I hope this letter finds you well and kicking butt at your career, motherhood, marriage or whatever you’re devoted to at this stage of your life. I’ll start with a brief introduction.
I am a 45-year-old mother of two who works full time and dedicates every spare moment to raising two good, well-rounded humans, managing their school and social lives, washing massive mountains of laundry and laughing with my mom friends over how in the heck we juggle all of this. Like many of you, I move at 100 miles per hour and have felt pretty invincible most of my life.
I was in quintessential busy mom mode on an afternoon after school in February of 2021 (a Chick Fil A drive thru with my 7-year-old daughter and two of her friends in the back seat) when my phone rang. I had been waiting for that call for more than a week since something spotted on my annual mammogram required a biopsy. My doctor said, “are you in a place where you can talk?” I wasn’t but I knew that question meant something was wrong so I lied and said, “yes.” So, there, in the Chick Fil A parking lot with a car full of kids, I found out I had breast cancer.
This is the part where I’m supposed to take you deep into my journey. I won’t because the word “journey” implies my ordeal was long. It was not.
Shortly after my Stage 1 diagnosis and after consulting with specialists who happened to be moms around my age, I opted for a double mastectomy with an incredible team at AdventHealth. No radiation, no chemo, the end. For the next ten years, I will take a daily dose of Tamoxifen- a drug designed to “block the effects of estrogen on hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “make sure this mess does not come back.”
I live with the knowledge there really is no guarantee and depending on who you ask and what study you read, the mastectomy may not have improved my odds. The cancer could, for example, return in my chest wall or a lymph node. But I move forward with faith and confidence for two reasons: my family and one friend in particular.
My friend, Angela, was a big supporter of my decision to go the extreme route rather than undergo a lumpectomy and radiation. She was already a survivor when I was diagnosed and her advice was important to me. The word “journey” most certainly applies to her fight against her diagnosis with the rare, fast growing triple negative breast cancer she too found during a routine mammogram.
My courageous friend endured more than five months of chemo and several surgeries. She fought with grace and dignity, balancing treatments with her obligations to the TV station where we both worked. There were many moments people saw her glowing on the news with no idea she was wearing a wig or in the fight of her life. But she was and she won.
By the time I was diagnosed, Angela’s cancer journey was behind her. Until it wasn’t. Early this year, as I approached my one-year cancer free mark, my friend Angela learned hers had returned. She resumed the battle with the same bravery and devoted loved ones by her side.
On the evening of July 19, those loved ones surrounded her when she passed away.
I was there too. Nothing, nothing, nothing can prepare you for a moment like that. I don’t know why but among the last things I whispered in her ear was the phrase: “I promise people will know.” I’ve thought about what exactly I meant by that. I know I was in shock as I spoke to her.
What did I mean? Know what?
Maybe it’s this:
People need to know 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This year, almost 3,000 cases will be diagnosed in men.
- People need to know risk factors.
- You need to know there are resources all around you to make it easy. Check out AdventHealth’s Mammogram Scheduling Site.
- And people, especially you, invincible woman, need to know this can happen to you regardless of your family history, race, color, weight, height and so on.
With the blessing of Angela’s family, people will know about her courageous battle. I vow to share her story every time I share my own. We can’t control how it ends but we can take hold of what we do with the time we have. My friend was a fierce advocate for herself and others. I will do the same.
Simply put, early detection is life.
Making yourself and your health a priority is life.
If you are uninsured, know there are organizations ready to help you.
Pick up the phone. Get the screening. Act.
Whatever life throws at you, be smart and be brave.
And if you can, share your story. Even just one person touched by you could be a life saved.
We’re in this together.
Sending love and strength from here and heaven,
Nancy & Angela