How has your life changed since you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
Breast cancer touched my life long before I was diagnosed myself. I actually lost a very close, nonblood aunt to breast cancer when I was just 15. She was diagnosed in her late 30s. She was told she was too young for breast cancer, but late stage breast cancer took her from her children and me.
On the night that she passed, I made a promise to myself that if she couldn't be here to do all the good she was doing, then I would do the good for her.
I promised that I would someday get involved with the cause, and I promised to someday fight to lower the screening recommendation so that children like my cousins wouldn't have to lose their moms to cancer. Over the years, I have done a few projects that involved breast cancer, but I didn't really get involved with anything personally until I met and became very close friends with a woman named Vicki. Right away, she reminded me of my aunt. She, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer, just a year after I met her.
But my worlds collided on February 16, 2015, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself—with no family history and no known environmental risk factors. Looking back now, I can't help but feel like this was all part of the plan for me. That I was meant to lose someone I loved to breast cancer at a young age, I was meant to meet Vicki and witness her desire to share and inspire, and I was meant to experience all of the fear, pain and sickness myself because, in the end, I was meant to do something positive with my own struggle.
What has been the most difficult part of the process?
Mentally, cancer changes you as a person in more ways than I could ever explain. Cancer has a way of taking over your world entirely. I went from being a young and somewhat carefree mother and wife to being a full-time cancer patient who still spends a very large portion of her time in a hospital.
I'll be honest: I had a really hard time with chemo and radiation, and each and every surgery has come with its own set of challenges and setbacks that I'm still dealing with. In fact, my medical team has often joked that I'm their .1 percent. If something bad can happen, it'll usually happen to me. One of my nurses has even made reference that in her 20 years of oncology, she's never seen another breast cancer patient with as many complications as I've had.
However, I wouldn't say this aspect is the hardest. The hardest aspect of cancer for me came after my treatments ended and the outside world—even some of my loved ones, in some ways—expected things to go back to normal. The struggle of trying to keep up with the expectations that I felt the outside world had of me—or where I should be physically—wasn't only exhausting, but also quite isolating. I kind of felt like I was expected to just pick up the pieces of my former life and move forward like cancer never happened to me
Where do you find your hope in this process?
I started my blog in an attempt to keep my friends and family up to date on my progress and in hopes of inspiring others walking in my shoes, but what I didn't realize was that helping others would in turn help bring me hope as well.
Receiving messages that I was able to add to the lives of those who have treated me over the past year, and to those who have walked this journey with me, fills my heart with love, gratitude and appreciation. It motivates me to keep stepping outside of myself for a greater good. But most of all, it has made me realize that there's something pretty amazing about breast cancer.
Although this nasty disease brings even the strongest women to their knees, and tests every ounce of faith you have in your body, it brings many gifts and blessings to your life as well.
Having cancer allowed me to let my guard down and open my heart to my family, my friends and an online community of followers; it has deepened my relationship with my husband, my parents, my siblings and my friends; it has given me the gift of knowing how much I am loved.
Being faced with cancer has shown me just how strong and determined I can be, and it has brought so many amazing people into my life. It has helped me to appreciate even the smallest things in life, to appreciate the gift of every single day and, most of all, it has helped me grow into the person I believe I was always meant to be.
All of the blessing that cancer has brought to my life gives me hope—but most of all, I see hope in my daughter's big brown eyes. Each day that I have my beautiful family reminds me of how lucky I am that I'm still here and that I still have a life to live, but it also gives me the strength and determination to keep fighting.