We will all experience those moments that alter the rest of our lives. We can close our eyes and go right back to the place and the feelings we had when we received the news. For me, it was July 31, 2019. A few weeks prior I had spontaneously found a lump in the center of my left breast. For 3 weeks my brain had been shifting between “It’s probably nothing” to “what if it is something”. I tend to go to the more anxious/worst case scenario more often than I’d like it to…I say it is an occupational hazard after 20 years of working as a social worker. I know all too well what can go wrong. Because of that, I prepared myself for the worst-case scenario. After a physical leading to a mammogram, leading to an ultrasound, leading to a biopsy, I was now waiting for the call to receive the results of the biopsy. The call came, and my heart stopped for a moment. I had my scratch piece of paper with my questions in front of me. My husband was in the room with me.
The only thing I remember about that phone call was the voice on the other end saying, “I am sorry to let you know, but you have cancer.”
How can this be? I was 39 years old with no family history of breast cancer. I was weeks away from sending my son to kindergarten and my daughter to 3rd grade. I was about to return for my 3rd year as a school social worker. Suddenly everything felt dark. What did this mean? Were my kids going to lose their mom at such young ages? Would I be okay? That phone call was the most disorienting moment of my life.
The next several weeks were a series of tests and waiting. I just wanted to know what the plan was and get started with the treatment. Those weeks for me were nearly unbearable. I felt so out of control. I reached out to friends who I knew had been down this road.
As I learned more about my specific kind of breast cancer, ER/PR positive (meaning my cancer feeds on Estrogen and Progesterone), I began to wonder if there was something I could do to help my prognosis, especially in the waiting.
I had very little power over anything in my life at that moment, but I did have power over my plate. That realization gave me something positive to focus on, a glimmer of hope and a sense of power over my prognosis. I knew that I would do whatever it takes to tackle this disease, for me, and for my family.
I met with Jill Erickson, a Food for Life Instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and with encouragement, hope, recipes, empathy, and presence, she so easily helped me transition to a plant-based diet.
One that I continue to this day.
Those moments gave me something other than illness to focus on. A plant-based diet made sense to me because of the type of breast cancer I had. I did not want to put anything else in my body that could potentially feed my cancer. Much to my surprise, as I met with my oncologist, my nutritionist, and other members of my care team, I found that the medical community also supported and encouraged me in this decision.
By the end of August, I had learned the full prognosis of my cancer. I had at least one lymph node involved, and because of that, the genetic type and the size, the recommendation was to complete 16 rounds of chemotherapy before having a double mastectomy. I stood at the beginning of a very long road, but it felt good to have a plan.
I dropped my son off for his first day of kindergarten and then my husband drove me to the hospital to have surgery to put my port in. The emotions of that day were so overwhelming. The next week, I went in for my first chemotherapy infusion. There are moments in a cancer journey that are filled with fear, but you move forward anyways because you have no other choice. That first chemotherapy infusion was scary. I wondered how I would feel, how my body would respond, if it would do what it needed to do: attacking the cancer.
I made it through that first infusion, and it gave me a sense of what the next 15 rounds would be like. Week in and week out, I would meet on Thursdays at the infusion center. I had family and friends sign up to join me for the afternoon, and I found so much joy in those moments with my people and felt so cared for by the medical team. It is true, cancer can take so much from you, but it cannot take away the love of your community or the faith that there is more to this life than what we see, and those two things were the guiding light that brought me through my cancer journey.
I am now on this side of the active journey through treatment to get to those hope-filled words of “no evidence of disease.”
In many ways I am a different person since that life changing phone call in July 2019. It took 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 5 surgeries, and forcing my body into early menopause. I still get the question, “So you’re good, now?” I never know how to respond to that question. I typically respond with, “I guess I’m good.” However, I live with the underlying fear that there are some rogue cells hiding out ready to wreak havoc on my body again. I believe if we bring together all the energy, research, and knowledge of lifestyle changes, environmental impacts, genetics, and medicine, we can beat all breast cancer, including metastatic breast cancer!
Together, we can do this!
Join me on September 17th at Noon for the Let’s Beat Breast Cancer rally at Twin Cities VegFest!
Heading into chemo…
Time to shave the head...
Me and my parents…
First AC Infusion...
Chemo marathon, check done! I love a good checklist and this beauty was created by my lovely colleague.
Bye Bye Breasts Brunch with my amazing support community.
Double Mastectomy Day…
Life after cancer…