When I felt a lump in my breast at 34 weeks pregnant, my breath left me.
It was a familiar feeling from the first time I had cancer almost ten years ago. That time I called it a gift. It provided an awareness and clarity that resulted in a transformation, an awakening of my visual arts, and ultimately, the creation of my company, The Butter End.
This round of cancer brought none of those feelings. This time the stakes were higher. It didn’t at all feel like a present.
When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2008, I took only my left breast due to a negative result for the breast cancer gene. I decided to spare my right. I not only loved my boob, but I thought one day I’d have kids and wanted to have one breast left to breast feed. The irony is not lost on me that at the happiest time of my life, pregnant with my daughter, I would be dealing with this – again – and that the very breast that would give her life was threatening mine.
After taking a new genetic test, it turns out that I am positive after all for the BRCA1 gene. This news in addition to my diagnosis weeks before my due date sent me reeling. It took some time, but after about three weeks I found myself able to again focus on the miracles in my world…. I was enjoying every single day of my pregnancy. Even though I was 48, I wasn’t sick a single day, had great energy, and was eager to meet my baby. Just the fact that I was pregnant was a gift! IVF made it possible to get pregnant, even though I was infertile from my first round of cancer.
I decided I wasn’t going to let cancer rob me of a single day with my new family. It was time to gird up, tick the boxes and get through it again. Just like last time.
We made a plan with my doctors to deliver Bailey a little early so that I could start chemo as fast as possible. She didn’t want to come down, and my body didn’t want to let her out early. I cried because I felt robbed of the last few weeks of the pregnancy that brought me so much joy. She was born on July 3rd via c-section, a healthy, beautiful 7.2 pound baby girl! I was able to breast feed her with my one good breast, despite the tumor. For three weeks until the start of chemo I treasured every moment with her on my breast.
Chemo has changed in the last ten years, and so have its side effects. For example, I learned that this time I didn’t have to lose my hair. I opted to try a new FDA approved scalp cooling device called DigniCap to save my hair. Honestly, I loved being bald ten years ago. The thing I hated was the two year grow-in that followed! Also, I do a lot of on-camera work on Food Network which I didn’t want to stop. My hair is part of my look, so I thought I’d just give DigniCap a go to see if it worked. The thought of wearing a tightly fitted cap set at 37 degrees on my wet head wasn’t something I was looking forward to! I was pleasantly surprised at how tolerable it was! I’m so glad I did it, as it helped me keep about half of my hair after four rounds of chemo.
Most importantly, the tumor vanished after the third infusion of chemo. In total I did four rounds of a chemo and had a mastectomy. All tests have come back clear! I am once again cancer-free! Once I heal from this surgery, I will have my ‘downtown’ worked on. Turns out that if you are BRCA1 positive, you are also 40% likely to get ovarian cancer as well. So, the ovaries have to go.
I share my story so that women know that they can not only survive cancer, but thrive in the midst of it. You can keep your hair, stay strong through chemo, heal from surgery, and have healthy babies. I mobilize by focusing on fun and positive things – immediate and in the future. So – we just met with my fertility doctor to talk about the plans for me to get pregnant with Bailey’s brother next year. Science is amazing, and having a family is the most miraculous and joyful experience of my life.