27 August 2014

"It's the 'Real Deal' Breast Cancer."

Well, it's been quite the summer.

If you follow my Instagram account, you know what's going on. I haven't felt inclined to post here until recently, and I'm only doing so now because I feel it is important. Not just for me to vent, but for me to hopefully help one chick out there take every single lump seriously. As a matter of fact, it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. The most important things to remember are to take lumps seriously and if you're more lethargic than usual than PLEASE go see a doctor. Who cares if people think you're a hypochondriac? Or overreacting? Wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry? Yes. Yes, you would.

So, here's my summer journey so far:
  1. November 2013
    • I felt a lump. I was in my final month of pregnancy, and I had an ultrasound scheduled on my due date. I was told that while the lump was large, it didn't look suspicious, and that I shouldn't worry. "Breasts do crazy things during pregnancy. Come back six months after you're done breastfeeding," the doctor in Virginia said.
  2. November 22, 2013
    • My absolutely beautiful son was born, and I tried to breastfeed. I stressed myself out, and I tried and he tried, but he just didn't want to. I felt like a failure.
  3. December 2013 through May 2014
    • I felt the lump grow, and I felt some minor shooting pains, but I didn't think anything more of it, other than that it was those "crazy" things breasts do during pregnancy. The doctor said to come back six months after I was done breastfeeding, so I planned to go back in June since breastfeeding didn't work out for me.
  4. June 2014
    • My husband's company gave us an opportunity to move back to Jacksonville, Florida from Virginia. The only catch was that we had to move back immediately. I work from home for my company, so it was a cinch to say "yes" and jump on the opportunity. My husband moved down right away and I stayed in Virginia with our beautiful son until my husband found us a house and we could move.
  5. June 2014
    • I knew I needed to get my annual exam out of the way before I moved. If I waited, I knew I would take forever to find another doctor in Florida. I might as well get it done now, I thought. I scheduled my appointment and my doctor immediately scheduled a mammogram after she felt the lump.
    • The mammogram resulted in identifying something "suspicious." They scheduled a biopsy.
    • The biopsy showed a result that STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS.
    • My doctor told me I had "the real deal" breast cancer. 
    • I kept thinking, "How can this happen? My son is only seven-months-old. I don't want him to never know me. I don't want him to call someone else 'Mommy.' That's me. I'm Mommy." I immediately had jumped to the worst-case scenario. I was a wreck. I cried constantly. I WAS TERRIFIED.
    • I packed up the house.
    • I moved with my son down to Florida. My husband had come back to do the move and drive with us.
  6. July 1, 2014
    • Two days after I moved to Florida, with boxes littered everywhere in our new house, I had my first appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. They confirmed it was breast cancer, but couldn't yet tell me what stage it was at, or if it had spread. They just needed to get it out. NOW.
    • I had a complete breakdown in my surgeon's office. What if it's really bad? What if it has spread? What will I do? I can't handle this. My son is only seven-months-old. I want to be with my husband. When will I get the test results? I can't leave my son and my husband. I still have work to do in my life.
  7. July 15, 2014
    • I had a double mastectomy performed. Even though the right breast was the problem, I opted to remove the left as well, in order to be aggressive. The doctor also found that 29 out of 53 lymph nodes had cancer in it. She removed all of my lymph nodes in my right armpit during the surgery.
    • I didn't look at myself for five days after the surgery.
    • I cried. I waited for test results. I grew paranoid about what those results were. I was terrified.
    • Finally. Some GOOD NEWS.
      • A PET scan resulted in the good news that the cancer, while it was categorized as Stage 3, had NOT SPREAD to any other part of my body other than my lymph nodes. I cried. I cried because of a combination of lingering fear, fear of my upcoming chemo treatments, and complete hysterical glee that I was going to see my son grow and that I could be with my husband for our next adventures, our next good and FUN adventures, in life.
      • But, then I realized I still have to get chemo out of the way. While one extremely terrifying part might be done, I still have more left on this ride to get done before I can breathe easy.
    • My oncologist set me up to still receive chemo treatments and radiation even though the cancer was completely removed when they performed the surgeries for both the double mastectomy and the lymph node removal. The chemo and radiation are strictly to act as an extra layer of insurance to make sure that if there are any random cancer cells floating in my body, this treatment will zap it.
  8. August 8, 2014
    • I have a procedure to put a "Power Port" into my chest, that has a tube which feeds directly into my jugular. This is how I will be "fed" the chemo, and also acts as an easy access point to take my blood work, instead of always having to find a vein in my arm. It sticks out of my chest pretty dramatically. It's not pretty, and I felt claustrophobic the first day after I got it because I could feel the tube going across my throat, but I'm used to it now.
  9. August 12, 2014
    • My first chemo treatment. They gave me a big dosage of Benadryl to relax me, and then for four hours, I laid in a bed while I got my chemo. I watched two episodes of "Lost" on Netflix, even though I struggled to keep my eyes open. (By the way, thank you to Netflix and the TV shows "Lost" and "Pretty Little Liars." You've done an excellent job distracting me from all of the crap that I've been going through.)
  10. August 13, 2014
    • I got the Neulasta shot. When you get chemo, your white blood cells drop dramatically down, and you are more open to infection. The Neulasta shot is a major jump start to grow your white blood cells, and I have to get this the day after every single time I get chemo. The only problem is that no one told me how much pain I would feel in my bones afterwards. White blood cells grow in your bone marrow, and the Neulasta shot really kicks the growth into overdrive so that you can regrow the cells to fight infection. But, man. I had the most excruciating pain for three days. It felt like I had been dragged outside into an alley and a horse dutifully obliged by kicking me in my teeth, and then kicked me everywhere else while I was down. I could feel every tooth shifting, almost like they were playing musical chairs and finding a new spot to sit in. PAINFUL.
    • The nurses recommended I take a Claritin (yes, the over-the-counter allergy pills) the two days before, the day of, and the day after I get the Neulasta shot, and it should help to minimize the bone pain. I definitely will try that for my next treatment.
My next round of chemo is next week. I'm scheduled to receive six treatments, one every three weeks, for eighteen weeks. I hear that the side effects will increase each week, because chemo builds up in your body cumulatively. I've also heard that it takes a full year for the chemo drugs to wash completely out of your body.

Phrases That I Will Never Forget
  • "It's the 'real deal' breast cancer." Spoken by my Virginia doctor who first diagnosed me. I felt like it was a nickname, like in boxing, and I had just stepped into the boxing ring for a fight I NEVER wanted to be in.
  • "You're young and you're healthy." I didn't realize being 40 and having breast cancer meant being "young and healthy." But, okay.
  • "You should prepare for a very tough year. Because of the fact that you are young and healthy, the Mayo Clinic is going to throw everything at you to get rid of the cancer."
  • "You're going to be okay." Although this was questionable as I waited for test results, I would still repeat this over and over to myself.
Quick Reflections
  • What has been the worst part to deal with?
    • WAITING. Waiting for test results, waiting to go in for the biggest surgery of my life, waiting to get chemo, waiting for the side effects to kick in. WAITING. I'll bring up the test results again. Waiting for those brought up the most intense fear and paranoia I've ever experienced in my life.
  • What stage was the cancer in?
    • Stage 3. Stage 4 would have meant it spread to other organs. In my case, it only spread to my lymph nodes, but it DID NOT SPREAD to any major organs.
  • Is my hair starting to fall out?
    • Yep. I cut my hair short so that I wouldn't have to deal with the emotions of my super-long hair falling out. It's expected that all of my hair will fall out by next week.
  • Can I taste my food?
    • Right now, it comes and goes.
  • Did I have any nausea after my first chemo treatment?
    • No, but I took them seriously when they said to take the anti-nausea pill at the first questionable feeling.
  • Do you still feel like a "breastfeeding failure?"
    • HELL, NO. If breastfeeding had been successful, I still would not have gone to the doctor yet. Remember, I was supposed to go back six months after I was done breastfeeding. What if I had been breastfeeding for six to eight months? I wouldn't have seen any doctor until next year. And that might have been just too late.
  • Did you get the genetic testing done?
    • Yes. I want to see if I have any mutations in my genes which would show I was predisposed to get breast cancer. I opted to have the most extensive genetic testing done so that I can find anything I could potentially develop (of course, the testing can only show so much), now that I've had breast cancer. Why? Simply because once I know what I might get, I can now MONITOR myself with regular testing and screenings so I can always try to catch things EARLY.
  • Did I go to a support group?
    • I thought about it, but I chose not to at this time. My family and friends have been INCREDIBLE. My husband is the most AMAZING man on the planet. I love him so much and he's working double overtime in this house to take care of the house, me, our son, our dog and cat, and everything else. He is a HERO.
    • My sister came down with her husband, sixteen-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter twice to help around the new house, take care of my son, and just make noise. (I learned I hate hearing people whisper around me. It makes me feel like they think I'm going to die. When my friends and family are in the house, there's regular happy noise and it makes me feel so much better.)
    • Everyone's journey is different. I would highly recommend looking at taking advantage of support group resources and making whatever decision feels right for you. The bottom line is: You cannot do this fight alone.
  • Am I religious?
    • I am Catholic, but have never been a practicing one. Coincidentally, I was already curious about faith and religion BEFORE all of this started, and when I was diagnosed, I easily grew much closer to my faith, and I'm happier for it.
  • Am I reading?
    • I am still voraciously reading and listening to audiobooks, but my urge to craft a review is fairly minimal right now. I'd rather spend my time with my son and husband when I'm feeling well.
  • What's next?
    • 2015. I can't wait for you. I am going to be cancer-free, no more chemo treatments, have breast reconstruction (should I throw in a tummy tuck? Heck, yeah!), and plan an extra-long vacation for just my sweet little family to enjoy. An island paradise at an exclusive resort? Sounds good. A retreat to Paris, followed up by a bar crawl in Ireland? Oh, yeah. Something like that.
  • What do I need from you?
    • KICK ASS vibes, prayers, and thoughts. No sympathy, no pink, none of that. I just want WARRIOR thoughts sent my way. I'm not quite finished with this chapter of my life.
The two reasons that make my life worth living, and loving.

My husband's friend sent me this shirt after my surgery. This rocks.


  1. Thank you so very much for sharing this. Kick ass thoughts coming your way!

  2. Holy crap! I'm sending all the good vibes your direction! I'm really glad that you posted this, I went to the doctor last year for a lump and I felt like a bit of a hypochondriac when nothing showed up on the mammogram or ultrasound. A relieved hypochondriac, to be sure, but a hypochondriac none the less. You're going to kick some ass. Cancer can suck it. Good luck!

  3. Thinking many continued good thoughts for you!

  4. Natalie, I'm praying with you and thinking about your sweet family all the time.

    I remember feeling just as you did when I received my diagnosis. It was thyroid cancer and while not life threatening in itself, I became seriously ill.

    Be strong. Keep fighting. Praying for you all. xoxo

  5. Honey, you got this. You have my prayers as well. I am so amazed at your strength through all of this. I was literally hanging on every word of your post! I am so glad you let us in so that we can support you through this. 2015 is around the corner and it is going to be an awesome year. Lots of hugs.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience. Cancer is one serious asshole. Sending you lots of strength, perseverance, and powerful energy—show that cancer who's the boss of YOUR body!

  7. Keep the warrior spirit strong. Sending thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

  8. Like Ti, I was hanging on every word as well. You are such an incredible woman, so strong and positive. Listen I know you have had moments when you didn't feel strong, but you are. I'm so proud that you have come out swinging and are going to kick its ass. Cancer sucks. Chemo sucks. But you can get through this, and my God, look at your two biggest fans there.

  9. Big hugs to you! I'm sending a lot of positive thoughts to you and your family!

  10. As a mama, I can only imagine the fear of not getting to be there and the intense fight it's given you in turn.


    I know you can do this. I know you probably hear that a lot but it's true.

    My mother battled B.C. in 2007. She beat it and is now healthier than ever and quite the gym rat. I know you'll do the same. I believe in you.

    She was like you, she didn't want sympathy and she didn't want pink. She made up her mind this was not her time and not how she was going to go. She's kicked it's ass and took names.

    Thanks for sharing the total update with us.

    I only wish you lived closer so I could come help with your baby and cheer you up.

    So hey, are you continuing to work? Have you always worked from home?

  11. Wow! You are one fearless warrior! Stay strong. Stay positive. And if you need to vent, cry, scream, or whatever...we're here for you. Good vibes coming to you from France. Bisous!

  12. So very proud of the fact that you trusted the community to share this information and that you shared it all so beautifully and bravely. I truly cannot imagine what this was/is like for you, your husband, and your family. One of my employees took a day off this week to be with his sister while she underwent a mastectomy. When he called to tell me I felt this huge weight, and I don't even know the woman. Cancer is such a devastating illness and I marvel at the courage of people like you who don't let it beat them and use the bad situation to educate and support others. You are in my prayers for continued healing and recovery and for peace and grace during the aggressive treatment you are currently undergoing. If there is anything I can do, don't hesitate to ask. I'm excited that the reports have been great thus far in regards to the cancer not spreading further and pray that many decades from now we are still getting that kind of "cancer free" positive report.

  13. Sending you hugs and all the good thoughts in the world <3

  14. You are a brave warrior who is kicking cancer's ass. 2015 is going to be your year and its getting here as fast as it can for you, so that you can enjoy an awesome vacation with your loved ones. I think you are amazing for sharing your story with us, educating us, and inspiring us. I'm sending positive vibes your way and keeping you in my prayers! Stay strong!!

  15. I've been following your journey on instagram... prayers and kick ass vibes continue!! You are amazing!

  16. Prayers and kick ass vibes coming your way daily! I admire your determination to beat this thing :-D

  17. I am sending positive vibes and prayers your way. You are aw arrive, already tested I this cancer battle, and. You WILL prevail. I am glad you shared this so we can all pray for you and your family!

  18. Sorry I didn't see this earlier. I'm a long-term cancer survivor (undifferentiated lymphoma from when I was 22 which was treated with surgery and 8 months of chemo), so I know some of what you're going through. Although, not all of it -- the treatment options have changed a lot since I went through this in 1985!

    It sounds like you've got all the important stuff figured out, including the most important thing -- that you have warrior reservoirs that you didn't even know you had! What a terrific discovery!

  19. I just saw this on Twitter. You will be in my thoughts, definitely! It's great that you're staying positive and have plenty of support! You will get through it!

  20. Sending you good thoughts, best wishes, prayers, and kick-butt vibes! I was totally absorbed in your posted journey and thank you for sharing it with us all.

    My hubby was diagnosed in Nov. with stage 3 cancer, had 2 surgeries, multiple tests, and doctor visits. He applied for clinical testing at Sloan-Kettering in NYC, but was not found to be a suitable match for it. His most recent PET scan (this past June) shows no signs of any cancer, so we just wait a few months for the next MRI or scan.

    Good luck to you and your wonderful family!

  21. Keep kicking cancer's butt! You've been brave and I'm sure that, with the loving support of your family, everything will get better and better. I'll light a candle for you next time I'll go to church :)

  22. I'm sorry to hear this happened to you. Sending positive thoughts and good vibes your way.

    And thank you for posting this. I'm a month overdue for my annual screening and now I'm not waiting another day to make an appointment.

  23. thank you for sharing ...my strongest good vibes and faithfilled prayers

  24. Sending you love and light, Natalie.

  25. I am so glad I took the time to catch up on some neglected blogs! I had no idea you were facing this battle and like the others, I hung on every word you wrote in this post (holding my breath the entire time). Cancer has hit my family hard these past few years and I am sending positive thoughts your way. F*ck Cancer!!

  26. I only know you through the book blogging world but I wanted to say you have my prayers. Thanks for being brave and vulnerable in sharing the peaks and valleys of this journey.

  27. Natalie, you are so strong and brave! Your journey must have been, might still be, terrifying. Faith and family would help me, too, and I'm glad you have your husband and son. Love to you, Meredith

  28. You will be subjected to general anesthesia and the actual surgery procedure takes 1 to 2 hours. Biopsy will be done on the sample to determine the extent of the cancer. Dr Terrence Scamp