Quote by Marilyn Monroe: “Never let anyone dull your sparkle”.
Megan is a breast cancer survivor who, despite complications post-cancer, continues to walk with purpose and determined to change the narrative of the cancer experience.
“I knew something was wrong two years before cancer presented itself. First, my shoulder length, straight hair started falling out on the left side and completely changed texture from soft to brittle. Then I noticed all these tiny green bruises all over my lower left leg. I kept getting a blood test after blood test, but it showed nothing. I thought it was my hormones. None of my doctors thought cancer. Then I had a bruise in a perfectly shaped circle on the back of my left arm. My primary knew something wasn’t right but still couldn’t figure it out. Then a month after my 39th birthday, I felt a huge mass in my left breast. I knew it wasn’t a lump because of the location and the size and feel of it. That was on 8/31/15. I called my primary and she immediately wrote the order for me to get a diagnostic mammogram. I had a clear mammogram at 35, so I was told to come back when I was 40. Well, I had the ultrasound and was told it was a mass on 9/4/15 and needed a biopsy, which I got on 9/11/15. Then I got the ‘cancer call’ at exactly 3:05 pm on 9/14/15 and told I had Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. My life was forever changed”.
“I like to use the word ‘path’ instead of the journey. I had never felt so scared and out of control than when I had to get chemo. My tumor was growing aggressively, so we had to first contain it and then shrink it as much as possible before surgery in order to get a good margin. I got diagnosed on a Monday, met with the breast cancer surgeon on a Wednesday and plastic surgeon on that Friday. I didn’t even understand why I was seeing a plastic surgeon because I was in such a shock. Everything was happening so quickly. I was diagnosed as Stage IIA, ER/PR + and HER2-. I had 4 Adriamycin and Cytoxan and 12 Taxol chemo treatments (five months). In the words of my oncologist, I had the ‘mother of chemo and side effects’. Aside from the loss of hair, all my fingernails fell off, my toenails died, mouth sores, tongue swelling, bone pain after each Neulasta shot, tongue turned black, palms of my hands and feet looked burned, dizziness, burning of skin where my port was taped, chemo brain and chemo-induced neuropathy. Then after my lumpectomy/reconstruction and reduction on 3/28/16, I got two infections and had to get 543 ccs of fluid drained because I was healing so slowly and fluid just built up over six weeks. My plastic surgeon said that is was not common to have that much fluid built up after a lumpectomy. Then I had 33 radiation treatments which ended two days before my 40th birthday in 2016. I burned so badly that my flesh started coming off under my arm. My left breast was burned, and the beams went straight through to my back and burned the side of my neck.
My cancer path during active treatment was utterly traumatic. Little did I know that my post-treatment would be even worse.
My body was resistant to Tamoxifen, Evista. I change my oncologist and went to a different cancer center for post-treatment after my active treatment oncologist refused to listen to me when I said my body couldn’t tolerate those two pills. So, my second opinion oncologist suggested we try Lupron injections. Once again, my body betrayed me. The pain was so excruciating, that we had to stop after just one injection.
So, after my oncologist and gynecologist consulted with each other, it was determined that I needed a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. My mother is an ovarian survivor, the maternal grandmother had cervical cancer and my maternal aunt had breast cancer. They felt this was the only way to help reduce recurrence by medically inducing me into menopause so I could take an AI. On 2/15/17, I had that major surgery. I will never be able to have children of my own. Then, my body was resistant to Arimidex. I discovered I fall into the 25% category of breast cancer survivors whose body cannot tolerate any of the medications to help prevent recurrence in both pre and post-menopausal women. I haven’t been physically or mentally right since”.
Motivation to fight cancer
“Honestly, I didn’t want to die and leave my cat (who is my child), or my mother alone and grieving. I’m a natural fighter and very resilient, but there were times when I felt like giving up”.
The biggest hindrance
“The biggest hindrance was being single and going through this nightmare. There was no husband or boyfriend to help me when I got sick in the middle of the night. There were many times I wish I had someone there to just bring me some water. It was exceptionally tough having to continue working full-time while on chemo. The pressure to not only work but DO my work at the same pace and efficiency was difficult, especially when you factor in chemo brain. I also had to do a ton of research to get grants and financial help because my deductible was so high thanks to crappy insurance”.
Message to other fighters
“My message to cancer patients is to let your friends and family help. It’s impossible to appear strong and fine all the time.
Rest, drink tons of water and keep your sense of humor.
Be your own advocate. It’s okay to question your medical team and ask ‘why’ instead of just accepting everything they say. Ask as many questions as you want and ask if you can record each visit. Even though I brought my mother to all my appointments, it was helpful to listen back to the recordings.
Most of all, know at some point you will go through the stages of grief, especially if a young adult diagnosed under 42 because cancer takes away so much of you both physically and mentally. Be prepared for possible PTSD. I didn’t expect that to happen to me, but it did. It’s important to build a circle of support as you process all that has happened once you’ve moved into post-treatment or maintenance treatment”.