Darci's Story, diagnosed at 19

The Day I Found Something Wrong

Every month I decided I needed to give myself a breast examination. I got in the habit after my older sister made me aware of the dangers of breast cancer. I was really scared that someday I would get it, so I was checking myself. I never thought that something so scary would ever happen to me, especially since I was so young. I thought it only happened to old women whose boobs sagged.

Around September 16th,1995 I was doing a routine check when I felt a small lump in my right breast. I called my mother in Virginia and told her about it, wanting to know what I needed to do. My mother told me that cysts run in the family and that it would go away with time. She also told me that if I was really worried to go and have it checked out. Being a self-conscious person, I just decided to wait and see what happened. A week later I felt it again and it had grown twice the size. Again I was too scared to go in and get it check out by the nurse at the wellness center at Utah Valley State College, where I attended school. During the examination for a cold I got this strong feeling to have the lump checked.

The nurse was very nice and looked at my breast and then looked at me. The look she gave me was the most frightening look I had ever received. I wanted my mom to be there when she told me it might be cancer since it was so obvious and stuck out so far.

The next thing I know the nurse is on the phone with a surgeon making an appointment for the very next day. I realized that this was something serious and needed to call my mom. My mother was out at the time and by the time I got hold of her I was in tears. I was very frightened and felt so alone being only 19 and 2869 miles away from my parents. My mother called her old roommate who lived in Orem to accompany me to the doctor's office. My roommate Kiyo accompanied me for moral support. I went to the doctor's office very scared due to the fact that I have had horrible experiences with doctors. Plus, I was not thrilled to have another person look at my breast again.

I was checked out by Dr. McKeen and he assured me it was not cancer but he wanted me to have an ultrasound done on it. We made an appointment for the next day and it was to be in the hospital next to the doctor's office. The room was very dim and I was unsure about all the equipment around me. The radiologist came in to have me get into a robe and then he started the ultrasound. With some knowledge I had with medical terms I knew if the lump was black then it meant it was a cyst. As I looked at the monitor I could see that it was all grey with some areas that were black. The radiologist then put on the sound and I could hear the blood rushing through it. Even though I was really scared and didn't like my chest exposed I liked the part with the sound. I could hear my heart beat and I thought that was really neat.

The radiologist left for a few minutes and then returned with the Director of Radiology. At this point I was near tears not knowing what was going on. They talked their medical talk while I laid there wondering what was going to happen. I caught a lot of what they were saying and found out it was a tumor with blood rushing through it. They were concerned about the rapid growth of it and decided it needed to be removed. I was in shock and was not thinking straight. I called my mom as soon as I got to the apartment and told her to come and be with me. I knew I could not go through it alone.

On October 2nd I had the surgery to remove the tumor. Before I went to go to the operating room I had to get the IV and all the other pre-operation necessities done. I was very disappointed with the anesthesiologist. He was very rough and not very understanding. He stabbed me a few times and then shot that painful sleeping medicine in me. I woke up very sore and had a sore throat. I kept asking the nurse for something to drink, but it took another hour and half before I was given anything. I was uncomfortable and slept for another hour and half. Then I was able to get dressed and go back to my mom's old roommate's house to recover under my mom's watchful eye.

My mom left and I went back to school. My tumor was sent to the University of Utah hospital in Salt Lake to be looked at by a pathologist. While I was waiting for the results I continued to go in for check ups. Dr. McKeen found out a week later that it was a rare tumor called cystosarcoma Phyilloides that had attached itself to my nipple. The Dr was not able to remove it all, and I found out that it had a 95% chance of growing back and disfiguring me and possibly turning into a more cancerous tumor. We decided that I was to go back to Virginia and have a mastectomy. I had never been so frightened in my life. I knew that this was a big deal and my life would never be the same again.

On October 12th, I dropped out of college, to go home and have the surgeries necessary to get rid of everything. My father made a business stop in Utah and picked me up with my car and drove to Virginia. I was glad to be home with family and be able to go through this hardship close to the ones I loved. Even though I was going to be in pain after the surgeries they were all mostly supportive and took care of my needs.

Dr. McKeen had a good friend who was a plastic surgeon in Maryland who graduated from John Hopkins University and recommended him. I went to get evaluated by him. Man that was hard. I cried in the office because I hated being exposed and showing so many people my large odd chest. I had about 10 pictures taken and I was so embarrassed by it, I even almost tossed my breakfast onto the camera. I had never felt so much like a piece of meat like I had then.

The surgery was scheduled for the 30th of October and it was to be a 5 hour surgery. I had all the fun pre-op exams and blood taken. I thought I would die after all the collapsed veins and being jabbed so many times. Dr. Arminger asked his friend to be the anesthesiologist. I felt very comfortable with him; he was very sensitive and even though I almost fainted and had to be poked so many times he never got frustrated with me. I was then drawn on with this purple pen that I will never forget. They wanted to make sure that when I got an implant it would be the same size after the Dr. made my left one smaller. I felt so stupid when Dr. Armiger took out the purple pen and started measuring and drawing.

I was then escorted to the operating room which was in the doctor's office. I was comfortably put to sleep and woke up in more pain than the first surgery. I was bandaged up so tightly that I could hardly breathe. I think I spent 2 hours in the recovery room and if it wasn't for the nurse who made me get up and put on my clothes I would have stayed there all night. I was wheeled to my dad's car in front and we stayed in a hotel across the street for the night. The next morning I went back and had to be checked out. I had the best post-op nurse who made me laugh even though she was hurting me. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have looked at my chest until I had the reconstruction. I think I finally looked at it a week after the surgery. I will always remember her name, Julie. She will always be my hero.

During the surgery I received an implant in my right breast and my left breast was made smaller to match the implant. I was finally a size B. At first I was so mad because the implant was so hard and uncomfortable and it didn't match my left one. My nipple was gone and I was told I wouldn't have reconstruction till the summer which was 8 months away. I later began to accept what my chest looked like and after a month of seeing the doc and Julie, we decided that we would go ahead with the reconstruction. I did not know how they were going to make the new nipple so I asked Julie and she just smiled and told me I would soon find out.

As I received my pre-op exam I was poked 3 times and because the veins kept on collapsing and they couldn't find another one, they got me in my upper arm near my armpit. I soon started to black out so they took out the needle and waited till I was OK to do it again and get the blood they needed. I had my final surgery December 7th and I did not like it one bit. I felt even dumber when the Dr. drew on me. I was in the operating room with 5 other personnel in there with me and one of them was so hot and not much older than me. Again I was stuck with the needle 3 times and then I was finally put to sleep. I awoke from the surgery and just wanted to die. This time it wasn't the pain that was killing me, it was the sickness. I was so nauseous that I never wanted to get off the bed and go to the hotel across the street. I found out how they made my nipple when I sat up in bed and felt the pain in my crotch just inside the lip of my vagina. I was sick for a week after even with the suppositories, and I thought the world would never stop spinning. I was so upset that I wanted to hit everyone and everything in sight. The pillow on the recliner I had to sleep on had to do. I remember many sleepless nights with lots of tears.

I went back to school in Utah and found best friends in my roommates who helped me and supported me. My family and friends were my biggest help in recovering emotionally and spiritually. I knew it would take time to heal physically, and in time I did. I was able to serve a mission for my church for 18 months in Texas and Canada and returned 6 months later to find my partner for life. I was married November 11, 1999, and the biggest joy was knowing that he would accept me for my puzzle of a chest. I have 2 beautiful daughters who keep me going all the time. I thank my family, husband, daughters, friends and especially my Father in Heaven for their support and understanding.