I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer— invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) on August 23, 2010. I was 26 years old. I was a newlywed, who’d only been married 4 short months. I found a lump in my right breast in the shower one day in July. I shrugged it off and went on with my day. The next morning, I casually mentioned it to my mom. We both agreed that it was probably nothing to worry about. I was young and healthy, with no family history of breast cancer so there was no reason to think otherwise. Still, I decided to have my doctor check it out. At my appointment a week later, she agreed that it was probably a cyst, but referred me to a breast surgeon for a biopsy just to be on the safe side. Thank God she did. I went for my biopsy and a few days later I was sitting in an exam room with my mom waiting for the results. That’s when I heard the words that changed my life forever— “it’s cancer.”
My world stopped and at that moment I thought my life was over. I was then thrown into the world of oncology. I had to have discussions about things I’d never thought about in detail. Did I want children? There was a possibility that chemotherapy would leave me with reproductive difficulties. And since my tumor was hormone positive, egg harvesting wasn’t presented as an option for me. How would I pay my bills? I am an RN by profession and I went on medical leave during chemotherapy. I would need surgery. I would lose my hair. It was all overwhelming.
I went through 6 rounds of chemo, and had a double mastectomy with reconstruction soon after chemo was complete. I was treated for a full year with Herceptin and finally had my port removed in November 2011. I started Tamoxifen and went back to work. My life had gone back to “normal”. Three years after my initial diagnosis at a routine visit with my oncologist, the topic of children came up again. This time with my clean bill of health, I was given the green light to try and conceive.
I found out I was pregnant in February of 2014, after suffering a miscarriage in December. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who my husband and I named Eliana; which means God has answered. In December 2017, I had another baby girl and named her Isabella. My husband and I couldn’t have been happier. Shortly after my second daughter was born, I restarted my tamoxifen just as I’d done after the birth of my first child. I saw my oncologist who again gave me a clean bill of health. I felt great and my labs were perfect. Then in the spring of 2018, I came down with a cold. It kept getting worse and worse. I have asthma and get frequent sinus infections, so my cough was nothing suspicious for me. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor thinking it was an asthma flair up caused by the cold/sinus infection. I was given a steroid shot, an antibiotic, and a nebulizer treatment. And I got better, but only for a short while. It all came back and it seemed like nothing was working. I made an appointment with my allergist, thinking he would maybe have a solution. Still nothing. Finally, I suggested to him that perhaps I needed an X-ray, so he wrote a prescription. The X-ray showed that I had a pleural effusion, which is basically fluid around my lung. I was referred to a pulmonologist. I then had an outpatient procedure done at the hospital to have it drained and sent off for pathology. He also ordered a CT scan given my history. And just as before, a few days later I went to the pulmonologist’s office for the results; this time with my babies in addition to my mom. And once again I heard those same words, “it’s cancer.” Cancer had invaded my lung, my hip, my spine, and my liver. This time I wasn’t afraid. I knew what I had to do. As I sat in that office and listened to those results, all I could see was my children’s smiling faces. They had no clue what was happening. I knew I had to fight, not just for myself but for them and my husband. And I’ve been fighting ever since.
I was hospitalized shortly after that because the fluid surrounding my lung returned, and I required the use of oxygen. I started chemo in the hospital and had an anaphylactic reaction to the drugs. Because it was a severe life threatening reaction my chemo was stopped indefinitely. My oncologist would have to come up with another plan for me. I was discharged home with a drain coming from my chest that I used to release the fluid from around my lung. A week later I started a new chemo regimen. I completed 16 straight weeks of chemo, and was able to have the tube removed from my lung. My scans have been good and there is no new evidence of disease in my body. God only gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers and I have been up to the task. I still go for my infusion of Herceptin, Perjeta, and Zometa every 3 weeks, and may be on some sort of maintenance therapy for the rest of my life. I also get Lupron injections every 3 months along with CT scans and take Femara daily. But none of that matters to me. I am just blessed to be here. I thank God that I get to wake up each day and kiss my little girls’ foreheads. I get to laugh at my husband’s silly jokes. I am alive and will continue to fight to live.
Written By: Tiffany Kinkhead, Tigerlily ANGEL Advocate