Written by: Rebecca Carr
When was the last time you took a phone call that made your heart skip a beat? The call that made time slow down and literally stop the momentum of your life in its tracks? The call that you were anxiously waiting for, knowing there was only one of two outcomes: good news, or bad.
This year, I was the unfortunate recipient of such a phone call. But before I explain what happened, let me tell you why I was waiting for it.
Several weeks before the phone call, I noticed an odd rash on my bra line on the right side of my body. So before I left to go see my niece and nephew, I decided to visit my doctor to get it checked (just in case it was contagious).
My doctor took one look and instantly told me the symptoms point to shingles, vertigo, and a sinus infection. She advised that we run a full panel of bloodworm, as shingles is not very common in a 35 year old woman. So I agreed and they drew samples of my blood.
Eventually the tests came back positive for Lupus. This alone was enough to make my heart skip a beat, because after living a relatively healthy life, I didn’t understand why this draining disease would pop up out of nowhere. But it did help to explain why I was always tired, which certainly helped lift that unknown weight off my shoulders.
About a week later, I went back to the doctor to get clearance to go back to work. Earlier that morning as I was checking the rash site, I felt a lump on my right breast. I brought it up to my doctor and she sent me for an ultrasound/mammogram. The Radiologist then told me it is most likely nothing but he would like a biopsy just to be safe.
There is absolutely no family history of cancer, so I agreed and didn’t think anything of it.
Fast forward ten days later, I was enjoying some relaxation on the couch with my fiancé, Chris, when the phone rang. Realizing it was our doctor, I put the phone on speaker so that Chris could hear the conversation as well.
And that was the moment that would change my life forever.
My doctor shared three words that I never thought I would hear: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. But given her heavy Polish accent, I had difficulty understanding what she was saying. Yet all it would take was two words from her that would make our conversation crystal clear: “hospital and oncologist.”
And then it hit me like a freight train. I have cancer.
I was speechless. How do you react when someone tells you cancer is in your blood. I just sat there in silence. All I could muster up were the words “okay, thank you for the news.” We then hung up the phone. I was eventually given a referral to the Chief of Breast Surgery at Englewood Hospital, Dr. MacIntosh.
As a result of the Lupus, I am already at a high risk for complications. But first was the complication of breaking the news to my family. In many ways, that was more difficult than actually being diagnosed with cancer. I have three sisters, and was more nervous for them, than myself. Because if cancer is now in my family blood line, they could potentially be infected as well.
After doing some extensive research, I finally visited Dr. MacIntosh. She was very sweet and wrote everything I needed to start battling this virus. I could not have radiation because of the Lupus, and I refused to go through Chemo. So I opted for a Double mastectomy.
“I can beat cancer,” I told myself. And surgery was scheduled for April 1st.
After six long hours, I was wheeled out of the surgery room doors with flying colors, heading home the very next day.
Exactly a week later, I return for a follow up visit with my surgeon. And as if all the experiences of 2015 wasn’t enough already, I was told I had such a bad skin infection that I needed to be admitted to the ER immediately.
Weeks went by and they still couldn’t find the source of the infection. I was put in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber two hours a day for 15 days because there was no oxygen circulating to my breast skin. I don’t do well sitting still, my closest friends and family are in fear for my life, and on top of everything else, I lost almost all of the skin on my chest.
So needless to say, the hospital was a difficult time for me. But my fiancé Chris, God bless him, was my rock. He stood by my side the entire time, even sleeping beside me in my hospital bed. It was his presence that helped get me through all this.
I was eventually sent home with instructions to basically do nothing. No movements, no lifting, and no working for three months. Chris went back to work, visitors slowed down, and my family went back to their normal routine. Thus the one thing that I had to learn was how to be alone.
I had to learn to keep myself company, which has never been my strong suit. In fact it has always been my biggest fear. Not dying of cancer, but being alone. I sat in silence a lot, trying to figure myself out. I took this horrific situation and decided to make it a life lesson. I never said poor me, What did I do to deserve this? I just kept going. I decided to use comedy and voices (I’m a voice over artist) to make light of the situation, and it worked.
I found that it started making everyone around me more at ease. I made silly cancer jokes, and told funny stories. And you know, through it all, I think I rediscovered myself. I had finally become comfortable in my own skin, literally and figuratively. As I kept myself in my “positive bubble”, I noticed I started feeling better, and healed pretty quick.
Sometimes people will ask me if there is anything I would change about this entire experience. And you might be surprised to hear: I wouldn’t change a darn thing. I am so much stronger now, and so much tougher on the inside. I love my alone time now, and I love the peacefulness of my being.
So you might ask: why I am sharing this story with you all? Because I have decided I want to take my journey and help other people go through theirs. I have since joined support groups and eventually would like to work in the children’s cancer ward.
For anyone who faces a similar situation, I would like to recommend you seek a support group. MyBCTeam and Caring Bridge are two very good ones. Don’t try to go through it alone. A great support system is key. And please – get a mammogram! Don’t wait until you are 40 and “have to”. Catch it early.
Also I would recommend that, as difficult as it is, try to stay positive. Because it really makes a world of difference. Even now, when I go to my oncology appointments, the nurses always tell me “you are the happiest cancer patient we’ve ever had.”
And to that I say “thank you. Because it’s the only way to get through it.”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering where I am today, I am still “under construction” as they say. But I am on the road to recovery. All of the cancer was removed and my lymph nodes were clear. I no longer have cancer. Just the aftermath of its perfect storm.
America’s Footprints would like to give a special “thank you” to Rebecca for taking the time to share this story with us today. If you would like to submit a personal story from your own life that you believe our blog readers can relate to (and possibly find inspiration through), please contact us for more information.