Angela Diagnosed at 37

"It was a typical night for me, up late making a jewelry piece that had to be finished by the next day."

Here I was, 37, wife and mother of three girls (13, 11 and 6). I worked full time and even had a side business as a jewelry designer to make extra money. Seems like all I ever did was work, worry and run behind the kids.

It was a typical night for me, up late making a jewelry piece that had to be finished by the next day. It was getting late, so I was rushing to get to bed in time to get a fresh start for the next day. I accidentally dropped a bead in my shirt. I jumped up and felt around in my shirt to find it. I noticed a strange lump on my right breast to the left of my nipple. It immediately caught my attention. First I thought, "Wow that's definitely a lump," but I breast fed my girls for a least a year each and maybe my breasts were still a little lumpy from that. But my youngest was already 6 years old so I ruled out that theory. I felt the other breast and knew it was different. At that point I was freaked out, but I tried to erase the ideas from my head so that I could finish the piece and get into bed.

The next day, of course it was the only thing on my mind. In the shower that morning, I felt for it again, in case my perception was off from being up so late last night. There it was again, clearly a lump, about the size of a marble. It would move around pretty easily. My mind was racing, and I remembered my last gynecological visit just four months earlier. The doctor did a breast exam, and she asked me if I had a family history of breast cancer. I told her that my grandmother had it right before she died at 89. She dismissed a mammogram since I was only 37. But no mention of feeling a lump. Why didn't I insist on it? I knew women could still get cancer even before they were 40. I guess I just decided that I didn't need to worry about it.

On my lunch break at work that day, I spent my time searching the internet to find out about breast lumps. I knew I needed to make an appointment, but I had to do my research first. Everything I read suggested that it was not cancer. I kept in mind that the majority of breast lumps were benign. My lump was not giving me any trouble, so I thought maybe it was just a cyst. I kept telling myself to get it checked, but I have to admit I sort of put myself at ease with the research I had done.

Naturally life got in the way for me; between working, taking care of my husband and kids, and running my jewelry business, I couldn't find the time to pick up the phone and call the doctor for an appointment. It remained in the back of my mind, And finally, two months after the night I first discovered it, I made an appointment with the doctor.

My doctor felt it and thought it was just a cyst but scheduled my mammogram after the first of the year. Things went on as normal; we celebrated Christmas and I went to the appointment in good spirits, not expecting the worst. Since that was my first mammogram, I had no idea what to expect. When it was my turn, they indicated that they would do an ultrasound as well. It all seemed standard procedure to me.
While in the waiting room, I read numerous articles about other women and their stories of breast cancer;all the while thinking, "This probably won't be me," but I certainly felt all the emotions in their stories.

After my ultrasound the nurses called me back to their offices because my doctor was on the phone. She insisted that I needed to come to her office the next day. That's when it started to hit me. I was in a daze; what was happening? I had to go back to work, cancel my meeting and figure out what to tell my husband. I just told him all I knew and went to that appointment the next day. My doctor told me it didn't look good, and she was scheduling an appointment with a breast surgeon for a biopsy. The next two days were a blur, with my emotions going up and down. I was trying to prepare myself for the worst but still hoping for the best. All I could do was wait to see what would happen.
I told a few friends about the biopsy. They all had very encouraging words, but I still went to that appointment scared out of my mind. It wasn't until I met the breast surgeon that I began to feel reassured. She had this incredible way about her that made me feel that no matter what, I was in good hands.

The next week on, January 12, 2006, I went to the breast surgeon's office to get my results. I got there at 2:00 and sat and waited until 4:00 for my turn. It was very frustrating. Finally the doctor entered the room. She immediately started shaking her head, saying my name. I knew it was bad. The worst had happened ... it was Stage II breast cancer. I felt like all that positive thinking did nothing.
Although she was very encouraging, each moment got worse and worse. All I remembered hearing was chemotherapy, very aggressive, radiation, children, family, support group, prayer. She called my husband in and told us both everything. I was a mess. There was a woman who stopped me on my way out and told me she was a survivor and gave me her number. I even had a few phone calls on my answering service when I got home from other survivors. I didn't talk to anyone but just knowing they were there was helpful. The biggest thing on my mind was how would I tell my kids and my family. That just broke my heart.

We immediately went into treatment; I had a lymph node biopsy first, and they found one lymph node positive. I then had two rounds of the "Red Devil" (Adriamycin). It was pure hell. The first time I vomited for three days straight. I recovered after that but then had to suffer through losing my hair. After four days of watching my thick curly hair fall out little by little, my husband and I decided to just shave my head. It was liberating! The kids were fascinated by it, and they handled everything surprisingly well.

I wore a wig my first day back to work but was miserable. I decided to just wear nice scarves and cool earrings. I finally had my surgery in April, since the tumor had shrunk enough - a lumpectomy. The recovery was a whole lot easier than the lymph node biopsy. I went to a wedding reception that weekend and danced all night!

After surgery I had four rounds of Taxotere which was much easier than the AC, just a lot of aching and fatigue. By then I had a little bit of hair growth and it was summertime so I gave up the scarves. It's amazing how much respect you get when you're a woman with a bald head.
After chemotherapy, I had six weeks of radiation, which was a breeze compared to chemo. I even did the Breast Cancer 3-Day in the middle of treatment. It was truly been an amazing journey.
My friends, co-workers and family have been there for me through all of this. I worked through my treatments, just taking a few days off to recover each time and working from home when necessary. This made everything go much easier in my opinion.

I am taking Herceptin because I was HER-2NEU positive. I will be on it for a year, going every three weeks. It's been pretty tolerable. I am supposed to do hormone therapy when I am finished, which I am not looking forward to it because I hear it makes you gain weight. I gained a few pounds with chemo but have been able to get back in shape with regular exercise. I am feeling really good right now!
I won't pretend that I don't worry about cancer and that I don't think it will come back. I just try to make the most of each day. It is a blessing that I found it and I am well, I just hope to stay that way to be here for my girls. I think about them all the time, whether this will happen to them. But maybe this will help them be more aware of whats going on with their bodies. My life has not changed that much since cancer but I am definitely putting things in perspective. I'm getting much more rest and taking more time for myself. And definitely still beading and making jewelry!

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