"I’ll never forget the date. September 10th, 2013, my world fell apart. I was 36 years old.
"It all started with a shooting pain in the middle of the night. I woke from a dead sleep, in pain; I had a shooting stabbing pain in my left breast. It kept me up for a couple minutes and then subsided, but it was enough to send me poking and prodding the next day and there it was, 'ouch' every time I touched it. I already had an appointment scheduled that week with my doctor. I told him and he examined me, he thought it's likely a cyst or another benign condition found in the breast but I am putting you through the paces just to be sure.
"Fast forward about 2 weeks, I had gone away on summer vacation and returned home to a message on my phone with details of a mammogram appointment. *deep breaths* The day came and I went for the mammogram, the technician was very kind and told me every detail of the scan. She informed me it was normal for someone my age and with dense breasts to be sent on for an ultrasound, so not to be alarmed if that happened. So she completed the mammogram and away I went to ultrasound. You know that instinct that all women have -- that intuition that’s never wrong, I felt it weighing heavily. The radiologist came in and she started the ultrasound. She said a couple of things that pretty much confirmed my fear, she didn’t like the look of it and she didn’t like the size of it, she did like that it wasn’t vascular, so it didn’t have any blood flow. All of this happened on a Friday of a long weekend. I was asked to come back on Tuesday for a biopsy.
"I returned on that Tuesday and was called into the exam room. While I laid there by myself with 2 strangers, staring at the ceiling, she did the procedure. She told me I should hear the results within a few days. That’s it? I should hear the results in a few days, that’s all you have to say? So, while I am in the exam room getting dressed I can hear all the techs outside the room in their little break area tee-heeing and laughing about upcoming plans, while I stand there wondering if my worst fears are about to come true. I left the hospital with my sunglasses, got in my truck, paid to park, pulled into a local school parking lot and sobbed and then called my husband.
"September 10th, 2013...my phone rings at home, private caller:
"'Hi, Kim, it's Dr. *****. I got the results of your biopsy, I’m sorry to call you but I am not in the office.'
"I said, 'I would rather you call.'
"Dr. says, 'I’m sorry, it's breast cancer; Ductal Carcinoma, one of the most common types.'
"I somehow keep my composure as he says we still have to wait for the pathology, and he also says, 'Kim, we are going to get this.' My world as I knew it just completely fell apart. I call my husband, he rushes home from work, I go straight to my parents' house to tell them. I only tell my brothers and my closest friends, and it's kept very hush for a few weeks as I go see doctors and the surgeon.
"From diagnosis to surgery it was almost a month. A month that goes by with your only thoughts being, 'this beast is still there, what if it is spreading?'
"After meeting with the surgeon and discussing this beast, a partial lumpectomy was the decided surgery. On October 15th, I arrive at the hospital to finally get this thing out of me because at this point I am in pain most of the time. Just a constant reminder that it was there. You often hear breast cancer doesn’t typically cause pain; well, I am here to tell you different. Mine hurt all the time.
"The surgery was successful, the tumor was removed with all clear margins and no lymph node involvement. That is huge, it can still spread via your blood stream but commonly is first found in your lymph nodes. The pathology came back and my treatment plan was discussed and put into place.
"There is all this time between appointments, time that you spend trying to be normal, time you spend literally walking around in a daze. I remember going to get groceries and running errands and all the time you are looking around, and the world is moving on and all you can think is 'my world is falling apart.'
"The time comes and I have appointments at the oncology clinic. I walked in there, clearly the youngest person in the waiting room, while people look around and at you and it's that uncomfortable stare, and then you look away. You know people are wondering why you are there as I am wondering it about them. I meet with the oncologist and we discuss my treatment plan. She schedules a CT scan of my chest and abdomen as well as a full body bone scan. They order these tests for all women with breast cancer: they need a baseline to have for comparisons in the future; they also need to make sure the breast cancer hasn’t spread to other organs and your bones. Scared is an understatement. My scans were all clear and showed no sign of metastatic cancer.
"I was told I was going to have 16 weeks of chemotherapy, one treatment every 2 weeks, 8 in total. I was having very aggressive treatment as I was young and could handle it. I was told as far as they were concerned I was cancer-free; this was all preventive treatment to catch and kill any little cell that may have gotten away. After chemo I would also have 6 weeks of radiation.
"My first treatment day came and I went with all the courage I could muster, I chose to not have a central line or a PICC line put in; that didn’t interest me in the least. So I went for all my treatments and blood work and was poked every time and that was fine. I didn’t need another constant reminder on my body that represented cancer. I came home after that first treatment and thought I was fine until late that night, I spent the better part of the night on the bathroom floor. I am not going to go into details of my first experience other than for 2 weeks I was very sick, lost 11 pounds, and couldn’t get out of bed. Oncology was notified and they reduced the dose of my chemotherapy, thank goodness. The second one which was on my birthday and right over Christmas wasn’t fun but was tolerable. The good thing was about 4-5 days before the next treatment you had pretty much returned to normal, only to be knocked down again.
"Six days before my third treatment, the day after New Years, my world as I knew it would be forever changed. My sweet brother, one of my biggest advocates in my fight, my go-to, a father of 4 and a husband, 45 years old, died suddenly. My heart was broken. His death delayed my treatments for a few days, but I pushed forward as I knew now more than ever I had to go on, I had to get through this. I am still grieving, I look at his picture every day and can't believe he is gone, I can't believe I am not going to see him again. I talk to him constantly, and think about him every single day. I miss him beyond words, but I know he would be so proud. He’s been with me every step of the way.
"I had been my own advocate with my hair, I wanted to control that. It's pretty much a given, if you have breast cancer and undergo treatment, you will lose your hair. By my second treatment, I cut my hair into a bob. Four days into that, I was getting handfuls of it, so it was time. My friend came over and we buzzed it off. A couple days after that, my husband took his razor and we shaved it bald. You also lose pretty much every bit of hair on your body, I was lucky and have managed to hold onto some eyebrows and lashes.
"Fast forward to March 18th...a little more than 16 weeks...I FINISH MY LAST CHEMO infusion. My last 4 treatments were a different drug, so I was there for almost 5 hours each time: it took almost 4 hours to receive the drugs. It's almost been 9 weeks since my last treatment and I am still feeling the side effects, it will take awhile for things to return to somewhat normal. When I think of the amount of medicine that ran through me, I should feel the way I do: sluggish, run down, hot and cold flashes, pale and the list goes on. Aside from that, I also feel triumphant. I did it, I made it through the rough part. April 9th I head to St. John to have my markings done for radiation. After having my markings done, 2 days before I was to start rads, I get a call that the closest hospital to me cannot do my rads. I am told I will have to go to Toronto and have radiation, as they didn't have the technology to treat me: left-sided heart-sparing treatment, known as the breath hold technique. So without a choice, I hop a plane to Toronto and have to live here for 6 weeks. I am receiving my treatments at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center.
"My name is Kim. I am 37 years old, I am a wife (to Mike) and a mother to 2 amazing little souls, Ethan (8) and Samuel (6). And I am battling breast cancer -- killing it is more like it.
"Side note: There is no history whatsoever of breast cancer in my immediate family. I was not an avid 'checker.' I am thankful everyday for that night of pain. I am convinced without the radiating pain I never would have found the lump in my breast. Please do self-breast exams and remember to check your underarms as well and report any abnormal findings to your doctor. A lump doesn’t always represent cancer."
--kimie06 (Kim), diagnosed at age 36