Amy Heyel, diagnosed at 35
It seems weird to be writing this. No matter how much I have been through or how many surgeries I have, the ongoing testing, support meetings and fundraisers, there are times that I feel like an outsider looking in at my cancer experience.
To be honest, I was probably a little overconfident when it came to my health. Things for the most part came easy to me. I had an athletic, healthy childhood, two relatively easy childbirths, both parents alive, a large family, and no real cancer history. So when I found a lump in my left breast, I naturally assumed it was mastitis, since I was breastfeeding my 10 month old son.
Given that visits to the doctor were an infrequent part of my life's experience, I can truly recall each and every moment that lead me to the office of my OB/GYN. First of all, I had my childhood girlfriend over the day after I felt the lump, and asked her opinion. She also figured it was mastitis, but reminded me that her mother, who died of breast cancer when we were young, was actually 35 at death. Second, since I was breastfeeding, I didn't want the mastitis to become an issue. Third, my travel schedule for work was very tight and I needed to get the doctor's appointment out of the way.
This may seem like too much detail but I am relaying this with the hope of sending someone else to the doctor for early detection. I will confess that the first doctor's visit I had since giving birth to my first child was to confirm the pregnancy of my second (yes that is right, no post-op visit etc). This may be shocking to some, but I know there are some working moms/busy ladies out there reading this that are nodding in silent shame.
So, the rest is history. I went to see my OB/GYN. He was awesome and aggressive and said, "Let's just do the right thing." Next was a mammogram where I was blessed with a very young (brand new really) ultrasound tech, who kept saying to the radiologist, "This piece in the corner just doesn't look right", followed by a rushed biopsy and the call a week later from the breast surgeon (on a Friday afternoon of all things), saying that I had a carcinoma, and hearing my own response, "Is that cancer?"
A radical left side mastectomy followed by 6 surgeries over two years was accompanied by 16 rounds of chemo, the full gamut of radiation and a year of IV Herceptin. Writing this makes me recall how sad I was to have to stop breastfeeding, how I couldn't hold my baby after surgery, and how it stunk to lose my hair and eyebrows. But I also think about how much I grew to really enjoy my medical team. I believe I had the best doctors and by far the best nursing staff. I met two other amazing survivors, within miles of my home, with whom I co-founded our local YSC. Since that time, I have repeatedly been inspired by other survivors, younger and older than me. And I think (hope) I have been able to comfort some newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.
Most importantly, I have become a better wife and mother. I am happier because I know what to sweat and what not to sweat. I wish every day it wasn't cancer that gave me this insight, but I have accepted it; and therefore, I believe no matter what, I have beat it.