Michelle's story.

I was 39-years-old and enjoying life with my wonderful husband and my three beautiful daughters. We had just sold our house and were making plans to build a new one. I was happy and feeling healthy; life was good! The big 4-0 was right around the corner and months prior I had scheduled an appointment for a physical and my first mammogram. I had no concerns going into my appointment because I was feeling great, faithfully worked out, and did the right things to stay healthy.

On April 30, 2009 my physician gave me the stamp of approval of good health pending the mammogram results. On May 1, 2009 I was called back for a repeat mammogram followed by an ultrasound. I was a little on edge at this point but still fairly confident all was going to be ok. It was the return of the technician along with the radiologist that I instantly knew something was wrong. I was informed that I had two spots highly suspicious for cancer and I was going to be sent for an MRI and then would undergo a breast biopsy. I was in a state of shock as one of my greatest fears – getting cancer – just became a reality. The only thing I wanted at that moment was to have my best friend and confidant by my side, Michael, my husband.

Thankfully behind the scenes things had already been put into action for this to happen. Michael met me at the clinic and I was instantly wrapped in comfort. The day continued with an MRI, a second ultrasound, and finally the biopsy. It was an emotional and exhausting day but the hardest part lay ahead of me yet. I needed to share this news with my girls. How does a mom even begin to tell her children this kind of news? My heart was breaking. My goal was to be honest but not frightening all at the same time. Staying calm and collected without lots of tears was going to be the biggest challenge. With Michael by my side and God holding both of us up we got through it. My kids were wonderful and very supportive and attentive to me. They lavished me with extra hugs and kisses, and the love they showed for me gave me so much comfort and peace. Our goal throughout this cancer journey was to try and not make the cancer the center of attention but to continue on living as we had been and enjoying life and continue doing all of the things we loved to do. I must admit that I was very angry at first and kept asking “why me God?” My faith was being challenged but I had to believe that God gave me this heavy cross to carry for some reason.

So the journey began. The next two weeks were spent going to appointments and having tests performed. The treatment plan that was decided upon was to have 8 rounds of chemotherapy (4 Adriamycin/Cytoxan; 4 Taxol), followed by a bilateral mastectomy, radiation if needed, and then breast reconstruction. I was comfortable with the treatment plan and knew I had the best healthcare team on my side. On Saturday, May 16 we packed up and moved out of our house and moved in with my in-laws, and on Monday, May 18 I went in for my first chemotherapy treatment.

The chemo treatments were certainly no picnic but there was one particular highlight to them. My coworkers put together a different themed gift basket and delivered one to every chemo treatment I had. What an amazing group of colleagues I work with. Chemo was hard on me and instantly zapped my energy. I seemed to get all the side effects that go along with chemo - fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, and nausea that never seemed to go away. I did learn that I needed to respect my body and if it needed to rest then that was what I did. Naps quickly became a part of my everyday routine. Despite the trying days there was always a ray of sunshine whether it was a phone call, getting a card in the mail, a message on my CaringBridge site, a visitor, a meal delivered, or some other kind gesture. All of these things attributed to my healing process. What sustained me the most was the outpouring of love and support that I received and all of the prayers that were being said for me. That was an incredible feeling.

The hair loss was devastating to put it mildly. The best decision I made after it started falling out was to shave my head. I truly embraced this new and unique opportunity. When else does a person have so many options of what to wear on their head? I loved all of the different choices I had and that I could change it up from day to day. The real bonus came with how little time it took to shower, not having to shave the legs (yippee!), and less time in the bathroom getting ready.

There were many challenges along the way. It was in overcoming the challenges and accomplishing little milestones that I found glory. It is not the arduous journey I remember most, it is the unexpected joys and the bountiful blessings I received along the way that remains most vividly in my mind and has permanently touched my heart. Was the cancer a gift? I cannot say the cancer itself was a gift, but I do know that I was graced with many gifts because of it and for that I am truly thankful. I am now 1-year cancer free and can proudly say I am a breast cancer SURVIVOR.