Meet the Fighter – Joy

It was spring of 2016 and life was pretty close to perfect…We had moved into our dream home, my kids were two and five years old and were absolutely beautiful, and I was in the perfect job.  My 35th birthday landed on the Jewish holiday of Purim, so we had friends and family over to celebrate.  We were leaving in a few weeks to LA for a family celebration.  My daughter was in her first season of her dance competition team. We were so happy.

One day my bra was uncomfortable but I assumed it was just getting old and the underwire might be poking me.  The kids went to bed, and I went to take off my bra to get in my pajamas.  My bra looked fine, so I decided to give myself a breast exam, and that’s when I felt it.  A lump.  It was probably the size of a golf ball.  How was this possible?  I checked myself fairly regularly because I had a friend at the end of her own breast cancer battle.  Why hadn’t I felt this the day before in my bra?  Did this just pop out of nowhere?  I panicked, and showed my husband.  I started to scream and cry that I did not want to die.  We were leaving in 48 hours to LA for a large family celebration.  How could I go with this lump on my breast?  How can I leave, knowing that I might be dying with every passing minute?  Going to Los Angeles felt reckless, without knowing what was going on.  I called my doctor the next morning and booked an appointment for when I got home.  I found my lump on April 5th.  My late grandfather Mike’s birthday.

In between my trip to Los Angeles and my daughter’s dance competition, I saw my doctor.  The day I saw her, she felt the lump and sent me to a private clinic.  She wasn’t overly concerned and thought that it could be some scar tissue from the breast reduction I had a year earlier.  I went with my daughter the next day on a road trip for dance, and then had the appointment with the private clinic upon my return.

Going to the private clinic, I was nervous but decided to go alone.  My initial fears of it being cancer had calmed down a bit and I had reasoned with myself.  “It CAN’T be cancer,” I thought.  I was in the best shape of my life.  I don’t smoke, I work out regularly, I eat well.  My friend was in Florida, celebrating with her family the end of her cancer treatment.  I was texting with her and she told me to insist on a biopsy, even if they say that I didn’t need one.  I got called into my appointment and the doctor started the ultrasound.  We were chatting and he stopped.  He took a breath.  “There’s something there….” he said.  Jokingly I responded, “Of course there is something there.  That’s why I am here!”  “No….” he continued.  “There’s something THERE.”  I asked him if I was getting a biopsy.  He said that he was not letting me go without one.  He showed me the blood flow in my growth.  I knew what blood flow meant.  I went numb.  I was alone in this clinic, and was about to have a biopsy on what appeared to be a cancerous lump.  I cried.  I called my husband in a panic and he offered to come to meet me.  I was downtown and by time he got here and parked, the biopsy would be over.  I told him to stay home.  A nurse came to hold my hand.  The doctor took two biopsies with a tool that looked like I was getting my ears pierced.  I was told that they will call me in 72 hours with the results.  The doctor’s happy tone turned serious as he explained to me the next steps.

The next few days were hell.  I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, and I couldn’t function.  I stayed in bed and cried.   72 hours like clockwork, I got the call.  I remember him saying something about it being aggressive and fast growing.  I asked him if I would live to see my kids grow up and get married.  He said that the doctors would do everything in their power.  My kids were babies.  Would they know me?  Would my two year old remember me if I passed away? My diagnosis came on April 28th.  It was my husband’s late grandfather Harry’s birthday.

The next few days were filled with doctors appointments and tests.  I met my oncological surgeon, and my oncologist.  They were encouraging and confident that this will just be a blip in the road.  They were confident that we can beat this monster.  I had about a dozen tests to see if the cancer was elsewhere, and if my body was healthy enough to start chemotherapy.

Chemo started May 16, 2016.  I would have 16 rounds of treatment, followed by surgery. We were hoping for a lumpectomy, but tests revealed that I was a carrier of the BRCA-1 gene mutation and would need a double mastectomy, followed by a hysterectomy.

Chemotherapy was hell for me.  I had a mild reaction to my first Taxol, so the following ones had to be a slower drip.  When I moved onto AC, I had an allergic reaction to it that almost took my life.  I powered through the best of my ability.  My kids were suffering.  Every little cold they had, they would move in with my parents.  At one point my daughter broke out into a rash.  A neighbor of ours who is a doctor immediately got on the phone with Infectious Diseases, in case it was Chicken Pox.  I was immediately put on anti-virals and my chemo had to be delayed.  My kids moved out again, and when I was annoyed with chemo being delayed yet again, I was told that we needed to treat this because it could kill me.  I was scared.  I would do whatever I can to beat this.   I would not leave my kids without a mother.

October 18 was 4 years since I finished chemotherapy.  My double mastectomy was 6 weeks later.  Though several more surgeries would follow, we consider my date of remission to be the date of my double mastectomy – November 24.

There are days where I think back to it and it seems like a different life.  I cannot believe I had cancer, and I cannot wrap my head around the fact that my babies had to experience this.  I attended one cousin’s wedding over ZOOM.  For the other cousin’s wedding my mother in law cooked for me so that I could be comfortable that the food was cooked according to my chemo rules.  My best friends got married and I was in a wig and had to sit down before walking down the aisle.  For years I was a volunteer medic for the Weekend to End Breast Cancer.  In 2016 I was walking for myself.  I HAD Breast Cancer.  I cannot look at an IV drip without tasting the metallic chemo and getting nauseous in the pit of my stomach.  I am tired, my body hurts ALL the time, and only in the past few months have I been able to lose some of the weight I put on.  However rough my road has been, whatever the after effects may be, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that……