“I am certain your test results will come back positive for cancer.” Those twelve words are forever etched in my memory. They rocked my world and changed my life forevermore. The moment they hit the airwaves, my world came crashing in, suffocating my every breath. A cloak of darkness enveloped my very being.
I had had a routine mammogram. They wanted second views just to be certain everything was okay. The second views instigated a needle biopsy. The dominos began falling. The doctor who performed the biopsy uttered those unforgettable words before the needle pierced my skin. From that point on, the rest of the year was a speeding blur.
The needle biopsy showed ductal carcinoma. The three breast surgeons with whom I consulted all agreed: The calcium deposits were in too large of an area to consider anything but a mastectomy. After meeting three surgeons, there was no question which one I was going to choose to be a part of my team, Dr. Alison Laidley at Medical City Dallas. She is a brilliant doctor and a compassionate person. It’s a blessing to find both qualities in a surgeon. When I first met her, her expertise radiated from her. Her attention to detail and perfectionism are both top notch. I live in Fort Worth. Going to see her is more than worth the drive. Dr. Laidley has been a guiding light this year. She has helped me navigate the toughest of decisions. Her wisdom and insight helped me to forge a path of healing.
The night before my first mastectomy, I said to my husband, in the protection of his arms lovingly wrapped around me, crying on his chest, “I don’t want to do this.” I inhaled and sighed with all the resolve I could muster, “But you know I will.”
I cannot begin to tell you what I felt that night. I was scared, grabbing onto my breasts, holding on to them as tightly as I could, knowing the left one had to go. I wanted to run away and hide on a warm, beautiful island. When I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the warm, ocean air caressing my skin. Upon opening my eyes, that same air chilled me to my bones. I knew as far as I could run, the stalker, the beast would still be on my heels. I knew I would do whatever it took to get, and stay, cancer-free.
When I entered Medical City Dallas on the day of surgery, all the nurses raved about Dr. Laidley and my plastic surgeon, Dr. Patrick Hodges. They exclaimed, “You have the A Team!” They told me that when the nurses have a medical issue, they all pick Drs. Laidley and Hodges. Their reassurances about my surgical team helped ease some of my incredible anxiety!
After I had a left breast mastectomy, the post-surgical pathology report showed a surprise cancer (invasive lobular carcinoma) which was not seen on any of the pre-surgery imaging. Since the stealth cancer hid through all imaging, we could not be sure that my right breast was clean. When Dr. Laidley recommended a second mastectomy to me, she said, “This is as difficult for me to say, as it is for you to hear.” Yet we could not leave any stone uncovered. In my mind, there was no other choice. I went forth for a second mastectomy.
Radiation was not suggested by my team. Chemo was suggested by some, but not by others. I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it was to make that decision. I sought out five opinions and got five different treatment recommendations. On the Fourth of July, Dr. Laidley went above and beyond. On a holiday, she made the time to call to help me navigate the risk/benefit ratio of my case and sort through the options. I cannot begin to tell you how much Dr. Laidley’s wisdom and strong resolve helped me to make that decision. After our call, I quieted the outside static and let my inner guide lead me. That was one of the scariest cliffs that has ever loomed before me. My sails opened, and now I soar. While chemo is absolutely the right choice for others, for me it was not.
I had six surgeries in seven months: two mastectomies, reconstruction, and several surgeries to get rid of a nasty infection. During the first surgery, I had contracted Pseudomonas. It took a couple surgeries to find the aggressive infection. Once it was discovered, it already had its hold on me and was staking its claim. To evict it from my body, we needed to remove the expander for a few months, and let my body heal. My plastic surgeon, Dr. Patrick Hodges, was put to the test. He did amazing work in several challenging surgeries. It was almost like the cancer had to take a backseat to the infection.
The surgeries successfully removed all the cancer from my body! Not to throw water on the celebration, I know from a blood test in Greece (an integrative health clinic in the metroplex uses a cancer sensitivity test done in Greece), I still have higher than desired cancer stem cells in my blood stream, which are the beasts that cause recurrences. I am actively seeking out those monsters. I am on a Crush, Kill, Destroy Mission!
• I work out 5 – 7 days a week. It is amazing what exercise can do for cancer and recurrence prevention. My risks can drop as much as 40-50% through regular exercise (a mere 250 minutes a week).
• I eat very healthy cancer fighting foods (such as, cruciferous veggies, garlic, turmeric, onions, and berries). I have removed sugars, white flour, white potatoes, rice, pasta, butter, pork products, shell fish, and processed foods from my diet. The key is to keep my blood sugar stable (i.e. insulin levels), inflammation down, and limit the toxins in my food.
• I take 20 mg of Tamoxifen once a day. Both of the cancers were Estrogen and Progesterone receptor positive (fed off of hormones). Tamoxifen stops hormone production (throws me into menopause) and starves the remaining cancer cells.
• I have also made a time and financial commitment to get Vitamin C and Aloe IVs twice a week for three months. I take many supplements daily as well. All of which have been tested against my blood and have had high results in acting as chemo agents (killing cancer cells without the nasty side effects). A doctor at the integrative health clinic develops my protocols and monitors my progress in this area of treatment.
• I am reducing my daily stresses through meditation and a gratitude focus.
Two years after those infamous words, I am a different person. My strength was tested more than conceivable. The journey has been tumultuous, opaque, and surprisingly uplifting. I have grown more than I thought possible, made decisions I never thought I’d have to make, combined mainstream medicine and alternative healing practices for a comprehensive treatment plan, learned enough for a doctorate in health care, became my own team advocate, and changed my lifestyle to promote whole body health and healing.
The challenges that laid before me were insurmountable, yet I prevailed. I climbed, clawed, and burrowed over, around, and through them. While I am still in battle, I stand on the other side of the largest mountain range, a stronger, wiser, happier, and healthier person!
As I look upon that moment, it is like looking through a telescope backwards. So much has happened between Then and Now. The hourglass was stretched beyond its physical dimensions. The enormous milestone somehow looks smaller in the rear view mirror, yet that line drawn in the sand forever changed me. While getting diagnosed is the scariest thing you’ll ever go through, it is a gift. You’re given the opportunity to fight, triumph, and flourish! The words, which felt like daggers cutting through my very core, were actually angels flying in to save my life!
I cannot believe all the positive life changes that have come from having had a dreaded disease. At diagnosis, I was 45 years old; and I thought I had my life’s work figured out. Now, I realize that’s not the case. I am writing a book about my journey, and I obtained a Health Coach Certification. Preventing any ailment is far easier than curing it. I am meant to share all I’ve learned to educate and empower others to make healthy life choices, so they can both prevent disease or triumph and flourish in spite of it. If I can help someone avoid this journey or hold her hand while she walks it, my expedition was worthwhile.