When I was 17 years old, I felt a lump in my right breast. I had larger breasts in high school and when I mentioned it to my OB she said it was probably a fibroadenoma (a very common occurrence) but referred me to a specialist just to be safe. The specialist suggested we could do a biopsy, but because I also had several other lumps in both breasts that I should stop taking my birth control to reduce external hormones, cut down on caffeine, and we would keep an eye on it.
I was young, carefree, and felt invincible. I knew in the back of my mind everyday that the lump was there, that I should do something about it, but I wanted to live my life. I wanted to have fun. There wasn’t time to slow down, take care of myself, be responsible. Fast forward two years later, and at age 19 my tumor had grown to roughly the size of a tangerine. I knew it was time to go back in.
I remember being so afraid, sitting in the waiting room surrounded by older women, some with hair, some without, and thinking to myself, “I don’t belong here”. I remember the biopsy machine being loud and the room was cold. The specialist asked me to come back after a few days and I received the news. “Ana. You have breast cancer.”
I was diagnosed on February 7, 2007 with a malignant Phyllodes tumor. Phyllodes tumors are extremely rare – only 1% of all breast tumors are Phyllodes. They are most commonly benign so having a malignant Phyllodes tumor is even more rare. The most common symptom is rapid growth of the tumor, though luckily it doesn’t tend to spread to other parts of the body.
I was in complete shock. The doctor was explaining treatment and our next course of action but it sounded like I was underwater and everyone was talking about me above the surface. I had never had surgery, stitches, not even a cavity. I remember them showing me a book with reconstruction options and thinking this isn’t happening to me. My body can’t look like that. How will I ever feel like a woman? How will I feed my future children? How will someone ever love me? My best friend had come to the appointment with me for support and I cried in the backseat in her lap the entire ride home.
They scheduled a single mastectomy, but the morning of the surgery I called my doctor and elected to have a double mastectomy. I had several tumors on my left breast as well that they were going to remove and I knew if those tests came back positive I couldn’t put myself through this experience again. The doctors had also reassured me that the likelihood, with this treatment plan, that my cancer would ever return was virtually impossible. To this day, I do not regret that choice.
It is so hard to put into words what I was feeling sitting in the hospital bed in pre-op. My family was sitting all around me but I felt completely alone. What if this was it? Luckily, my surgery was a success but the six months that followed were full of tubes, tissue expanders, and intense pain.
I think the hardest part was the isolation. I had so much anger and self-pity. All I thought of was what I had lost. My mother brought her friends to the house while I was recovering who were survivors themselves. They wanted to share their hope and strength but all I saw were older women who had their entire young lives with their beauty, their bodies, their confidence.
It’s been a long journey to find acceptance and gratitude. It came easiest the day I gave birth to my daughter. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t breastfeed her, I was there, she was mine, and I had been given this gift of life. I survived.
For me, being a survivor has meant living in gratitude. I know it sounds cliche to say “live each day as if it were your last” but nothing is more true to me. I’m not perfect. I have days where I let the kids watch too much TV. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost my patience or gotten upset over something petty. I’m human. But I know the “big picture” of things. We live life. We welcome adventure. There are nights when we stay out hours past bedtime because no one has stopped laughing since dinner and I can’t bring myself to tell them the fun has to end. Or when we just decide to have ice cream sundaes for dinner because it is too hot outside to cook anything and summer will be over before we know it. In those moments, I know exactly what the meaning of life is and nothing else matters. We will make it home for a decent bedtime another night. We will have plenty of time for our daily routines, school, and healthy dinners. I just want to wake up and take each day as it comes.
I don’t have the answers why some people survive and some don’t. I do know cancer isn’t “fair”. That is takes good people – mothers and mothers who would do anything to be back with their children. When I wake up in the morning that this life is a gift. Being here, being a mother. I don’t take it lightly. I know my second chance at life hasn’t been wasted.
Photos by Nicki Sebastian.
We are honored to announce a new carrier designed in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in support of Susan G. Komen®. In 2016-2017, Ergobaby will make a guaranteed minimum donation of $25,000 to Komen in connection with the Ribbons Carrier regardless of sales ($5 per Ribbons Carrier).
We are proud to support Komen in its efforts to save lives and inspire hope for all who have been affected by breast cancer. Through our Carry For A Cure initiative, we will help spread the message of education and prevention to the parenting community by sharing the inspirational stories of real parents who are breast cancer survivors. This is Ana’s story.
In 2016-2017, Ergobaby has donated to Susan G. Komen® $5 in connection with this product regardless of sales, with a guaranteed minimum donation of $25,000.