My life was going in the right direction. I am of a mom of 4 wonderful sons: Joshua, 29,Matthew, 27, Dustin, 19, and Jacob, 4. I have one Grandson, Colton, he’s three. I have a great husband who is a full time paramedic with Alachua County. I work full time at Clay Electric in Keystone Heights as a customer service representative in the call center. It’s a fast paced, high stress job and I love it! I was working in youth ministry in a church assisting my husband, so I am a very busy lady with high energy, always doing something with family or church and never a dull moment in my life.
I have always been diligent about my annual exams and my mammograms, and I have used the same doctor for years. My mammogram for 2013 was clear, and I received a letter in the mail signed by the doctor saying return in 2 years. I did not wait the 2 years. I go every year, no matter what our insurance pays for an annual mammogram. I feel that it’s important to do it yearly.
I initially scheduled my mammogram for February, but had to reschedule my appointment until April 18, 2014. I got my mammogram and got dressed and left. I did not wait for the doctor to look at my mammogram. I had no reason to wait, it’s clear every year. I had no lumps, bumps, or discharge from my breast, so I was sure it was just fine and I would return next year and do it all over again. I went about my busy life all weekend not worrying or thinking about my mammogram.
Monday morning rolled around, and I got a call at work from the doctor’s office. I was asked to come back to the office because the doctor wanted a few more pictures of my breast. The lady was very nice and said don’t worry, it’s routine, and that the doctor just wanted to look a little closer. My stomach felt sick at that moment, and I asked if I could come in right away. Three hours later, I was there having a mammogram of my right breast and then an ultrasound. My doctor said it looked like calcifications but wanted to set up a biopsy to be sure. I still had the sick feeling that something was wrong.
I set up the biopsy up for Friday, April 25, so I could recover over the weekend. It was a painful procedure on a very uncomfortable table. I laid there praying to God that I would be fine. At the end of the procedure, the doctor said that it looked okay and no worries. I went home, rested and recovered from the biopsy. I went to work Monday, with no concern about the biopsy.
I have had the same doctor for years. She said no worries, so I did not expect to hear anything negative. She told me I would hear from her when the results came in on Tuesday or Wednesday. At 3 P.M. on Monday, I got the call.
When I answered the call, the doctor said, “Virginia, it seems you have breast cancer. You need to call the doctor and set up for surgery right away.”I felt like I had been hit very hard in the stomach. I was speechless and I started to cry. The doctor told me to call the surgeon right away, and gave me the number. I was overtaken by fear and anxiety. I was at work 20 miles from my home. I was shaking and thinking about my four year old child. I want to live and raise him into a man. I have a grandson. Please God, don’t let this take my life. When I heard cancer, I thought death. I was a wreck. I could not even get up from my desk to go tell my boss what was going on. I was frozen with fear and panic. I did not know what stage, grade, how bad or how big this cancer was. I just knew I had cancer.
The women working around me saw my distress. They came to comfort and hold me as I cried. I could only think how I will tell my kids, my parents, and my husband. I was living a nightmare. I was in a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts, but still I could not move from my seat. I knew I had to call my husband, Van. The girls at work told me to call him right then. I did and it was hard say it, but I managed through the tears to tell him that I have cancer. Van was silent, and I could tell he was speechless. He started to ask me lots of questions, he was in shock too because I had no symptoms of anything being wrong with my body.
My supervisor came over hugged me and had two coworkers take me home. Once I got home, my oldest son was there, and I thought that it wasn’t normal for him to be there. Van being the great man he is, called my sons and my parents to talk to them about my new diagnosis. He knew that I would never be able to tell them. I walked in the house to see my son and he was crying at my kitchen table. My heart broke in half at that point, I did not want to die and leave my sons and my family. I did not want to make them go through watching me waste away. My mind was still in a panic state but I kept calm I front of my son. My son looked at me and said, “Mom, no good deed goes unpunished, you adopted Jacob and you help so many people and are always doing good for others. How can this be fair? I don’t understand.” Those words will ring in my ears until the day I die. My heart broke for my son. He was feeling angry and scared. I did not know what to say, I just hugged him and cried and told him how much I loved him. I told him that it was going to be okay, God was going to make away for us to get through this.
I called the surgeons office on Monday, she was out for the week. I wanted this cancer out, today, right now. I did not want to wait until next week to set up an appointment for the following week. Night came, I was pacing and in a panic. I had cancer, how could this be true? I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. Nobody in my family has breast cancer, something’s just wrong. I did not sleep at all that night. I prayed and cried. My mind was going crazy with terrible thoughts. When the sun came up, I called a friend who just battled breast cancer. I told her what was going on, and she recommended the doctor that did her surgery. I called that morning at 8 am, and talked with his assistant. She could tell I was not doing well mentally or emotionally so she scheduled me an appointment for the next day on April 30.
I stayed home from work that day and tried to sleep but still I could not. I had been up since 5:30 on Monday and it was now Tuesday. I had not eaten since lunch on Monday. I could not function as a mother, wife, daughter and I didn’t want to talk or see anyone. I wanted to hide.That night I still couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t wait to go see the doctor.
It was finally time. I sat in the waiting room thinking how will I take it if he said it couldn’t be fixed or that it was too late. My mind was in turmoil of all the what-ifs. It had been three days and still no sleep. I had no information on the cancer, stage or type. All I knew is that I had breast cancer. The nurse called my name and I felt paralyzed. With my husband’s encouragement, in we went. The doctor came in and told me it was caught very early and that it was fixable. I asked if we could do the surgery that day. He told me not today, but soon. The doctor explained more about the cancer, what my mammogram and the biopsy report showed. He helped me understand that it was treatable and that I could beat it but I would have to have the surgery. I asked if I could have a mastectomy.did not want to take a chance with dirty margins and have to go back a second time. I was told it wasn’t necessary, and that he would do a needle core biopsy, which is a partial mastectomy.
After discussing my questions and concerns, the doctor asked me how soon I wanted to do the surgery. I told him the next morning. I wanted the cancer out right then. I think my fear was that the longer we waited, the worse it got. I was told that we could do the surgery on May 7. That was seven days away, and I asked if it could get worse by then. The doctor assured me that it would be okay and that I was in no danger. He gave me all the information I needed about the procedure and I was taken to an office to do my paperwork.
I went right away to do pre-operative things like blood work, EKG and chest X-ray. While waiting for my X-ray, I sat next to a young woman who was crying. Being myself, I asked her what was wrong. She started to talk to me about what was going on, and she was afraid. I comforted her and promised to pray for her. She asked why I was there, I told her I had breast cancer and I was getting my pre-op done. She was upset because I was worrying about her, I assured her it was no problem and that I was there to help her. I think it was that moment that I knew God had sent me on this journey to minister to others and make difference in the life of others. I finished all of my tests, went home and slept like a baby that night.
I had a peace the cancer was going to come out of my body, and I was going to be okay. I was able to go to work on Thursday and Friday and function, but I wasn’t my normal happy self. I was concerned deep in my spirit about a lot of things, but I was able to keep going and set up my plans at work to be out for surgery. I went to Orlando that weekend with my parents, my brother and his family. I tried so hard to relax and enjoy myself but the breast cancer was still in the back of my mind.
The day had arrived. It was May 7,and I was having my surgery. I was so ready to get the cancer out of my body. I wanted to get back to my life and be normal again. I was excited and scared all at once. I had my parents, my son and daughter in law, my mother in law and some church friends at the hospital with me. They gathered around me and prayed for me and I had a peace about the surgery. I knew they would be praying while I was in surgery, they also prayed for the doctor and the medical team. I knew God was in control, I said my goodbyes and I went to the surgery room. I got upset and begin to cry, the nurse in the room asked me what kind of music I liked. I told her Christian so she turned the radio on, we talked, and I told her how scared I was. Then the anesthesiologist came in and asked why I was crying, we talked and I asked him to pray. He told me he was Catholic and asked what I wanted him to pray. I told him I didn’t care just to pray and we said the Lord’s Prayer. As he was talking to me, I went to sleep.
I woke up not knowing if I had a breast or not, I was afraid to look under the covers. The nurse said I did great. They had removed the cancer, and I still had my breast. I had a hard time getting oxygen levels high enough to go home, so I had to wait until late evening. I wasn’t able to see my doctor before I left, but he spoke with my husband, and said both lymph nodes were clear and he had gotten it all out of my breast.
My next step was to see Dr. Cherylle Hayes to get set up for radiation through a MammoSite which is an internal device that radiation is administered through. I felt happy and at peace, although the pain was there from the surgery, I was happy the cancer was out.
The next day, I saw Dr. Hayes. I was ready to get this visit over with and start my radiation and be finished with breast cancer. Dr. Hayes came into see me and Van and she started explaining what breast cancer is, and how mine had become invasive ductal carcinoma. I still felt okay with things and understand what was going on was a huge help. Then the bomb dropped.
I have HER2- positive breast cancer, and my lymph node had a very small speck of cancer cells that was found in the biopsy in the lab. I was upset and crying. My husband looked scared. Dr. Hayes told me that I would have to have chemo radiation. I was mad. I was not going to accept that I had breast cancer.
We set the dates for my internal radiation through the MammoSite. I would have four treatments in two days for seven and a half minutes each. I was set up with Dr. Dickerson to discuss chemotherapy. I was told that I needed a medical oncologist.I did my internal radiation, and I was nervous about putting it inside my body to kill the tumor bed but I prayed and trusted God and Dr. Hayes. I was coming to terms with all this, and finally after 10 days of this life changing experience, I had a realization. I realized I was on this road for a reason and I needed to make the most out of it and use it to help others in this hard journey. I prayed and ask God to use me to help others and get me through this with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.
I went to see Dr. Dickerson, I was very comfortable and felt I could ask questions and be honest about my fears. We talked about the type of cancer and the risk of not doing chemo. They helped me understand why it was so important to treat this so aggressively. Chemo was required. Six rounds of Taxotere and Carboplatin along with 21 weekly doses of Herceptin to turn the HER2- positive cells off. They went over all the details, I left feeling scared but better. I had the thoughts of being gray and sick for months not being able to work was scary to me. I needed insurance and a paycheck. My mind needed something to think about besides cancer, I love my job and my coworkers are like family. How I going to do this with a 4 year old at home? All the things swirling in my head I was back in the whirlwind again. God just calmed me down and brought a peace and calm to me. I went to get all my chemo medication at the pharmacy and I couldn’t believe how much medication I had. Steroids, two medications for nausea, and an antibiotic in case I got sick and had fever. I thought to myself Lord, this is too much I can’t do all this, but that little voice reminded me that I have a big family that needs me, I can do it.
I continued to heal from my surgery. I was not bothered that one breast was smaller than the other, or by the scar. None of that mattered I just wanted to live and help others go through this with joy and a smile. By June 1, I was done with my four internal radiations, and my wounds where healed.Chemo was starting the next day. I had to take four steroid pills to have my chemo the next day. I had no sleep that night. The steroids made kept me up, so my house was clean and all the laundry was done when the sun came up. My appointment was at 9 a.m., I was very scared and praying I would be okay with no reactions to the chemo. I had to sign a form I understood the risk of the chemo. I was so scared, but as I looked around the room and saw all the faces, I knew I needed to be the sunshine in this darkness.
The sickness did not hit till day 3 and it was not as bad as I thought it would be. As each chemo session came it got harder and the sickness got worse. I went into each treatment and brought the sunshine with me, making friends each visit. I got phone numbers and email addresses, so I could contact and encourage other ladies. Not all my chemo buddies are breast cancer patients. Cancer is cancer no matter where it is in your body and the feelings are the real and scary. Love, support and kindness eases a lot of fears.
The biggest battle with cancer is in your head. You must decide cancer is not going to control your life, steal your joy or happiness. Once you get to that point, it’s a much easier journey. It allows you to fight like a girl and not be a victim. I have also learned that helping others made my journey easier. I’m concerned about the others and I forget about me. I think that’s what God wants from me.
My next step is 28 Daily Radiation Treatments starting in the end of October. I’m a little concerned about the burns and the risk of secondary cancers from the treatments, but God will make a way and I will be fine. I will continue my Herceptin treatments on a three week cycle until June of 2015. I will then be put on a medication for 10 years to block out the hormones.
My journey is not over. I’m very blessed because of early detection, I am going to smile and walk this journey and help as many ladies as I can through their journey. I know God has a plan for me. I know I have to help others.
The support group that I’ve started is for all women with any type of cancer, we all have feelings and thoughts we can’t share with family or friends. They would be upset and feel really bad for our thoughts and fears. I think it’s best to share it with someone who understands the feelings and the need to vent. There is nothing on the eastern side of Alachua County for support, so I decided to start a group. I have new wigs, new hats, and the American Cancer Society will come out anytime and speak. As we grow, I have some really big plans and dreams for our group. Hair cutting parties, princess days, lunch dates, movie nights; the things to bring a little sunshine to lives of others that’s what our group is all about.