Oliviya Diagnosed at 28
Cancer was never talked about when I was growing up. I don’t remember anyone having cancer in our family, but then again, it wasn't openly talked about back then.
Fast forward to my 20’s and one day when my mom was visiting, she asked me about a lump she had found in her breast. I remember telling her, “Mom you need to go get that looked at.” I never thought it could be anything serious. My mom was very healthy and vibrant, she loved to eat clean and exercise. When we found out that lump was breast cancer we were completely blindsided. She had to do an immediate mastectomy and chemotherapy.
A few months later my mom’s sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Two women in our family within six months of each other was devastating. We remained positive they would be OK. My aunt's doctor recommended the BRCA (Breast Cancer Gene) testing, and they both tested positive. My mom insisted I also get tested, because the gene can be passed down to your children. I drug my feet. I was young and had just started my family. I thought I had time. I believed cancer was an "over 40" disease.
Unfortunately, we lost my aunt to her cancer not long after her diagnosis. She fought hard and was such a beautiful light in this world. My mom had finished her treatments and we wanted to believe she was going to stay healthy. But, her cancer returned, and began to spread through her body. She endured more chemo and radiation.
After, I had my second child, a baby girl, I decided to get tested for the gene. I also tested positive for the BRCA mutation. This meant my chance of developing cancer in my life time was at 80%. I researched my options and found out I could have a prophylactic mastectomy. This would reduce my chances of cancer to that of a women without the BRCA gene.
I began looking for a breast surgeon and plastic surgeon to perform the operation. I was told in order to have this done I would need to have a mammogram. Three days before my appointment for the mammogram my insurance called and denied my request because I was under the age of 40. I remember being very angry with the insurance lady. I told her I was high risk and I needed to have this done. She told me to just wait until I was 40.
I didn't have time to wait. I knew I needed to do this as soon as possible.
I searched everywhere for financial help for a mammogram, and almost gave up. I was finally approved for financial aid even though they normally didn’t help women under 40. I rescheduled my mammogram, and on the day of my appointment, I made my husband go with me because I was so nervous. When the technician scanned my right breast, there was a dark mass. She excused herself and left the room and I turned to my husband in shock. “What is that?” He responded “its probably just a blocked milk duct”, since I had just finished breast feeding my baby girl. They wanted to do a biopsy the next day.
The days following my biopsy took forever. I was impatiently waiting for the phone call that could change my life. Four days later, my oncologist called and told me I had breast cancer. I was 28 years old, I had two small children at home and my mom’s cancer was spreading throughout her body. I didn't have time for cancer.
Everything happened so fast. I was scheduled for a double mastectomy with reconstruction and four months of chemo. My mom and I were doing chemo at the same time. I wanted to take care of her but I couldn't even take care of myself. My kids were shuffled between their dad and my in-laws, while I laid in bed, sick and tired.
We eventually had to move my mom into a nursing home because I couldn't take care of her. It broke my heart. She fought as hard as she could. She tried to keep a positive attitude and planned future trips with her grand babies. I watched her slowly slip away day after day until she finally went into a coma like state. The day before my third chemo, I held my mom's hand, and told her it was okay to let go as she took her last breath. She was my best friend, and now she was gone.
My oncology nurse asked me if I wanted to skip that weeks' chemo. I said no, I needed to push on. I needed to get through this for my children. I had my mom cremated and when I was finally finished with my treatments, we spread her ashes in the mountains she loved so much.
That same year it was suggested I have my ovaries removed to lessen my chance of the cancer returning. I was giving up my chances of ever having any more children, and going into menopause before the age of 30. I ended up having over a dozen surgeries within that year. My reconstruction had failed and needed to be fixed, many different times.
Even though I was done with chemo and trying to put my life back together, my body had been through so much, it just wanted to give up. I was in remission but was falling apart. I was grieving deeply for my mom, my old body, the life I had left behind, and my future. I am very blessed to have an amazing husband. He stood by me the entire journey, never missing a chemo or doctors appointment, holding my while I cried in pain from the medications. Took care of our home and family, while working a full time job. He made sure I was comfortable, eating well, and still laughing everyday. He would go sit with my mom in the morning at the nursing home and keep her company. He is my rock and my soft place to land.
Not a day goes by that I am not reminded by the scars on my body and my heart of what my family has been through. In a way cancer was a gift. I know it sounds cliche but it showed me that I can't take anything of granted, I need to live everyday to the fullest, and even a girl from a small town can make an impact on the world with her story.
My future is bright. I get to have precious moments with my children and husband. I get to inspire others to fight like hell through the dark days. I get to spread HOPE.
Are you a survivor, spouse, friend, or caretaker with a story to tell? We'd love to hear from you.