Cancer StoryNearly three years ago, as I was getting ready for a long day of teaching and then night school, my hand grazed the side of my breast and felt a lump. My heart started racing and I sank to floor. Tears began to stream down my cheeks. Quickly, I felt both breasts all over hoping that I was imagining it. When I realized I wasn’t imagining it, I checked to see if there were any others. I couldn’t feel any other lumps, but it didn’t make the one I felt any less scary. Moments after, I called Jim at work, and in tears, told him that I had found a lump in my breast. Being the stoic man that he is, he asked some very investigative questions and then did his best to reassure me that I was going to be fine. When 8:00am rolled around, I called to get the first appointment available, which was the following Monday (seriously!? That was the first appointment!?). It was hard to continue my normal life for the next five days. I told no one else for fear of unnecessarily scaring them and breaking down like a blubbering idiot.  

At my appointment, my gynecologist said, “It’s probably not cancer. You’re too young for cancer. It’s  likely a fibroadenoma, which is no big deal.” She calmed my fears, but she suggested that I get an ultrasound and a mammogram, just in case. I left feeling like it was going to be fine. I was too young for cancer, I was only 31. My fear-o-meter was now on low.

Again, the first available appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound was a week later (again, seriously?!?). After the ultrasound I met with the radiologist. As I walked into her office, I saw a box of tissues on the table and thought “Why do they need tissues in here?” and then, “Oh, right, the tissues are for women that are told they have cancer”. The radiologist said, “It looks like a fibroadenoma, but it has some irregular borders, so we want to perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy, just to confirm.” My fear-o-meter was now on medium.

At the ultrasound-guided biopsy, two and a half weeks later, the radiologist performing the biopsy said, “Let’s get this checked out, because you’re too young to have cancer”.  I left the appointment on that afternoon and just played the waiting game. Waiting was the absolute worst. My fear-o-meter was now on high.

Five days later, when I got the voicemail, I considered listening to it during the school day, but something in my gut told me to wait until after my students left for the day. I listened to the voicemail as soon as the kids left. “Katie, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s cancer.” My heart sunk and an enormous knot grew in my stomach. I called Jim. With a lump in my throat, the only words out of my mouth were, “It’s cancer“. I couldn’t muster a “Hi Honey” or other pleasantries. Jim asked if we should still go out to dinner to celebrate our 13th dating anniversary. Unequivocally, I said yes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to celebrate as if things were happy and normal, but I also didn’t know anything about my cancer. It occurred to me that this could be the last dating anniversary we would get to celebrate, so yes, we’re still going out.

Treatment was hard. A whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, hard decisions to make, uncertainty, and loads of fear. Seven weeks after I found my lump, I began the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. Just as I finished up round one of chemotherapy, I learned that I have the BRCA1 genetic mutation. I inherited it from my father. Out of 50 blood relatives, no one knew that we carried that BRCA1 mutation. Three of my aunts had been affected by breast cancer, one tested negative for the mutation and the other two passed away before genetic testing could be done. I was the youngest grandchild and I was the first to find out that I had carried the genetic mutation (hashtag ironic). Exactly six months after being diagnosed, I went in for a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and a lymph node biopsy. On December 8, I was given a second birthday and pronounced CANCER FREE. It took another eight weeks to recover from surgery and to have my expanders fully expanded. The final phase of treatment, 25 sessions of radiation, began in February and ended on the day before my 32nd birthday.

Fast forward to today, nearly two and a half years in remission and living my normal life. Cancer is lonely and hard and scary. Cancer took away my sense of security in this world. My own mortality was something I understood much too well. I treated my cancer like a reality check. I reevaluated who and what was important in my life. It also reconnected me with friends and family. It strengthened my marriage in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I never realized how strong I was, until I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

My advice for those with Cancer comes from the book Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber. First,  eat a diet that includes lots of plants, high-quality meats, low in sugar, low in refined carbs, and low in poor-quality fats.  Second, support a healthy state of mind through meditation. Thirdly, avoid the fear hamster wheel by attending a support group.


Find out more about Katie HERE