Hello, I’m Wendy, a 45-years-young wife and Mom of 3 kids and a rescue puppy named Sadie and I have breast cancer. But not the common type that 80% of women are diagnosed with. On Feb. 23 I found out my cancer is Metaplastic Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer that affects less than 1% of women. It was only just recognized by the WHO in 2001 and has a much higher rate of recurrence.
When my surgeon dropped this bomb over the phone she said I’d have to wait five days to ask any questions I may have for when I see my Medical Oncologist. Of course being a journalist, I couldn’t wait and wanted to find out everything I could about it. So I went straight to Dr. Google. BAD idea. Much of the information out there is old, outdated and downright scary. For five days I planned my funeral, cried, hugged my kids, hugged my husband, cried some more, went over my will and did everything else someone who felt like they’d just been handed a death sentence would do. Apparently this is a “normal” reaction.
I found my lump by mistake while dyeing my red hair. I used to go get my hair done at the salon like many women do but since last fall I have not been able to go due to the expense. I dropped a glob of dye it on my left boob and when I went to wipe it off I felt “it.” A lump. THE lump. I told my husband who said, “Oh, it’s probably nothing,” and I tried to talk myself out of it. My family has no history of cancer. I just got a breast exam 11 months ago and everything was fine. Maybe it’s just hormonal changes…I just turned 45. But I couldn’t shake the worry and tossed and turned in bed that night for hours.
The next morning I called my doctor who brought me in to the office within a few hours of making the call. I was hoping when I got there he was going to say “it’s nothing,” or “it’s just a cyst.” But that was not the case. He sent me to the receptionist area to make an appointment for an ultrasound and mammogram. I could barely get the words out of my mouth to tell her what I needed, trying to choke back tears. The credit card machine was broken. The other woman didn’t know how to access my records to send to the next doctor. The radiology place doesn’t make Saturday appointments. This was not starting out good. More tears.
I had to wait until Monday for my appointment. There was a snowstorm. I got to the office and found they didn’t have my records so now I might have to wait some more. Some lady was coughing all over the place while we sat there in our matching pink gowns watching the Weather Channel. The nurse finally came in and rescued me from the germ-infested waiting room. She did the mammogram, squeezing my boobs from the top to the bottom and gripping them in a clear vice-like contraption on the sides.
Next was the ultra sound. The originally chatty nurse suddenly became silent when she saw a dark black spot on the screen showing my left breast. It looked like a misshaped egg with a tail on it. I asked her if that was “it.” She tried to sound optimistic when she said, “I can’t say for sure, the doctor has to tell you that. But if it was just a cyst I would tell you.”
The radiologist came in and confirmed that this dark spot would need a biopsy. Unfortunately I was going to have to wait five more days since I had Advil in my system for my tooth pain. Apparently if I have Advil in my system it can cause bleeding and/or hemorrhaging during the biopsy. The next available appointment was the following Monday, another snowstorm.
Was this all really happening? How will I get through another week of worrying? Another week of not knowing for sure?
“It’s a good thing you came in when you did. Your last mammogram looked clear,”the doctor said. I tried to let the words sink in before he continued, “This grew really fast.”
We set up the appointment for next week and my husband and I decided not to tell the kids yet. Maybe it was a calcium deposit. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe….. and so we waited some more. I tried to focus on the doctor’s positive words.
Had I not dropped the glob of hair dye in my boob I would not have felt the lump. I probably would have pushed off my mammogram because the end of February in my son’s birthday, March is filled with Irish dance, Irish ball, St. Patrick’s Day and a children’s play. I may have even pushed it off until June or July. But thankfully I trusted my gut to call the doctor.
So how does it feel to be told you have cancer? For a few seconds, you can’t breathe. You feel like you’re choking. Life comes to a screeching halt. The doctor’s words echo in your mind before settling down into your head and into reality, “You have breast cancer.” After you hang up the phone and tell your husband, who already knows by the look on your face, you hear yourself say it for the first time, “I have breast cancer.” Nobody in my family has this so how could I have it? It is so surreal. So many thoughts swirling through my brain. Wait, is it in my brain? How will they know?
The week before you find out you think about your life and if you’ve made a good life for your family and your children. You think about what you could have done better. How you could have spent more time or been a more positive influence and role model. And then you are slapped with that reality. NOW. Each day counts. Each moment counts.
Fast forward to four months later and my most overwhelming emotion is extreme gratitude. I’m grateful to have found this website for current, up-to-date information. I’m grateful that I found the lump when it was only stage one and has not spread. I’m grateful for the endless support, donations, gifts, well wishes, prayers and so many people lifting me up. Yes, this battle is tough. Yes, this rare diagnosis is a tough pill to swallow but I am choosing to focus on the positives.
And I am determined to help raise awareness for early detection through #MyLeftBoob selfie campaign and documentary. Click the links below to read more.