Hearing the word "cancer" is scary. I never imagined that cancer could get me. But it happened.
Now in my 7th year in remission, I feel extremely lucky and thankful that I was able to beat cancer. I consider this to be one of my life’s greatest victories. My journey to recovery has been anything but easy. No matter how tough it got, I made a vow to continue to fight.
In 2009, during a routine medical check-up, the doctor noticed a lump in my left breast. Concerned, she advised me to have it checked by a specialist. However, before I could schedule an appointment, I learned that I was pregnant.
My gynecologist assuaged my fear with an explanation that lumps in the breasts are quite common during pregnancy and are usually harmless. As a precaution, she recommended that the lump be examined by specialists after I gave birth.
Believing everything was fine, I simply ignored the lump in my left breast throughout my pregnancy. After giving birth, I spent most of my time in routine activities, such as caring for my baby and housekeeping. I forgot about the lump and the doctors’ advice to have it checked by specialists. Since I didn’t feel any pain in the area where the lump was located, forgetting about it proved to be quite easy.
Fourteen months after giving birth, the lump in my breast continued to go unchecked. One day, however, my child accidentally kicked my left breast at the exact location of the lump. Almost immediately I felt a numbness emanating from my left shoulder, creeping down to my fingertips. Realizing that the radiating numbness was not normal, my husband and I promptly made an appointment at an urgent care facility to determine if it was anything serious.
Following an examination and testing, the doctor advised me to get an ultrasound scan as soon as possible. That night, we made an appointment to have the ultrasound the next day.
The test took an hour. Afterwards, a nurse told me to wait; a doctor was coming to talk to me. Waiting for the doctor felt like an eternity. I was very anxious to find out what was going on.
When the doctor finally came into the room, she stood right next to me, saying, “Melody, how am I going to say this to you? Has anyone in your family had cancer?”
“No, doctor,” I replied.
“What you have looks like cancer. But I am not sure yet. We need to do some more tests to make sure.”
“Okay doctor,” I answered, alarmed.
I left the room in total disbelief. I decided not to tell my husband yet about the strong possibility that I might have cancer. I only told him that more tests were being requested by the doctor. From that day onward, I went through a series of tests prescribed by the doctor―MRIs, biopsies, blood tests. A lot of those tests were uncomfortable, and some were quite painful, but I knew they had to be done. My difficult journey had begun.
The afternoon of December 8, 2010, will be etched forever in my memory. My future became more uncertain than ever before, because, on this unforgettable day, I received the test results. Since my husband was at work, it was just me and my child at home. The final verdict: breast cancer.
Upon hearing the horrible news, I was initially in denial and had mixed emotions. I started thinking that this might be the end of the road for the relatively young 34-year-old “me.” What’s going to happen to my kids and my husband? I felt so terrified and worried for my family.
How was I going to tell my husband about my cancer diagnosis? Finding a way to gently break the news to him was the hardest part for me. I broke down in tears while looking at my baby in her crib. After gaining enough composure, I called my husband and told him that we needed to talk about “something” at home. I told him not to worry. But while waiting for him to get home, all I could think about was the family that I was not ready to leave behind.
At home, I gave my husband the heart-breaking news. We both broke down and cried, holding each other as if trying to draw strength. In cold silence, our 2 agonized hearts screamed. After the initial shock, we vowed to move forward and seek all the necessary treatments available. We had numerous consultations with different specialty doctors and medical professionals―oncologists, surgeons, therapists. During one of those visits, my oncologist recommended a mastectomy―complete removal of my left breast. Based on the test results, cancer had penetrated into numerous areas of my breast tissue. A simple lumpectomy, which involves removing only the tumor rather than the entire breast, had a low probability of success in removing all the cancer cells. My surgeons echoed the same recommendation, and I agreed.
On February 17, 2011, I had a mastectomy. That done, the surgeons put an expander in its place for the purpose of implanting an artificial breast at a later date. The operation took about 3.5 hours.
A week after the surgery, my oncologist informed me that the cancer I had was a stage II, grade 2 type. But with the removal of the cancerous tumor, she gave me the best news a cancer patient could hear: I was cancer-free! My husband and I heaved a sigh of relief. We did it!
We stopped cancer right in its tracks! Our hope for the future was starting to turn bright again. Recommended follow-up treatment after my surgery was chemotherapy only; no radiation therapy. That sounded like a surprise bonus to my ears.
I went through a total of 16 chemotherapy sessions. In between those sessions, I had daily injections of cancer-preventive medications. During this period, I endured all sorts of chemotherapy side effects, ranging from nausea to excruciating bone pain. To say that these side effects were tough to handle would be an understatement.
Some other medical issues resulting from chemotherapy manifested down the road and required surgical procedures. Thankfully, I survived all of them as well.
Today, the only visible indication that I had cancer treatment is my continuing battle with hair loss. Losing my hair is no big deal, even if I do miss my precancer hair. What’s important is surviving and being there for my family. Frankly, I’m too busy making the most out of my second lease on life to worry about having a full head of hair.
My battle with cancer is not over completely. There still looms the possibility of recurrence. I need to keep in touch with my oncologist to monitor the progress of my post-chemo treatments, which include more rounds of injections, blood tests, and maintenance medications. As with chemotherapy, these post-chemo treatments carry with them excruciating side effects.
Some days are better than others, and I stand firm in my faith in God for the strength I need to continue fighting. Today, I am very grateful for the love and support of my beloved family. My husband and my kids are the reasons I fought hard and will continue to fight until my battle against cancer is won. Please know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence anymore. It is survivable with effective treatments if detected early enough. Don’t allow cancer to beat you!
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