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My Stage IV Cancer Story by Guest Blogger Danielle R.

danieller1In Dec of 2013 I, by the grace of God, found a lump in my breast and I put off going to get it checked out. At first I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was keeping an eye on it daily in hopes it would go away. After 2 weeks I noticed it was a bit bigger. I ended up telling my (at the time boyfriend, now husband) about it and he told me I needed to tell my mom. With the holidays things were crazy busy so in passing I briefly told her and told her I’d get it checked out. I honestly didn’t think much of it. So I made an appointment with my OBGYN to have it checked and see where we go from there. She checked it out and said she didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about but wanted me to get a mammogram and ultra sound just to be safe. I have aunts on both sides of my family who have had breast cancer and are now Cancer free (yay!) so I was ok with having it checked out. I went in on January 9th I believe it was and did the mammogram and ultra sound. Thankfully my parents took the day off to take me and be with me. After the ultra sound the Dr came in and said he saw something and wasn’t sure what it was so he wanted to do a biopsy just to be safe. I naturally was more than ok with that. They let my parents come back and see me so I could tell them what was going on then they performed the biopsy. The location of my lump was in an odd spot so they had to use the ultra sound to be sure they didn’t hit any blood vessels. They gave me a few shots around the site and then cut me open with a knife. It was a small cut nothing too terrible. The he showed me the needle. It was a weird needle that went is sucked down the pieces of the lump and put it in a tube then it was cut off and removed from my breast. At first I was doing well with it but after about the second or third pop of the needle I started to feel a little woozy. Didn’t help I hadn’t eaten all day. They stopped the biopsy so I could regain myself and not pass out on em. Then once I was ready he continued. They took 4 samples and put a tumor marker in me so anytime I get an ultra sound or mammogram I’m marked and they can see where it is and can keep track of the size. They put a steri strip on me and covered me with gauze, did another mammogram to be sure the marker was in place and then sent me on my way.

Then on January 15th I got the call asking me to come in to discuss my results. I let my parents know and we headed to the breast center right away.

Imagine being the most nervous you have ever been in your entire life, now take that times 100. That’s how it felt sitting in that waiting room at the breast center knowing I’d walk out of there my life changed forever. From the moment I got that call I knew this was not good and things were about to change. As I sat there with my dad, mom and sister waiting to see the nurse to discuss my biopsy results I knew I was about to walk through that door to hear the words no woman ever wants to hear. “You have breast cancer.” I tried so hard to be brave but how could I be? I just wanted to run out of there, to never hear those words. Maybe if I didn’t hear them then it wasn’t true. Maybe if I just ran and never looked back I wouldn’t have to face this! Then it happened, they called my name and with my heart racing so fast we went back and sat in the room waiting on the nurse. She came in as sweet as could be and introduced herself to us. She had some papers and pamphlets and all I could think was here it goes, my life as I know it is about to change. She sweetly looked at me, put her hand on my knee and said it “You have breast cancer”. I didn’t know what to think so many thoughts went through my mind and then I wasn’t thinking at all.

Was this real? Is this happening to me? After she left the room I lost it. Everything in me just gushed out. What was I going to do? Am I strong enough for this? Can I survive this? I’m going to lose my hair. So many things rushing thru my head. My mom and sister were crying as well. We all tried so hard to comfort one another but there were no words. There weren’t enough hugs. There was no comfort. I was numb. All I wanted to do was go home and not think. Not think about what was to come, not think about how my world was about to be flipped upside down. Not think about what’s next.

After we got the news of my cancer they ran many tests on my biopsy and blood and we learned I had Stage I Grade 3 Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and I am also BRCA1 Positive. Once we had all that info it was time to meet doctors and start planning where we go from there. From day one my parents have been there for me and continue to be. We went from Dr apt to Dr apt for the next week getting all the info we needed. We met my breast specialist, oncologist, and plastic surgeon.

The plan was go in for surgery on January 24th to have my port placed in my chest then January 31st we’d start chemo. I was set up to do 8 treatments then have a double mastectomy and hope to be cancer free after that. Then once I started my second medicine after 5 treatments I started having really bad chest problems and ended up in ER twice for them. The second time I went they saw a mass in my chest but didn’t know what it was. After talking with my Oncologist she decided we would stop chemo and get a PET scan done to see what was going on in there.

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On April 29, 2014 I had my first PET scan. I’m not gonna lie I was beyond nervous. I didn’t know what they were going to see in there. That same day I had an appointment with my oncologist and she told us there were two new masses in my lymph nodes in my chest wall. She said they were so active and hot on my PET scan that it was obvious cancer and she could tell without a biopsy. The biggest mass was 2.6 cm and was pushing against my trachea and causing me issues with swallowing.

Once we got news on April 29th that my cancer has spread and I learned I am now stage IV, I again went through all the emotions as day one. I felt all over again like I’d been hit by a truck, like it was all new to me and I was starting over again. The chemo I was on was stopped and a new regimen was started. That regimen didn’t have a set game plan. We did 3 cycles of aggressive chemo and then I had a repeat PET scan. This PET scan showed significant improvement in my tumors. The biggest one shrunk down to 1.2 cm and they weren’t quite as active as before. I continued with the same chemo since it appeared to be working. After 3 more cycles of the same aggressive chemo we did another PET scan this one wasn’t the worst news but I guess could have been better. I started having some pains again and thought for sure my cancer had grown or spread. Luckily that was not the case. The repeat scan showed no change. Everything was stable. I was happy to hear it’s not spread or growing. So since the chemo I was on was keeping it stable and making no change. My oncologist decided we would try me on another regimen. The one I was on had done all it could and the aggressiveness of it was making me pretty sick and exhausted. I am now on another regimen. We will do another repeat PET scan after 3 cycles and see if I’m reacting to this regimen any better, if its still stable and no change then we will try another medicine.

There is obviously no cure for cancer but a person can be cancer free after going through chemo and even surgeries. At the stage I’m at I will never be fully cancer free. We can’t “cure” me but we can treat me and do everything possible to keep it stable. As long as we can keep my tumors small and from spreading then I’m doing good. I’ve got a long road ahead of me still with treatments but I’ll do all I can for as long as I can cause it keeps me on this earth. I have good days, I have bad days, I have dead days but no matter what I always have alive days so it’s all worth it.

To date I have completed 22 chemo treatments. Since it has metastasized (spread to another location in my body outside the original place) and is stage IV I will not under go any type of surgery. Once you get to my stage they say surgery is not beneficial nor does it make sense to put my body through that since it’s already going through enough.

Here I am 10 months later and yes my world has been flipped upside down and changed completely. I have the most amazing support group a girl could ask for and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this fight will not take me down anytime soon. I didn’t know if I could do this but I am. Most days I don’t think, I just act and do what I have to because I know in the end it’s what will keep me on this earth.

I say all of this to say yes this is the toughest journey of my life but I know it’s one I can make it through. I feel beyond blessed I accidentally came across the lump I found in my breast. Had I not, who knows where I would be. I was diagnosed at age 29. Yes, fighting this is scary and tough but early detection can save your life. Please at least once a month take a few minutes and feel those boobies!! You’ll be so glad you did. I wish I’d been more of an advocate on it than I am now, but I truly feel God had my back on this one and still does.

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