Tsinina M.

Tough Enough to Wear Pink

When the itching, burning sensation in my breast first started, I thought my new bra was too small. I bought a larger size, but the pain never went away, so hoped I was pregnant. Only 30-years-old at the time, my husband and I were trying to have another child. But the pregnancy test came back negative, and the pain never went away.

After my friend insisted I go back to the doctor—she had a cancer scare few months earlier—my doctor ordered an ultrasound. It found a golf ball-sized lump in my left breast. There’s no history of breast cancer in my family, but after a biopsy, I was diagnosed with the most common kind of breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma.

My life was a whirlwind after the diagnosis. I immediately started treatment at Celilo Cancer Center in The Dalles, Oregon.

A breast nurse navigator, Melodi Johnson, accompanied me to every appointment, explaining my diagnosis and treatment options in layman’s terms. It was wonderful knowing I could call her at any time and she would have an answer.

My first chemotherapy treatment went as well as it could go. I received a bag with goodies in it to help get me through the treatments: socks, Chapstick, tissues, and a crossword puzzle. It was really nice, because I didn’t know what I should bring.

Unfortunately, I was allergic to my chemo, which caused me to pass out during my second treatment. I remember my friend talking to me, then everything went black. All the nurses came running.

But I never stopped riding my horses.

Two weeks after passing out during chemo I was at the BRN4D Barrel Racing Finals in Tri-Cities, WA. When I ran my fingers through my hair, a huge clump fell out. By the time I got home, I had huge patches of missing hair.

I sat on the bathroom floor, crying as my husband shaved my head. My son, then 8-years-old, put his arm around me and told me that I’m still beautiful. Afterwards, my husband and son shaved their heads, so we would all look the same.

Due to the risk of recurrence, I chose to have a double mastectomy with ovary removal. That was the most difficult thing for me emotionally. Expanding our family was very important to my husband and I. In the operating room I cried hysterically, knowing I would never be able to have children again.

Instead of scrubbing in, my surgeon and plastic surgeon held my hand to calm me down and reassure me. It felt like I was more than just a patient to them. They really cared about me.

Despite the cancer, I never slowed down and started riding again only 3 weeks after my double mastectomy and barrel racing again shortly after that. My doctor was quite shocked and not thrilled with my decision but that is what I needed for my soul to heal.

My husband and I live on a 20-acre farm in Lyle, Washington. He was medically discharged from the Army after multiple IED attacks and a near miss by a sniper but was on the road a lot for work. Taking care of the farm, and our son, kept me busy.

Chemo made me tired, and there were days I didn’t feel well, but I rode my horses all the way through my treatment. I think it kept me from being sick. By the time I saddled my horse and got on, I forgot I didn’t feel well.

Sometimes, if I had a quick appointment, I brought my horse and trailer to Celilo. Everyone always got a kick out of it.

Today, I’ve been cancer-free for 5 years. Although I am no longer able to have children and my life will never be the same, I have a new normal. My husband and I recently became foster parents to two young siblings, a 4-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy, who we are trying to adopt.

We’ve raised the little boy since he was 4-months-old. I’ve always dreamed of having a little girl to ride and barrel race with, so when we learned our foster son has a half-sister, we happily expanded our family.

Celilo has funds that help people going through cancer treatment feel normal. You can get a free massage, facial, acupuncture, help with transportation, and makeup lessons so you can feel like a woman after losing most of what/everything that makes you feel like a woman.

I now work for Mid-Columbia Health Foundation, the very organization that provides funds for patients at Celilo, and other patients who need support. It is now my passion to help raise money for the Celilo Cancer Center Fund, so everyone who receives care there can feel as normal as possible.

Tsinina M.