Every October, it seems as though the world glows a shade of pink — and rightfully so, as we celebrate and honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year marks the seventh year I’ve been cancer-free, and although we’ve certainly come a long way in spreading awareness about this all-too-common disease, I felt compelled this year to share more from my personal journey with breast cancer because there is a lot of information, tips, and guidance that I certainly wish someone had passed along to me upon diagnosis.
Nearly 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. But not many women know that there are several types of breast cancer. Or that treatment plans will be dramatically different from patient to patient depending on what type of breast cancer it is.
Eight years ago I didn’t know. I thought I knew the basics — I scheduled a yearly women’s exam and supported breast cancer awareness whenever an opportunity presented itself; but with no family history of the disease, I never thought I would need to know more. My journey with breast cancer started rather unexpectedly in September 2011, when I was visiting Dr. William Schoolcraft, fertility specialist and founder of CCRM (Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine), to begin an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle for my husband, Bill, and I start our path of becoming parents. Dr. Schoolcraft ordered a mammogram before beginning my fertility treatments, a test CCRM uniquely orders for every patient to ensure patients are healthy before undergoing any treatment — something prior fertility clinics I went to didn’t do. What was initially meant to be the most exciting time in our lives quickly turned far scarier than your typical starting-a-family nerves. The test, to everyone’s surprise, found an early-stage tumor. To this day I think, what if I hadn’t sought treatment with CCRM? Had the test not been performed, who knows how my journey could have changed?
The devastation and the fear Bill, my family, and I felt is indescribable. Shifting my mindset from starting a family to Googling surgical bras and trying to figure out if I would lose all of my hair was heartbreaking. After settling with the initial sadness, fear, and anger that naturally comes with this type of devastating diagnosis, Bill and I sat together to weigh out our options. Following a failed lumpectomy in October 2011, I decided to proceed with a double mastectomy December 2011. This was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make as a woman, a wife, a hopeful mother – but one I felt was absolutely necessary to continue living my life in happiness. I have been cancer-free since.
As people often say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. I am incredibly fortunate to have a platform to spread not only a hopeful message to women and families in their own journeys with breast cancer, but also to disperse honest advice. So in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the seven year anniversary of my own diagnosis, here are five things I wish someone had told me before I was diagnosed: