My Journey through Breast Cancer
By Lisa Williams
It was April 2016 and I had just gotten home to my parents house for the weekend to celebrate my sister’s upcoming nuptials. It was going to be so much fun, I r emember thinking. Excited to see everyone for her bridal shower and getting things organized for her wedding reception. It was a weekend that should have been all about her when sadly it wasn’t. I will never forget that Saturday morning and finding what we came to call “ the Lump”. I was shocked and scared and tried to hide it throughout the weekend.
By Sunday night however, I finally broke down and told my sister making her promise not to tell anyone. She promised as long as I promised her to get into see my Dr ASAP. I was able to get in to see my Dr that week and had a mammogram scheduled for the following week. I debated even telling anyone and knew my mom and family had enough on their plate with the upcoming wedding. I, however, ended up telling my parents through advice from friends and my mom made plans to join me at my appointment.
I was told during my mammogram that they may call me back if the x rays they took didn’t show the lump well enough. So as I was sitting in the waiting room the nurse came and got me again and said they needed more x rays. Once we were back in the room she informed me they needed to look at a different area of my breast. I thought well this doesn’t sound good. Once this was done they took me back to a room to do a biopsy of the lump. Within 5 minutes the resident Dr excused himself from the room saying he needed to get the head radiologist. At this point I knew it was bad and I started to cry. The nurse went and got my mom to come back to the room as well. The head Dr came in and she quickly knew it was most likely cancer. I don’t really remember much after that that was said, once you hear the word “cancer” everything just stops.
The next week I had to go through 3 needle biopsies: in my nipple, in the cyst, and in my lymph node in my armpit. I chose to do all at once as I didn’t want to have to come back! Once this process was complete I had to wait. To wait and hear it was 100% sure I had cancer and to see if it had spread. It was never so nerve racking waiting for a call. The call came about 3 days later from the Radiologist, with my Primary Dr calling me right after with the news. It was Cancer. I was at work when I got the call and was just in shock. It was what I had expected to hear but never what you want to hear.
My Dr referred me to a surgeon which was the first stage of all of what I would go through over the next year. At my appointment she showed me my x rays and explained it had started in my milk ducts and had spread to the side of my breast creating the lump. She felt I had probably had it for close to 5 years!! I couldn’t believe it. She informed me it was initially at Stage 0 in the ducts, but once it spread creating the tumor it became Stage 1. It had been
caught early, thank God. Next was what we were going to do . I had no idea I would have to endure Chemo I was told I would probably just need a lumpectomy and maybe some radiation. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case. Although my cancer was Stage 1, it was very aggressive and had to be treated as such. So 6 rounds of chemo and then surgery is what the plan was. This was the hardest part for me. Knowing I would lose my hair, scared to endure Chemo just ALL of it.
I then met with who would not only be my Chemo Dr but who became an amazing friend that is still to this day! One thing I learned about all of this and am FOREVER grateful is the unbelievable people that were my “team” and made something that was so challenging much easier to endure. I recall my first chemo appointment and I just cried. It was so sad seeing such sick people and was just honestly scared!! Then I met my amazing nurses. These ladies, two in particular, made the process not so scary. We would laugh a lot!!! These two as well became dear friends of mine and we still hang out at times to this day! I met other patients going through similar and even worse stuff than myself. We created a bond with each other I will never have with anyone else. My parents came to each and every one of my chemo appointments. The support I had between my family, my friends and my team I will never ever forget.
So here I was plugging away with my appointments, balancing work and continuing with my workouts. For me keeping my schedule the same and structured was so important. It was at my 4th round of chemo when I noticed the area of my port hurt after my treatment. Within a week the area was red and swollen. Unfortunately, I thought it would just go away and ignored it for 3 days but taking some ibuprofen. I ended up being much sicker than I thought and had a horrible infection that went into my bloodstream. I had to have my port removed and was hospitalized for 5 days. I now had the blood infection and a blood clot in my neck. I was one sick pup! It was the worst being so sick and in so much pain and my Dr not able to fix me. I was so frustrated on top of that because had been doing so well for the last 3 months
I was finally being released from the hospital. I now had a picc line in with a bag of 24/7 antibiotics going through me for the next month. I had to carry around this really attractive fanny pack (not!) that held the bag of antibiotic and this little machine. I had to change this out every 12hours. I also had to give myself shots in my stomach for the blood clot in my neck. I had a home care nurse that came and saw me daily to pack the wound where my port was. Talk about lucking out AGAIN with another awesome team member! She was a blast. We became fast friends and I looked forward to her visits. We would end up gossiping and watching Dr Phil together haha :)
So after my 6th round of chemo (my chemo dr let me skip my 5th one since all I had been through) it was time to meet my plastic surgeon and decide what options I had for the last phase of this journey. I can’t even tell you how lucky I was meeting Dr Hartman. He was the icing on the cake so to speak. He is one of the few plastic surgeons that is able to perform a newer reconstructive surgery called the DIEP flap or DIEP (this is a type of breast reconstruction
in which blood vessels called deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP), as well as the skin and fatconnected to them, are removed from the lower abdomen and transferred to the chest to reconstruct a breast after mastectomy without the sacrifice of any of the abdominal muscles.) I remember saying to him “so basically I am getting a free tummy tuck and new perky boobs?! SIGN ME UP!!”
The scariest part of this surgery was that it was to last 12 HOURS. Yikes! The recovery wasn’t easy either. However, I made it through and remember waking up and my mom saying how good I looked. I said “that was the best sleep I ever had”. I did really well with my recovery time in the hospital so they released me early so was only in for about 4 days! I had to recover at home for 7 weeks so would be off of work until the 1st of the year. Within my first 5 days I had to get out of my house so my mom and I went shopping. I was still hunched over a bit from the tummy tuck and very sore in my chest and stomach and had 4 drainage bags but off I went! I was a little too eager in thinking this was a good idea however, as I had to sit down in the store 15 minutes in, and was literally on the floor because I thought I was going to pass out! The following week at one of my follow up appointments my plastic surgeon was shocked I had done that so was told to take it easier. Ha! He didn’t know who he was messing with and in looking back I probably did keep pushing too hard but it was almost like I wanted to physically prove to myself I would be okay sooner rather than later. It was so depressing not having my strength I once had. It was a long journey of a few more outpatient surgeries and lots of strength work and patience to get back to where I once was.
I remember about a week after my surgery getting a call from my Surgeon’s nurse. She was crying and I thought oh God what now? She informed my path report came back showing all the cancer was GONE, there were no signs of any of it remaining. She was so happy for me she was crying , I was crying, it was an emotional conversation. I felt I was finally at the end of all I had been through.
The one thing I learned from all of this was you never know how strong you really are until you need to be. I was so blessed with the unbelievable support from family, friends, coworkers, and my Dr’s that I could never ever have gotten through any of it without them all. I met so many incredible people through my journey that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I am in remission with 2 more years left, and feel like all of this almost never happened. It's definitely a chapter in my book I am ready to close and never want to revisit. However, without any of it happening I never would have realized how strong I really am nor met the people I did that make my life just that much better.