I think we’ve all been affected by breast cancer either directly or indirectly. We’ve lost mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers, and daughters. I lost my grandmother to breast cancer and my aunt is a breast cancer survivor. Cancer sucks. There isn’t anything nice about it. It does not discriminate by age or sex, it can happen to a male or even a young healthy female.
Being that it is breast cancer awareness month, I thought this was the perfect time to share Caity’s story. Her story speaks to my soul. To have her be a part of this project means so much to me. She is amazing, incredibly strong, brave, breathtakingly beautiful and whether or not she thinks this, she’s an inspiration. Caity, for women of all ages, you are an inspiration. You are hope. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
My goal with her shoot was to make her feel beautiful in her new body. I wanted her to find the sexy in short hair and the beauty we all see in her that she has trouble seeing in the mirror. By the end of our shoot, her confidence was there and it was hard to deny. As we danced in the rain together, I just hoped that she could see herself the way I saw her there. Carefree, loving life, grateful and beautiful.
On June 4, 2010, after two years of doctor’s appointments, pain, an abscess and multiple ultrasounds, a biopsy finally gave me the answer I was fearful of all along. I was 27 years old and I had BREAST CANCER! I was in shock. I was sad. I was PISSED. I knew something was wrong. I had to ask for the biopsy because the doctor himself was convinced it was nothing major since I was so young. He even said, “I do not want to rush to biopsy or remove anything because I do not want to mutilate you.” Who cares if I have a scar on my boob? I would rather remove something, have a scar and find out it is nothing than find out I have an advanced stage cancer because my doctor was worried about how nice my boob looked.
I was not happy with my first doctor so I quickly got everything together to get a second opinion. Unfortunately that meant A LOT more tests and needles to end up with the same diagnosis. I was diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) which basically means cancer of the mammary ducts. Click here for more information. According to my doctors, “I won the breast cancer lottery.” I had a non-aggressive type without hormone receptors and later we found out it was NOT in my lymph nodes and it was noninvasive. I had genetic testing and I did not have mutations of the breast cancer gene. Due to all of these factors I opted for a mastectomy of the infected breast with immediate reconstruction using a part of my lat muscle to build the new breast. On July 29, 2010 I had my surgery. I did not need radiation or chemo but the recovery was painful and long. Every 2-3 weeks I could feel improvements.
I went through physical therapy to rebuild the muscles that were damaged by the surgery and every six months continued to get my mammograms or MRIs. Every three months I went to my breast specialist, oncologist, or plastic surgeon. Every appointment was positive and each test came back clear. I could see the light at the end of my cancer journey. I was ready to move on with my life. Thankfully I opened my mouth and asked for the biopsy. Who knows how long it would have been before anyone found the cancer.
Well, two weeks after my mastectomy I got engaged (Aug. 2010). Nine months after that I got married, April 23, 2011 (which is how I met Melissa). Three months later I got pregnant and on April 6, 2012 I had my son Hudson. About 10 weeks after he was born I was leaning over to pick him up off the floor when I suddenly felt a sharp, burning pain in my back. I was unable to get up. We both lay crying on the floor until I could figure out a way to move. 4 months later I finally got an x-ray because the pain would just not go away. They found I had a compression fracture in my spine!! Weird for someone so young to have that happen for no reason.
The fracture led to an MRI, dexascan (which is a test to look for osteoporosis) and a bone scan. None of these gave us any information other than I had a compression fracture that was not healing. Two months after these tests I decided to go to an orthopedic back specialist to get some pain relief. He put cement in the break to help it heal and while he was in there he did a biopsy. He was suspicious of a break that would not heal after 9 months. Since I already had cancer he wanted to be safe.
THANK GOD he did that biopsy. A microscopic, asshole cancer cell broke free and found a home for itself in my back. The cancer weakened my bone and it broke when I picked up my son.
This finding led to a PET scan which I just found out that there is also some cancer in a lymph node in my right armpit. The crazy thing is that when I had my mastectomy I had several nodes tested and they were all clean. How the hell did this happen? At least having this information gives my doctors a better understanding as to how my back got cancer.
This new diagnosis lead to chemo and radiation. This meant lots of physical changes. Hair loss, weight gain, new scars, food aversions and crazy cravings etc. I contacted Melissa about a year ago and told her the following information about my experiences…1. I lost all my hair and was bald for more than 3 months. I had my mom and husband buzz my hair after Hudson starting pulling out chunks. That was hard to look at. I had to wear a wig to work everyday from March until June. Now I am dealing with brand new hair, it is wavier than before and still short. I do not know what to do with it and I am not sure I like it, but I am trying to embrace the new me. At least I have hair now! – Since writing this, I have had 7 haircuts to help shape and style my new hair. I am LOVING shorter hair. It is easy with a busy life. Even though it is short, I can still style it many ways. I also got blonde and red highlights in the front. I figure, I only live once, and I am going to have FUN with my new hair!2. I gained 35 pounds throughout the chemo process taking me from a size 4 to a 10! That is the biggest I have ever been (besides pregnancy). 20 of the pounds were gained in a 16 week period due to steroids and the chemo drugs. Every week I would have to stand on the scale before my infusion and watch the numbers increase. It was horrible. Talk about depressing. It did not matter what I did, I was going to continue gaining. Some days I would just cry because my pants would not button and I had no shirts to wear. – At this point I lost 10 pounds and am back into an 8 but losing weight will be difficult because I have so many back issues and lack energy still from the drugs. I used to ride my bike and exercise a lot to stay in shape. I am unable to do that right now and I feel like a waste some days. Other days I am proud of myself for working full time and raising my son. – I have now taken walks up to 2 miles again! My energy and stamina are returning. I will continue to slowly build myself back up to exercising.3. I do not see who I expect/want to see in the mirror. At one point when I was bloated and had the moon face from steroids I sobbed because the reflection I saw was of my dad’s aunt who is in her 70s. I felt like a 30 year old trapped in an old lady body. I am still waiting for the day to either see the old me or get used to the new me. – I AM used to the NEW me. I look like myself again, just a little heavier. Are there days I complain about my weight and wish I was skinnier, OF COURSE! But, I am getting used to dressing my new body and feeling comfortable again. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have people tell you that you are looking skinnier!4. I have 3 inch long, very dark scars on my chest from my ports. I had an infection so they had to take one out (which is 2 scars) and put in a new one, another scar. I hate them. They are so hard to cover up and students notice them and ask me what happened. I just say I had a boo-boo and it is fixed now (I teach kindergarten and 1st grade). All the other scars on my body can be hidden all the time by the clothes I wear, but not these. Once it is warm I want to wear lower neck lines and not worry about people starring at my scars. Hopefully in the future they will fade and makeup will cover them. – Since writing this I have yet another scar, but ALL are fading a lot. I take a “who gives a shit attitude” about them. I will wear whatever I want to and if people stare, then they are the ones with a problem. Make-up can disguise them a little bit, but half the time I do not worry about it.5. Due to the compression fracture in my back that was caused by the cancer, I have a bump in my back forever. As I have healed and I go to physical therapy, the bump straightens some, but it will never go away. I hate turning to the side and seeing that in the mirror. I have to deal with that forever I guess…. – Physical therapy really helped straighten me out. I am not perfect, and never will be, but it is not the first thing I see in the mirror anymore
I also have had 5 weeks of radiation. I have 5 lovely, blue, freckled-sized tattoos all around my right breast. One of them shows when I wear low-cut v-neck shirts, but otherwise they are always hidden. Do I like them, NO! Are they the end of the world, NOPE! Just another reminder of the LONG journey I have been on to get to where I am today.I am VERY happy and proud to say that I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister and teacher. I am NOT a cancer patient. I am a survivor and will continue to live like someone who DOES NOT have cancer . Yes, there are days when I wonder or worry that it will come back, but I cannot live like that. I am usually so busy that I do not have time to worry about it. I need to think about my son, husband, extended family and my students. They are what keep my got my through this journey and what will continue to keep me going…