In 1997, I was in the Navy and 32 years old when my mother passed away from breast cancer that was detected just two years earlier. After many discussions with women health doctors at the military base, they agreed to let me get a mammogram even though I was under 40. I had mammograms every year with no concerns. Fast forward and I retired from the Navy in 2013, still getting annual mammograms. In July 2016 I went to the Denver VA Hospital for my annual check-up. The nurse practitioner had no concerns but wanted me to get my annual mammogram done and get a baseline MRI since I was new to this particular VA Hospital. The mammogram came back normal and the MRI detected my cancer. In true “go big or go home” fashion, my cancer was “ER positive” on one side and I was “triple negative” on the other breast.
Thankfully, my cancer was detected early so I did have a couple of options. One option was to have a lumpectomy on the ER positive side, but the triple negative side required a mastectomy. I was given time to decide what option was best for me, so my friend that was going to go to all my doctor appointments and surgeries with me decided we wanted to hike our first 14’er (any mountain over 14,000 feet above sea level). We decided on hiking Mount Bierstadt here in Colorado. It was during that hike that I was able to clear my mind, reflect on the news, talk about options, and decide what I was going to do. On the ascent I actually met another woman on the trail who had just finished up chemotherapy; we chatted briefly wishing each other the best. I chose to do a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction because I wanted to reduce the chances of it coming back. My exact words to the Oncologist and Plastic Surgeon were “chop these puppies off and give me young perky ones!”
In September 2016, right about the time my mother had passed away 19 years earlier, I was in surgery for a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and nipple sparing. I had been running 5k’s and 10k’s all of 2016 and had a half marathon that I had been training for that was scheduled for 2 weeks post-surgery. Race day rolled around….. I did not “run” that race but with the permission of my plastic surgeon, I did walk the 10k version, drains still intact, swinging my arms only from below the elbow. I felt fantastic and wasn’t going to let the surgery stop me from trying to remain healthy.
November 2016 I was back on the operating table with my plastics team because of tissue necrosis. Two weeks later I started chemo therapy. I can’t say how I managed to do this, but I was not sick with any of my chemo sessions. I finished chemo January 2017. During that entire process I continued to work, missing only one day at the end. After chemo, in 2017, I had two more plastic surgeries, and in 2018 I had one more surgery. Here I am in 2019 and I still have two more plastic surgeries to finish up this entire process.
I can’t quite pin point what has made me a survivor. When this journey started in 2016, one of the first things I told my oncologist and plastic’s team was that “I didn’t have time for this because I had horse shows to compete in and races to run!” 😊 Hearing the words “you have cancer” were hard, but didn’t make me cry, what made me cry was when my plastics team would tell me that I couldn’t ride my horses for a couple of months after surgery. That motivated me to do as they instructed so my body could heal, and I could be back on my horses. Keeping a positive outlook on things right from the beginning I made the conscious choice to not let it beat me or get me down. I would say having my horses helped and played a pretty big role in helping me to stay positive. The horse group I compete with, and am a board member of, hosts an annual event called “Trot for Ta Tas.” We raise money for local equestrians who are combatting this dreadful disease. In 2018 our event raised $8000; it was amazing to be the one to present those women with checks of over $1000 each. I was the perfect representative for the horse group as I can relate to them and where they are in their journey. Presenting them with that little bit of financial relief helps me in all reality. Those checks bring lots of smiles and tears. At this point, I am just ready for this journey to come to an end….it’s been 3 years. I’m a planner and don’t plan for cancer to come back; I just want to be able to do things without trying to schedule it around my next surgery.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.