Will Everything be OK? My thoughts on getting diagnosed with Breast Cancer
“You have breast cancer,” she said, as my heart sank to the floor. My mind rushed with a million questions at once. How bad is it? Am I dying? How did this happen? Will everything be ok?
The Accidental Exam
In early May 2019, I found a lump in my left breast by accident. I wish I could say that I was doing my self-exams, but I wasn’t. How I found it remains a blur. I was about to go to sleep and I was relaxing in my bed.
Maybe it was an itch or maybe I was just adjusting a strap on the tank top of my pajamas. Either way, there it was; a lump about the size of a quarter that felt out of place. It didn’t hurt, and it was hard. I knew right away I needed to get it checked out.
Unfortunately, I was leaving within days for a 10-day press trip to Greece, so I vowed to check on it as soon as I got back home to San Diego. The trip to Greece was really busy. I was exploring the area, shooting content, and having fun. I’d forget about it for a while, but it was always there in the back of my mind.
When I returned to San Diego I had trouble getting an appointment at my doctor due to both of our busy schedules including staffing issues in the office. My main doctor was on medical leave and the other practitioner had recently quit working there. This meant that they couldn’t get me in to be seen until late June. I was already scheduled to attend TravelCon on the dates that they had available so I figured I’d try again after I got back.
At TravelCon I was feeling run down a lot and wasn’t and my usual energetic self. I knew I’d been working nonstop for quite a while as my business was really taking off. I’d been so busy seizing every opportunity that was coming at me like water from a firehose and I knew deep down that I was overworking. I figured all of the late nights on my computer plus all the traveling to different time zones had worn me out. So I blamed it on work and jetlag while I kept pushing through.
When I got back home to San Diego it was already late June. I knew I needed to get the lump checked out and I was starting to get frustrated. I called my doctor for the third time and tried to get an appointment. The earliest appointment they had available was not until August 1st, and that was just unacceptable.
At this point, I was so incredibly frustrated and I lost my patience. I made the choice right then to change doctors, even though I’d been going to the same one since 2005. Changing doctors was no easy task, but I knew I needed to be seen sooner. Looking back I’m so thankful that I persisted. If I had let it go much longer it could’ve cost me my life.
If you feel something say something. Don’t wait!
It took a week or so to get assigned to a new doctor and I was finally seen on July 5th. I went in for a new patient visit and had a full physical with blood work and all. Everything checked out ok and crazy enough my blood work was perfectly normal. I didn’t have any signs of illness whatsoever. Now we just needed to clear this lump and I’d be good to go until my yearly physical next year.
At this point, I didn’t feel too worried because everything else looked fine. I was glad that I’d finally be able to check it off of my list and stop thinking about it.
On July 9th my fiance’, Jacob, was leaving for Israel to visit his family and he was bringing his 2 kids with him. I had a few projects to wrap up here in San Diego, so I stayed behind and would meet up with them later.
I had my breast ultrasound appointment at 9am that morning and planned to take them to the airport at 12pm that day to see them off. This is really the day that everything changed for me.
I arrived at my appointment early and they took me right back. During the ultrasound, the tech immediately had a weird look on her face as she studied the screen. Before I was a blogger, I worked as a registered nurse for almost 2 decades, and I knew that look very well. Something was wrong.
She excused herself briefly and came back with the doctor. The doctor asked me if I’d had a mammogram before. “Yes,” I answered. I’d had one in August 2018, less than a year before, and it was said to be “clear”.
She told me that on the ultrasound today, they could see a 2.1 centimeter mass in my left breast and that we needed to get a mammogram right away so that she could take a closer look. I immediately started crying and thinking of all the possibilities. “Everything will be ok,” I thought, “it has to be”.
The False Negative Mammogram
They sent me through the mammogram right away, flattening each boob like a pancake. Then they took a look at the results while I waited, tears rolling down my face. They made me go back through it for a second set of photos. It seems they didn’t find what they were looking for on either scan.
They rushed me back to the ultrasound room with looks of horror across their faces. The doctor told me that my mammogram was “clear”, despite the fact that I definitely had a large mass inside my breast. How was this even possible?
I then learned that mammograms aren’t 100% accurate.
Because I’m young, 38 at the time, with natural breasts and no surgeries, it seems I have dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue looks like white matter on the screen. So does cancer. If everything looks white due to the dense breast tissue then they can’t really see a white tumor there very easily.
It turns out my dense breast tissue was hiding a 2.1 centimeter cancerous tumor. It may have even been there during my mammogram in 2018, but wasn’t seen on the mammogram then either. I’ll never really know for sure.
Know Your Body
Machines aren’t perfect and medical staff with good intentions can still make mistakes or miss something. It’s really up to you to know your body and advocate for yourself. If I hadn’t persisted, things could’ve gone much differently.
My best advice is to feel yourself up once a month. “Feel it on the first” is what they say. Here’s how:
- Lie down on your back
- Lift up each arm above your head
- Feel everything, your breasts, armpit area, sternum, etc
- Make note of anything that feels like even a small lump
- If it’s hard and not tender this is especially important
Early Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Symptoms of breast tumors vary from person to person. Some common, early warning signs of breast cancer include:
- Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
- An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
- Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- General pain in/on any part of the breast
- Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast
Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are:
- Irritated or itchy breasts
- Change in breast color
- Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
- Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
- Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
- A breast lump or thickening
- Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
And now we wait…
Back in ultrasound, they biopsied the lump and one of my lymph nodes while I tried to stay still on the table, silent tears running down my face during the whole process.
They said I would get the results back in 3 days. So now we wait. According to the assessment of the doctor, I had a 50/50 chance that it was cancer.
I drove home dazed and confused. Trying not to worry until it was actually time to worry. My boobs had been wrapped in an ace bandage to stop the bleeding from the biopsy and my head was spinning like crazy. I was just in time to take Jacob and the kids to the airport.
I walked in the door and put my head straight into Jacob’s chest and cried, “I think I have cancer.”
Could this really be happening?
We were both shocked. I’m the girl who drinks green smoothies for breakfast and goes to meditation retreats.
I thought I’d come home all cleared and we would go about our lives.
Jacob didn’t want to leave me, but since the flight was leaving within hours it was too late to change any of the plans.
After I dropped them off and we said our goodbyes, I went home alone and tried to clear my head. The next day I was booked for a campaign in Palm Springs. Hopefully, it would serve as a great distraction.
My photographer/friend Melissa was helping me shoot content, so at least I wasn’t alone anymore. We had a blast enjoying the pool and taking photos so my mind was pretty occupied for those 2 days. We knew we were waiting for the call, but we didn’t know when it would come.
The phone call no one wants to get
On Friday morning of July 12th, we left Palm Springs in our “girls trip” Mustang convertible, courtesy of my campaign with Enterprise Rental Car.
We were heading back home to San Diego when I got the dreaded call.
I answered the phone and heard the doctor say “Hiiiii” very slowly with a downturned tone at the end. I already knew what she was going to say and my heart sank.
Melissa gasped for air as she pulled off of the road to catch her breath. We sat in a random parking lot somewhere off the freeway as she delivered the horrible news.
It was official, I had Breast Cancer.
Down the Rabbit Hole
I asked what I was supposed to do next. She said I’d be assigned a nurse who’d help me navigate through the process. It was a Friday morning and she probably wouldn’t get back to me until next week.
How was I supposed to make it through the weekend not knowing what to do? For all I knew, I could be dying. It was the longest weekend of my life.
Melissa stayed with me at my house that night so that I wouldn’t be alone. When she left the next day, I was officially alone with my thoughts. I stared at the home page of Google with a million questions that had no answer.
Google couldn’t tell me what stage of cancer I was, whether everything will be ok, or if I had 6 months to live.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from hours of anxiety-filled endless searching. After seeing the same few articles over and over no matter the question I typed in, I finally took a sleeping pill and tried to rest.
After what felt like a month of waiting, Monday finally came and went with no call from the nurse. My anxiety was through the roof.
On Tuesday I finally called them myself to check-in and was connected with my new cancer nurse navigator. After we spoke though, I was more overwhelmed than relieved.
Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
My nurse was lovely and spent an hour and a half walking me through all of the new information I needed to know. Once we sorted out scheduling multiple appointments with my new cancer team, she let me know that there was something else she needed to tell me.
My tumor tested negative for estrogen and progesterone and we were waiting on the HER2 test to come back. If the HER2 was negative then I would be diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
I had absolutely no idea what that meant. I’d never heard of any of this and was getting nervous from the serious tone of her voice.
She gave me all the terrifying details as I listened intently.
It turns out that Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) is more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer and is also the rarest. It only makes up about 10% of all breast cancers. It also doesn’t respond at all to the medications that work for other types of breast cancer, so there are fewer treatment options. This makes it one of the most difficult cancers to treat.
It’s also more likely to spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body making it stage 4.
The scariest part is that there’s a higher chance that it will come back somewhere else outside the breast, like the liver, brain, or lungs. This usually happens within the first 3 years after your initial treatment of chemo, surgery, and radiation.
It’s also more likely to be fatal within the first 5 years.
Hearing this news was absolutely terrifying.
My brain automatically jumped to the morbid thought, “You have 5 years to live!”
That’s when I completely lost it.
We didn’t have the final results yet though, so I tried to hold it together.
They told me that they’d have the official results in about 10 more days. Another round of waiting for what felt like an eternity.
Of course, I was scheduled for another press trip. This time it was to Geneva & Malta, and I was leaving in a week. It was the last one I had booked on the calendar, and I wondered if I should even go.
My mind wouldn’t stop swirling.
Was I dying? Did I even have time? Would this be my last trip forever?
The trip was only 10 days long, so my medical team approved me to go. We still didn’t know what stage I was in, or if I had TNBC. Even so, we all agreed that there was plenty of time to have cancer when I got back. It would be a long road, and treatment would be super aggressive.
After thinking it over, I made the decision to go. I wanted to enjoy my life as much as I could while I still had a choice in the matter. I knew I needed to fill my tank with the things that made me happy one last time before the unknown took over my life.
My Last Trip… For Now
Going through the motions with a zombie-like demeanor, I somehow made my way to Geneva alone. When I checked into the hotel, I was completely exhausted and all I wanted to do was rest. Normally I’m ready to go right away and excited to discover a new city. This time was different.
I felt a slight disappointment at that realization that I’d lost my usual zest. Though I quickly realized that this was a new situation for me and that I’d need to listen to my body whenever it needed rest. This is something I was never very good at. My endless curiosity for life keeps me quite busy.
I ventured out that night feeling so alone. There was a part of me that felt different from everyone else now. There was no way to go back to the old me, and it made me feel sad.
I felt stricken; like a bolt of lightning has chosen me randomly from the sky and pierced me with this crazy disease. I hated that I couldn’t fix it and somehow undo the curse.
I watched as the people passed me by and wanted to tell the angry couple who were probably fighting for no reason to stop it and hug it out. I wanted to tell the girl who looked down at her phone so sadly that everything will be ok and that she should go out and enjoy her life as much as possible right this second.
My head was spinning as I tried to understand what was happening to my life. I was alone again with my thoughts and my brain just wouldn’t shut down. I had a million questions and there were still no answers yet.
The circular thinking was mentally exhausting. I needed to quiet my mind and distract it with something fun. I needed to feel like myself again, even for a moment.
Paragliding over Mont Blanc
I booked a paragliding experience nearby in France even though I’m totally afraid of heights. Surely this would get my mind off of my problems for a bit.
I hopped on the bus to France and when I arrived in the Alps I felt so free. It was all so beautiful there. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer. I inhaled the crisp, clean air and felt alive.
Cyrille, my paragliding instructor, met me at the cable cars and we drove along the countryside to reach the peak where we would fly.
Geneva was on my left and Mont Blanc was on my right. This was the perfect place to take my first flight. Bucket List checked!
When we were about to take off, I got so scared and almost backed out. I realized I was about to jump off a cliff with a complete stranger. Suddenly this all felt like a really bad idea.
My instructor Cyrille was awesome though & he calmed my nerves as we made the leap off of the cliff & into the sky. It was so quiet up there.
We flew peacefully over the gorgeous terrain between Switzerland & France. That moment was so beautiful.
I was floating in the air feeling every emotion at once. It was such a release of all the tension that had been built up in my body. I quietly cried happy tears & wanted to stay up there forever.
We landed smoothly and at that moment I felt like me again. The happy girl who loves to explore & experience life to the fullest.
I thought to myself, “Yes, everything WILL be ok”.
Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Confirmed
I eventually got the call from the nurse and they confirmed that I did, in fact, have Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
At this point, I was already prepared for the worst, so it didn’t really phase me by the time I got the official news. Everything was falling apart already, but I was in Europe so it could wait.
I decided to “have cancer” when I got back home to San Diego. For the rest of the trip, I’d just be my usual self. I allowed myself to live in blissful denial for a few more days.
Jacob finally arrived to meet me in Geneva and I finally felt like I could breathe again. We’d spent 10 days apart, which would normally be nothing. During this time it felt like forever.
Our next stop was Malta and we were ready to enjoy it as much as possible.
Taking a Chemo-Moon in Malta
Some people take a babymoon before the baby comes. We used Malta as our “chemo-moon” before the chemo would come.
I knew this would be the last trip Jacob and I would go on together for a while, so I wanted to make the most of it.
The showed us all around Malta and we soaked up every minute of its beauty.
When we returned home my cup was full. I was ready to take on whatever came at me. No matter what the statistics said, I was determined to beat this thing once and for all.
Embracing the unknown
I’ve promised myself I’m going to keep living my life during this process as much as I can. It’s so easy to get down if I’m not careful. Some days are really tough and I have to let it out, but I can’t stay there too long. I have to keep shining through the darkness and be my own light.
Though this journey was never part of the plan, I’m embracing it all and going with the flow. I still don’t understand why this is happening to me, but I’m open to the lessons that I supposed to learn from it.
Maybe I’ve been assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.
Maybe I’m supposed to share this crazy story in my own way while embracing massive vulnerability.
Maybe it will show others that they aren’t alone and that maybe there’s another way to take on cancer; with grit, grace, and gratitude.
I’ll be getting 16 rounds of chemo, followed by surgery and then radiation. I feel strong, and I am ready.
It’s all about Mindset
So many people have asked how I’m able to stay so strong & positive through all of this.
My answer: It’s a mindset & it’s a choice.
Every day we make thousands of micro choices that create the life we experience. When times get tough and are out of your control, you can still choose the filter you want to view your life through.
- Choose to find the silver lining among the clouds. ️
- Choose to celebrate the good things, no matter how small.
- Choose to be grateful for what you still have, which if you really think about it, is probably a lot.
With time, I’ve been able to settle into my emotions & I’m definitely feeling a lot better about all of this than I did at the beginning.
I’m still allowed to exercise & it’s actually encouraged so I’m staying active and enjoying the San Diego sunshine. I’m also improving my diet to include all of the cancer-fighting foods and have been having fun learning new recipes.
Sadly though, I don’t really know when I’ll be able to travel again. I’ll likely be in aggressive treatment for about a year. That feels like forever to me, but my doctor is amazing & she said we can possibly negotiate a small trip if I’m doing really well. Fingers crossed!
As you can imagine, this has created a lot of uncertainty in every area of my life. But I know I just have to do whatever it takes to nurture my body back to health right now. After that everything will fall into place as it should.
What matters most is that I keep a positive mindset throughout this process. I’ll keep doing the things that I love as much as I can & do my best to maintain my happiness while I fight this battle.
I’ve always used my platform to inspire, empower & educate others with what I’ve learned through my own experiences. Cancer will be no different.
I’ll be sharing pieces of my journey as it unfolds in hopes that I can help someone else in their own fight. To give hope & strength to those who need it while also spreading awareness of the things I’ve learned.
Will Everything Be OK?
Because cancer is so unpredictable, no one ever really knows, but I have to believe in my heart that it will.
So to answer my own question, “Will everything be ok?” My answer is YES.
There’s a quote that says:
“Everything will be ok in the end, and if it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”
I’m way too stubborn to let cancer get the best of me. I have a lot more I plan to do with this amazing life of mine before it’s over.
Thank you for joining me on this new journey into the unknown.
To be continued…