Dear family, friends, strangers, fellow fighters, and survivors:
At the encouragement of multiple important people in my life I would like to share my story with you all in the hopes of getting out some of my anger and growing my support system. I don't want pity all I ask is for an understanding heart, and hopefully if you feel like something is wrong with you you’ll take my advice and go see a doctor immediately and not wait.
On April 26, 2016, 4 days before my 23rd birthday, 5 days before my 4-year anniversary, and 38 days before my undergraduate graduation I felt a lump in my left breast. By the 27th I was at the OB-GYN and an ultrasound was ordered. I spent my birthday in PA getting drunk with my boyfriend telling each other it was totally nothing. 10 days, an ultrasound, an immediate biopsy, an MRI, and a very stressful two days of waiting later and it was confirmed. At 23 years old I had “Carcinoma of left breast metastatic to axillary lymph node.” The breast surgeon I had been seeing who had run all the tests recommended an amazing Russian Oncologist at the NYU Langone Cancer Center, I called his office and his secretary was either very nice or I scared her with all my crying and she gave me an appointment for the next day.
The next weeks passed in a huge haze of tests, machines, meeting chemotherapy oncologists, meeting radiation oncologists, meeting breast surgeons and reconstructive surgeon and finally fertility specialists and getting my DNA tested. In a freak twist of events, no one in my family suffers from cancer and all my genetic testing came out negative for cancer genes. (My doctor still highly suspects it's genetic and the specific gene just hasn't been found yet or linked to cancer) To add to the bizarre world I had been living in – the tumor was a big enough size that it’s probably been there for a few years. The shape of it was weird and oddly even hence why I had never been able to tell, but then again its not like I checked often. Which brings me to the most important point I want to make. Ladies, check your breasts. Right now. Like stop reading this and check yourself right this second and if you feel or think you feel something schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. Am I over reacting? No I don’t think so, it’s the fact that I called my gyno the next day that is contributing to how well my treatment is going. When I was diagnosed I was already stage 2. If I had done regular checks I would maybe have been diagnosed earlier. What’s the difference? If I had caught it before it spread to the lymph nodes I wouldn’t need to do chemotherapy, I wouldn’t loose my hair, I wouldn’t need to freeze my eggs in case I can’t have kids in the future, I wouldn’t have a mediport in my chest and a tube running from it to my neck that hurts when I cry, I wouldn’t need to feel like I got hit by a truck two days after chemo every time. Please get tested please don’t think you’re too young and you have no family history. Shit happens and there’s no explanation but it does and it fucking sucks. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel and quit. That means you cry you eyes out until you have no tears left to cry ( or in my case your mediport tube hurting freaks you out so much you’re actually scared to cry) and then you go to the professionals and you put your life in their hands.
If this experience has taught me anything it’s to appreciate each and every single person that has either come into my life now to help or those who have genuinely stepped up and made this nightmare have a light at the end of the tunnel. I believe I will be cancer free in a year and I would never be able to be as okay with my diagnosis as I am now without my incredible support system.
"When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too."
My Mother - Before this ever happened you already deserved the best mother in the world award -- now I'm just short of calling you god. There is no way in the world this could be anything but torture to you. I'm so sorry this is happening to you and I'm so sorry you're hurting but I am so thankful to have you as my mother. I wouldn't be able to do this without you every single appointment you were there, any problem you fixed, any concern I had you told me it would be okay even though I'm sure you had no clue. I love you so much and a million life times would never be enough to repay you for everything you've done for me. You're my motivation to get better and keep fighting.
My Father - Daddy, I will always be your little girl and even though I know you've had a really hard time even looking in my direction lately I know how much you love me and how much you're suffering. Thank you for trying to keep things as normal as possible and continuing to bug me with things to do around the house. I know how you feel about my appointments and I know how much you wish I was just fixed already and I will be really really soon.
My Sister - I love you more then you can possibly ever imagine. I thank god every single day that this happened to me and not to you. I don't think I would be able to take it if this happened to you. You have been so incredible since day one and I'm so thankful to have the best sister in the world to talk to and support me.
My Brother - I know you're still too young to understand everything but throughout this whole situation you've proven just how mature and grown up you can be. I'm sorry I haven't told you everything it hasn't been on purpose and I don't think any other little brother in the world be able to be as strong and normal with me as you've been.
My Aunt - If there was such a thing as a guardian angel you would definitely fall into that description as the best guardian angel/ fairy god mother ever. I joke with my parents that sometimes I think you're my real mom because of how fierce your love for me is and how much you're doing just to make sure my day to day life remains as close to normal as possible. I love you so much and the day you need me to have our back like you've had mine -- I'll be there cancer free and ready to take care of you with just as much love as you took care of me.
My Boyfriend - You are hands down simply the most incredible man I have ever met. You know exactly what everything you've done for me in the last few weeks has meant to me. I know this must not have been easy on you but you've put up a really strong fight to keep things as easy and carefree and happy as possible. I won't embarrass you by posting specifics on the internet but just know I want the whole world to know everything you've done for me because you truly are the world's best boyfriend, partner, and friend. Thank you for keeping our future adventures and plans together in my mind as a reminder of what I'm fighting for .
My Friends - Individually you each know exactly how you've helped me cope and how you've been there for me. As a group you all have one major thing in common. None of you have focused on me just being sick and I feel like nothing has changed. Yes me being sick as made some new questions about my well being come up but none of you have treated me any different and I will forever love and appreciate not having to feel like I'm under a microscope or as if you guys think I have cooties.
My Chemotherapy Oncologist - From the moment I saw you and you didn’t even say hello just reached out to hug me I knew I found the right person. You let me, a complete stranger, cry and fall apart in your arms for an eternity and then systematically explained to me how WE will make me healthy again. The genuine happiness on your face this morning after we realized how much the tumor has shrunk in just two sessions was everything I needed to get me through the third session.
I have an all time favorite quote by John Green “When adults say, "Teenagers think they are invincible" with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”
He's completely right and I think at the beginning I had forgotten. I was so devastated and scared and I did for a time think this was it this is what my life will be from now on doctors and hospitals and medication. Even if by some crappy luck that is my life, there is no reason for me to be scared or miserable. My cancer was not my fault, I did nothing to get this, I did nothing to be sick. I'm not contagious and I'm not putting anyone at risk. There is no reason for me to cry everyday over something I will never be able to change. There is literally nothing I can do if those were the cards I was dealt. There is however a billion reasons for me to go and enjoy my family and my boyfriend and my friends and continue to build my career.
I have cancer, cancer doesn't have me. I am bigger and stronger and I will be okay, and even if I'm not okay I will make sure I have the time of my life fighting this crappy shitty situation. Next stop shark cage diving.