Four years ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store when the cover story of People magazine jumped out at me: Christina Applegate, breast cancer at 36. “What?” I thought. “She’s only 36! I’m 36!”
I’d always been very good about self breast checks and yearly visits to my gynecologist. But at that point in my life, I’d had an incredibly stressful year. I’d dropped the ball on self breast checks. So that day, because of that headline, I checked. And I found a lump. It was ovular, hard, painless and immobile.
I had invasive ductal carcinoma. It’s an aggressive and common form of breast cancer. To say that I was terrified is an understatement. I have children! Would I see them grow up? How was I going to juggle my life as a single mother while battling breast cancer? Would I even have the opportunity to?
I elected to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. Choosing to have your breasts removed is such an excruciating decision, but because I was so young, my chance of reoccurrence was 37 percent. I’d always be looking over my shoulder; I’d always be scared. Reconstruction these days is quite remarkable. It’s a painful process—I won’t sugar coat it—but it’s definitely worth it!
Because my tumor was feeding on estrogen, I was put on Zoladex injections to remove all estrogen from my body. This treatment is sometimes called “chemical chemo,” and there are unpleasant side effects from it. But it kept me safe and I made it through that just like I did the surgeries.
There were people in my life who encouraged me every step of the way, even when I was really down. It is essential to have a support system when you go through something of this significance. It affects your body, emotions, mind, self-esteem, finances, energy level, etc. When I needed help, I asked for it (most of the time). There are truly amazing people out there with such kind hearts who want to help.
The doctors, my support system and hope are what got me through it. Four years later, I’m cancer-free. When I look back on the experience, I can say that I’m much stronger than I could’ve imagined, I’m eternally grateful to those who were there for me along the way, and that headline saved my life.
I might have waited another year before giving myself a breast check or going to the doctor. Had that happened, with the form of breast cancer I had, there is a very good chance it would have spread and I might not be here to tell my story or raise my children.
So thank you, Christina Applegate. I’ve always wanted to thank you and haven’t ever figured out a way. Your experience certainly saved my life, and it spared my children from losing their mother.
For those of you reading this who are currently battling breast cancer, have faith. I know it’s hard! Fight hard! Please ask for support and accept that support. We all need each other at some point or another, and right now is your time!
For those of you who love someone who is battling breast cancer, show your love and support in every way you can. Encourage your loved one, especially when they’re down. Ask them what they need, because sometimes we don’t want to ask or be a burden. Most of all, be there with lots of unconditional love and hugs.
And for all of you women out there reading this: Always, always, always check those breasts—and fight like a girl!