My mother’s sister, my aunt, had breast cancer and I started mammograms early because of her diagnosis. I had my daughter at 41, and nursed her for almost two years – so I missed a few mammograms in between.
At 43, I had my first mammogram since having my daughter, and that’s when I learned I had cancer.
I’ll never forget the moment in September 2012 when I got the call from my gynecologist, Dr. Bernadette Wheeler. My 2 year old was running around and I walked to a quiet place in my home to listen closely.
Breast cancer. Surgery. Breast removal. Appointments. These are the words I heard.
I brought my daughter to my parents’ home, who have always been extremely supportive, so I could have some time to myself to reflect on this news I’d just received. Soon thereafter, I met with Dr. Wheeler who helped me make an appointment with Penn breast surgeon, Dahlia Sataloff, MD. I felt more comfortable getting all of my care at Penn Medicine, and now at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center.
Surgery – And a Surprise
On October 24, I was scheduled to have my left breast removed. I was scared, but ready to have this cancer taken out, and start on my journey back to health.
As I was lying in the room, getting ready for surgery, I heard a familiar voice. The curtain opened and there was my best friend, Lynette. She’d driven all the way from Savannah, Georgia to be with me on this day. I was elated. Her visit, and knowing she came all the way up to support me, was the best thing about the day.
The surgery lasted about six hours. I had reconstruction of the breast done at the same time, and everything went according to plan. I was healing well, and the nursing staff was excellent in preparing me for what to expect at home.
Next Steps - Chemotherapy
Because I had positive lymph nodes, I needed both radiation treatment and chemotherapy after surgery, but chemotherapy was first. Again, I felt most comfortable coming to Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center for all of my treatment, so for 16 weeks, I was a “frequent flyer” at Penn getting my chemotherapy.
It was a tough road. Treatments left me nauseous and tired. I’d taken some time off of work, which was helpful, and of course, my parents were there to support me and help me with my daughter. Robin Herzog, a clinical nurse practitioner at the Abramson Cancer Center, was a great source of support for me too. She encouraged me to never give up and really understood what I was going through emotionally.
Around this time, I also had genetic testing to see if I carried the BRCA gene mutation. It was important for me to know because I have a daughter, but thankfully, I did not carry the gene mutation.
The End in Sight
Once my chemotherapy treatments were over, radiation was next. I was able to have my radiation treatments at the Abramson Cancer Center located at Penn Medicine Valley Forge. It was convenient for me, and knowing that I was still being cared for by Penn Medicine I never had to worry about one doctor not talking to another, everyone was on the same team - my team.
Dr. Nagda was my radiation specialist, and after 23 weeks of radiation treatment, I am now, cancer free.
You know, at two, my daughter didn’t really “get” that I had cancer. We talked about how I was sick, and how I had a “boo boo” but I wanted her to guide the way and let her actions and questions tell me how much I needed to tell her.
But even at two, she was always there for me. Throughout my treatment, I wrote her letters – letters that told her how much she helped me, what it was like to go through treatment for breast cancer, and how one day she, too, will have the strength to fight anything life throws her way.