The Words I Never Wanted To Hear.

A causal dinner complete with small talk. She asked how my oncology appointment went,  expressed concern over the uncertainty of two area’s found on my last MRI, and worry that I would again face challenges in getting my insurance to cover my followup MRI, and then she said, “while we are on the topic, I have to tell you something that you’re not going to want to here”. I quickly said, What is it? What’s wrong and felt my heart sink deep into my stomach. She said, I don’t even know how to tell you this as she reached into her purse to grab a folded white sheet of paper. I could feel the monster creeping around the corner as the air got thicker.

The first thing I saw was the words Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The three words that have literally been burned in my mind since February 15th, 2015. The three words that forever changed my life and turned my world upside down. I suddenly saw the past two and a half years playing out in my head slide by slide. Every moment flashing a little faster than the moment before. My palms got sweaty, as I could feel the stress-induced hot flash burning inside of me. All of a sudden the room went silent, and my world stopped just as it did the very first time I heard the words Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Everything slowed down and my senses heightened. It was as if I could see what was playing out from a birds-eye view. A thousand questions spiraled into my mind, but for a second I could say nothing because it took every ounce of my being to hold back the tears this time around. I took a deep breath and pushed the emotion deep inside as I looked up at my mom and calmly said no… not you too?

I could see the hesitation weighting heavily on her mind. She did not want to give me this news. She replied with a simple “…….yes”. I must have asked the same 5 questions 15 times. I said did you find a lump? Knowing that my mom has not had a mammogram in over 20 years. She said no. I have been having chest pains and the pain has felt just as you explained your chest pain, so I decided to see the doctor. Question after question she helped me piece everything together. She later expressed that telling me that she had breast cancer after all I have been through with this fight, was the hardest thing she has ever had to do.

Nobody wants to admit that they are like their parents, however looking across the table at her in this moment, was like looking in the mirror. She didn’t cry, she didn’t seem scared, and she was strangely optimistic. I remember that feeling oh so well. The strength that comes from facing the unthinkable is truly astonishing but I could see right through her at the same time because I know things that she doesn’t yet know. My mom was and is now wearing the same game face I have been wearing for the past two years, in fact I am starting to think she may have passed it on to me long ago. She said

“if you can go through all that you have been through and still keep that beautiful smile on your face, than so can I”.

The date; September 29th, just two days before the start of breast cancer awareness month. The goosebumps still creep in just thinking of all of this, because in the days leading up to this moment I had been writing a post about breast cancer in young women and the real statistical data behind genetic mutations that are being linked to breast cancer.

The hardest part for me is knowing all that my mom is facing first hand. For two years I have been in control of what and how I express how I have felt physically, emotionally, and mentally. Not that I kept information from anyone with as open as I have been, but as any cancer patient knows; sometimes you downplay things a bit for the ones you love. There is no hiding now because she is about to be initiated into the club herself. She is about to become a member of the club she never wanted to be a part of and like many of us, she is now facing a battle she did not choose.

With that being said, I know that she is strong, she has faced a lot in her lifetime, and most of all, I can see determination in her eyes which does help. I even believe her when she says that she is fine, that she is not worried about this and that she will be ok. I believe it because I remember saying the exact same words to her, and I too meant every word. I can see that she is facing this head on and that she is not getting held up in the emotion of of what this really means for her, but I have also learned that pushing the emotion aside doesn’t mean that you will never have to face or feel the magnitude. This is what scares me the most. I know the reality behind the pretty pink ribbon and soon she will too. But that is something she will face when she is ready. Right now, she is protecting everyone who loves her by reassuring us that she is ok. That is what a mom does in moments like these. In time she will see that she is also protecting herself. I see the big picture. I know that despite never ending determination and strength, this fight is hard and it is long. This fight taxes a person not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally as well. Worst of all I know that there will be times when my mom is not “ok” because lets be honest…. nothing about cancer is easy.

My mom left her job and put her life on hold to stay with me during my treatments. She took over household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, and she stepped in as mommy to my sweet Corryn when I didn’t have the strength to do it on my own. She was my rock in more ways than I can count, and I intend to become hers. One of the first things that my mom said to me after sharing this news, was that she prayed for this. At first I was taken back because we are not an outwardly religious family not because we are not believers, but because it was not a conversation topic that made it’s way to our dinner table. However she then explained that she prayed that she could take my cancer away. — that it could be her that was facing cancer rather than me. Right now she needs to believe that her prayers have been answered and she needs this to be a sign that she has now taken my cancer away so I will never have to face it again. As much as I wanted to say that cancer is NEVER the answer to a prayer and that I do not want her to take my cancer, I also understand her selfless wish, because I too wish that I could take her cancer for her, and spare her from all that lies ahead.

With this news coming just two days before the start of Pinktober, I found myself struggling to put all of my thoughts and feelings into words. Obviously this news changes everything. When I was diagnosed I had no family history of breast cancer, and I tested negative to all of the known genetic mutations, which made me hopeful that my family members were not at risk. However a total of now 3 generations in a row have now been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past two and a half years, so it is becoming pretty obvious that there may be a very strong genetic link at work. Knowing that I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, yet I found my own lump at the very young age of 33 was part of the push that has lead to my advocacy. I had undoubtedly drawn the short straw in the bunch but I have never focused on the negative, because I have always had a very strong feeling that all of this was part of the plan for me. I have come to believe that I was meant to lose someone I looked up to to breast cancer at a very young age because it pushed me to be the very best version of myself, I was meant to meet Vickie and witness her desire to share and inspire with her won story, because it inspired me to take a step outside of myself for a greater good, I was meant to face breast cancer myself because it has lead me to find my true passion in life through advocacy and it has and is pushing me to become the person I believe I was always been meant to be, but most of all I was meant to face all that I have faced with my own fight with breast cancer before my mom, because my personal experiences, were meant to push my mom to be proactive, when she would have otherwise dismissed a health concern of her own. This was again part of the bigger plan.

Over the past month, we have met and consulted with a few physicians from Covenant Health in Saginaw and I was able to get my mom into see my team here in Grand Rapids as a second opinion. I have always felt that I received great care at Spectrum Health, however after facing the beginning stages of this a second time as a caregiver, I have realized just how great my care really is. As a caregiver, I would like my mom to have the same level of care as she begins this process and as her daughter the breast cancer survivor…. I need to know that she has the very best medically team surrounding her. After waiting nearly a month to get her in for a consult with an oncologist and breast surgeon in Saginaw only to hear hesitation and somewhat of a lack in confidnece from her team, I talked my mom into getting another opinion with my team here in Grand Rapids. Within the hour I made a quick phone call to my oncology team and I happened to run into Dr. Judy Smith, who is the Chief of Lemmon Holton Cancer Pavilion where I am treated. Both my oncologist and Dr. Smith wanted to help right away. They were able to move some appointments around and get my mom in within two days to see my oncologist and surgeon and they were able to pull some serious strings to get her setup for same-day MRI scans to establish her baseline and to get a better look at her tumor, which her doctors in Saginaw did not feel were necessary. After taking a closer look at the scans, we did get some good news. The tumor looks to be significantly smaller than we were originally told in Saginaw, which not only changes her surgical and treatment course, but could also bring her staging down from a stage 2 -3, to more of a stage 1-2. Thankfully there is only one tumor and there does not appear to be any lymph node involvement. However we will not know the final pathology of the tumor until after her surgery. At this point she is scheduled to have a lumpectomy here in Grand Rapids in the coming weeks and we will determining her full treatment course after we get her final surgical pathology.

“From here, I am following my mom’s lead, and in a way she is following mine. Together we will face this awful beast again and we will win”.

I have always said that the only thing harder than going through cancer yourself would be watching your child fight it. Sadly she has to experience both. For those of you who know her, you know that she is one tough cookie! She is head-strong, she has opened her mind to considering and determining her best options. She is also the most stubborn woman I know…. which I have learned can a very good trait to have when facing cancer.

As breast cancer month comes to a close in the coming week, my greatest hope is that my words are enough to motivate you to do your self breast exams, get your mammograms if you are able, and tell your doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary. Despite what society leads us to believe only 5-10% of young women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease, but as my family has also learned; a family history has to start with someone.For my family, it started with me. Just two and a half years later and 3 generations in a row have been diagnosed meaning that we appear to have very strong evidence of an inherited genetic mutation. The oldest generation (my Great Aunt) was diagnosed in her mid-70’s last year, the second generation (my mom) was just diagnosed in her 60’s last month, and the third generation was me. I was actually the first to be diagnosed in 2015, at the age of 33. If this is one genetic mutation, the pattern seems to be that each generation is diagnosed younger than the last with my diagnosis being 35 years earlier. Each year researchers are able to test more and more genetic mutations linking to breast cancer. For my sister and Corryns’ sake we will be staying up on genetic testing, and because I was diagnosed at 33, she will begin having Breast MRI’s at the age of 23.

Cancer DOES NOT discriminate. Know your body. Know Your Risks.

#MyPersonalPinkTime #TogetherWeWillFightAgain #knowyourbodyknowyourrisks #Forgotten Fighters

6 thoughts on “The Words I Never Wanted To Hear.

  1. Tammy, I’ve thought so often about you and your mom. I hope all will go as well as possible for her. I hope she will have the care and support you did and do. I wish you both only GOOD.

  2. Tammy, my experience has been the reverse of yours. I took care of my Mom in 1974 after a radical mastectomy for intraductal carcinoma. She lived, cancer-free, until 2016, when she passed away at age 90 following surgery for a fractured hip. My younger sister was diagnosed at age 44 with metastatic breast cancer. Nancy passed away from glioblastoma unrelated to her breast cancer last March after fighting her brain cancer for nearly twenty years. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in 2014 which was treated aggressively and successfully (so far) with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It was found by breast MRI in a very early stage because I had been followed by the St. Mary’s Breast program due to such a significant family history. Although I have an additional maternal aunt and three cousins (one twice) diagnosed with breast cancer, enhanced genetic testing was negative for any known mutations. I live in fear that I have passed something unknown to my son, who had my first grandson on October 3. I hope and pray that through advocacy like yours, the fight against this terrible disease continues and there is good prognosis for all who have been touched by this monster. Please hug your Mom tight and know that there are legions of us saying a little prayer for her.

  3. My prayers to you both! My heart is heavy as I think of the battle you face together. You two both sound like very strong lovely women and will kick cancer’s butt! Keep fighting, as well as, find a calm peaceful place to count the many blessings around you. You will beat this!
    God bless.

  4. Prayers to you and all of your family! You have been through so much! I will keep you all in my thoughts and prayers during this battle. I am glad that you are trying to remain positive and can’t even begin to express how heavy my heart is for all of you! Hugs to all!
    God Bless,
    Amy Janssen

  5. Hello Tammy, I read your very strong story and it sure touched me. I am a huge prayer warrior and I Believe God has his strong arms wrapped around you and your family. Each and every morning my prayers will go out to you and your family. You sound determined and I believe all of your people who are praying for you will read some day soon on how you beat this cancer. Your Happy Ending. Take care and God speed.

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