Fighting Like a Girl: My Battle with Breast Cancer
Today, in honor of #BreastCancerAwareness Month, GladiatHers® is so very proud to partner with guest blogger, Jennifer Jackson of The Young and the Breastless, to help her share her story of survival in the fight against breast cancer.
My life was perfect. Ok, maybe perfect isn’t the right word but it was as close to perfect as it had ever been. I was so happy. I had a smile and glow bigger and brighter than Claire Huxtable’s in an episode of the Cosby show. I was a newlywed on cloud 9, but before the ink could even dry on our marriage certificate we were gearing up to learn the true meaning of our wedding vows. For better or for worse; In s i c k n e s s and in health.
My story doesn’t start with a lump. I wasn’t massaging my breasts in the shower to check for lumps or “Feeling it on the First”. All boob meat felt lumpy to me so how would I even know if one of those lumps were good or bad? My story starts with blood on the bed sheets. The blood wasn’t alarming or coming out in excess, it was sneaky like a gray hair or a pimple that just appears overnight. And if I wasn’t paying attention I might not have noticed.
I was less than 30 days away from my favorite holiday, Christmas in July — AKA my birthday. I’d be turning 35. I was happy, optimistic and feeling like everything was finally coming together for me. Instead, everything seemed to be falling apart. This was not the happily ever after that I’d written in my head. This was a nightmare.
I was jamming to the song called Life and just when I was about to drop it low, the record skipped…
On June 29th, 2017 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer. Excuse me, but I just got married. My husband and I just moved into our brand new home not even a month earlier. I’d already picked out baby names for our future children, the daycare, even the elementary school. The only things missing were the actual kids and the white picket fence.
Instead of planning for babies and decorating our new home, 6 days after my diagnosis I sat with my husband in the doctor’s office, scared out of my mind. And to think, I almost ignored those specks of blood.
I went through almost a box of tissues in that appointment. There was more medical jargon than I could consume at one time. I was trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a boxing ring. I was on the losing end.
“Do you want kids?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Ok, you will have to undergo fertility treatments and store your eggs. Treatment will likely put you into early menopause.”
“Are you attached to your breasts?”
“You will need to have a mastectomy on at least the infected breast. But you should probably just do both for uniformity.”
“Oh, and the nipples will have to go too.”
“Will I lose my hair?”
“Yes, the chemo will cause you to lose your hair.”
“But, I love my hair!”
Pow! Pow! Pow!
I was almost down.
I was flooded with emotions. Anger, sadness, worry but, thankfully, never defeat. I felt like a child who had fallen down and looked to her parents for confirmation on how to feel. If the parents show signs of panic that child is going to panic. But if the parents are calm and say, “It’s ok. It hurts a little but you’ll be ok.” That child will believe it. It will learn how to endure the pain and rise from his fall.
The doctors told me that within a year I would fight this and win. My family and friends came rushing to my support from near and far. They planted the seed in my head that this fall would not break me and that seed made all the difference.
I powered through fertility treatment, a double mastectomy, 6 rounds of chemotherapy and reconstruction surgery. It was HARD, the hardest thing I’d ever done. It was emotional. I cried more than I ever have in my life. Through it all, I was determined not to let breast cancer break me.
I ducked, dodged and blocked as many of those POWs as I could. I learned to lean on my husband, on my friends and most importantly on myself. I went through the motions one day at a time, dealing with anger and tears and combating depression. There were some really dark moments along the way.
And the Chemo…it was worse than they described.
See, I didn’t think I was going to get some brutal cancer treatment. I thought I was getting the Cancer-lite treatment. I had a rude awakening. I would soon discover that there was no such thing. Cancer had a few more punches left to throw.
Prior to the start of treatment, the medical staff and others tried to encourage me and pump me up. “Oh you’re young,” they said. “You’ll probably experience a little tiredness. Possibly some nausea. Maybe some diarrhea. You may lose your taste buds. But you’re young so you’ll likely bounce back quick.” I. Was. Pumped. Up. 6 rounds in the ring with cancer? I was going to BEAST this.
Each chemo session felt like a badge of honor. That walk in the park that had been described felt more like me trying to climb out of a giant sinkhole. Some sessions were a little easier to endure than others. I’d go on Friday mornings and the week to follow I called “Hell week”. By the Saturday night or Sunday I felt the effects of all the drugs that had been poured into me. It would start slowly. First with body aches, then chills, then nausea. It’s a kind of tired and weak that I had ever felt. I guzzled water trying to flush it out. I consumed ginger and turmeric and tried every other chemo hack that I could get my hands on to make the side affects a little easier to bear. But just when I started to feel better, I was back for another round.
To make matters worse, there was a side effect that no one had EVER mentioned to me. A CHEMO RASH. Oh, this was just the proverbial cherry on top. I was a 7-year-old with chicken pox trapped in a 35-year-old body. There was no cute scarf or magic eyebrow pencils to cover this mess. The rash outed me. There I was back in the boxing ring. This wasn’t just a punch, it knocked the wind out of me.
Somewhere between round 1 and 2 of chemo, my hair threw up the peace sign. So, there I was with no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, nada. (New discovery) I’ve got a hook in the back of my head.
I felt like a monster. I was literally crawling on the floor of the ring at this point.
See, when I lost my breasts, my hair and my eyebrows; I felt like I was losing huge pieces that played an instrumental part in what makes me look and feel like a woman. Yes, these are all the superficial things that make a woman feel beautiful but it was all that I had known up to this point. My hair and my breasts are what always made me feel pretty. So no matter how much people wanted to impose their “I am not my hair” ideologies, I couldn’t help but feel the way I felt.
Along my journey so much was taken from me. You don’t get to call the shots in this chapter of the story. As a person who needs complete control— having no control over how this part of my story was written was a hard pill to swallow. But I began to look for places to regain some control over my life. I cut my hair off, and decided to keep it short even after it began growing back. I traded in my lion mane for a cute little pixie. I had my breasts reconstructed and burned all my bras. Ok, that’s extreme but they are definitely sitting in the drawer collecting dust cuz these things are sitting NICE! I drew in to my marriage, convinced more than ever that I married my soulmate.
I’m not quite out of the ring yet, they’re still pumping me full of Tamoxifen, but I can say that I’m in this fight for the long haul.