I fought so hard to stay here. I have been married to the same wonderful man for 5 years now and we have been in our new house for a year. I am a cancer free stay-at-home mom and loving every minute of it (yes, even on those "terrible two tantrum days" I get on my knees and thank God for my many blessings).
I go in for check ups every 6 months. There are days that go by when I don't even think about cancer. But the nagging fear is always there - when is it going to come back and take my life?? Hopefully never, but there are no guarantees. I just have to live in the moment and not worry about what will be. I am here now. Everything else is in God's hands. He has shown me that miracles do happen...my son and I are living proof.
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