I’m going to make a very ignorant statement right now. I thought only old people, genetically predisposed people, smokers, obese people, diabetic people, or alcoholics got cancer. I am none of those things and there I was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer 1 week after my 36th birthday. The jokes on me, eh?!
Do you remember that show Beverly Hills 90210? There was this episode with best friends, Brenda and Kelly, who were hanging out one evening and Kelly pulls out this magazine with an article that says, “How to do a self- breast exam.” Them thinking it would be “fun,” lay down and give it a try. Kelly checks and says, “All clear!” and Brenda replies, “Me too . . . all clear.” But was lying, Brenda had found a lump in her breast. Eventually she tells her mom, the lump is removed, find out it’s not cancerous and all is well. Even though I was just 11 years old when that episode aired, I never forgot that panic on Brenda’s face when she discovered that lump. That made me super paranoid so, from that point forward I was checking my breasts on a regular basis, but never really expecting to find anything.
Fast-forward 25 years . . .
It’s January 2017 and I’m lying in bed, with the hubby, watching some Netflix, and I decide to give myself a casual impromptu breast exam, (Duh, what else do you do during Netflix?), and I come across this hard-lump right between my left breast and my collar bone. It didn’t hurt, and it didn’t move, but there is something under the skin’s surface. At first, I think, maybe it is a muscle strain, I mean I had been in the gym hard-core of late. I asked the hubby to see if he feels something too. He does and says, “it’s probably nothing but you should go check it out just in case.” Panic enters my body, but I push it away and think, “I’m super healthy, it’s probably nothing.” Two weeks later I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, and he is feeling around not looking concerned at all and says, “given your age and your health it’s probably nothing, but to be sure let’s send you for a mammogram and an ultrasound, anyway, better safe than sorry.”
Pause – “Given my age and my health it’s probably nothing,” allow me to expand on this, I am 35 years old, I don’t smoke, drink, or eat meat, I take my vitamins, I eats tons of green veggies and I work out 4 x a week. So statistically he was right, no?
The following week I went for mammogram and ultrasound and less then 2 days later I get a call from my doctor on my cell:
Him: “Hi Monique, it’s doctor M., are you at work?”
Him: “Are you sitting down?”
First of all, who says that, are you sitting down? WTF??
Me: “No, why, should I be?” Spit it out Doc, I think to myself.
Him: “Monique, it’s serious, we need to send you for some follow-up tests right away . . .”
Me: “Are you serious?” I could’ve swore he was joking.
Me: “What are you saying, is it bad?”
Him: “We won’t know until we get more information.”
I suddenly felt the floor move beneath me, (now I know why they ask are you sitting down).
Over the next 2 weeks I had another ultrasound and mammogram, a MRI, a biopsy, met with a breast cancer specialist, and the diagnosis was in. I had breast cancer . . . and it had already spread to my lymph nodes.
So, there I was sitting on the exam table, my husband holding my hand, and the doctor’s words echoing in my head. I can’t even describe what that was like. It was like I was outside of my body watching a movie, of myself. I kept trying to be OK with the words coming out of his mouth, but I just couldn’t. All I kept thinking is, how was this possible, I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF, THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN TO PEOPLE LIKE ME!
The doctor went on to say a bunch of other things that just melted into a blur, that sounded something like, “. . . we will need to start treatment . . . chemotherapy has a high success rate . . . surgery . . . radiation . . . fertility specialist . . .” The only thing I could say was, “how, is this possible?” To which he responded, “Monique, given your age and health you should not be here, all we know is 1- in- 8 women your age will get breast cancer with no history of it in their family, and we don’t know why.” Seriously? Was I the only one who didn’t know about these odds? None of my friends have cancer, so that makes me the 1-in-8? F!
That was Feb 13th of this year. Since, I have frozen my eggs, had 8 rounds of chemotherapy, lumpectomy surgery, complications from surgery that I am still recovering from, hormone blocker injections and I am scheduled to start radiation soon. All I can think of is, if I hadn’t remembered that look on Brenda’s face, I wouldn’t have been checking, if I hadn’t been checking would I have found the lump in time? Would I still be here today? I will never know.
Bottom line, prevention is the best cure we have today. Although my cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes, I am lucky I caught it when I did. Because I was healthy . . . except for the cancer.
Photo Credit: Nathalia Allen
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Last modified: October 30, 2017