I am thankful for a loving Heavenly Father, and his Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ.
I am thankful for family and friends, and a husband who honors his sacred covenants.
I am thankful for science and the advances in breast cancer treatment over the years.
I have breast cancer. I was diagnosed in May 2012 with invasive ductal carcinoma, or IDC, the most common type of breast cancer.
Strangely enough, I didn’t feel like my world was falling apart when I found out. The surgeon was positive about the pathology report. My hormones are all good (positive for estrogen and progesterone, negative for HER2neu). None of my lymph nodes appear to be involved, the tumor is not attached to the chest wall and, while the tumor was large, it is the type that responds well to treatment.
I’m thankful that if I have to have cancer, this is the one to get.
I feel strongly that I will beat this disease. I feel that Heavenly Father is with me in this. I have a strong faith in eternal life and am not afraid to die of cancer. However, I am a little afraid to live with cancer.
At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone about this. In fact, while I was getting the diagnosis I didn’t tell anyone in my family or friends. If there was nothing to worry about then I didn’t want anyone to worry.
Of course, once the results were in I called my parents and brothers and told a few close friends. Rick told his family and children. I still didn’t want to tell everyone, and made sure (I thought) that Rick understood this. Unfortunately, Rick’s idea of not telling anyone and my idea of not telling anyone are miles apart. We had a family move in next to us in the campground we stay in during the summer. It wasn’t quite this blunt, but almost; “Hi. We’re the Haydens, Rick and Joyce. Joyce has breast cancer.”
I knew that some people would need to know – leadership at church, bosses at work (I’d JUST started my new job) and I’d already told my family, but I hoped that the general public would not know right away. While I am very happy to know that people care about me and want to make sure that I’m alright, the thought of constantly answering the question “How are you?” and sharing the information as I learn it was a bit daunting to me. I preferred to keep it all to myself and let information out as and when I was ready.
To that end, when I started my chemotherapy (the surgeon and oncologist both agreed that reducing the tumor before surgery was a good idea – and it worked!) I waited until the second cycle to get my head shaved and started wearing a wig. Now, mind you, he wig wasn’t just a wig, it was a completely different look for me – from redhead to blonde, and from long to short with bangs. Who doesn’t change up their hairstyle once in a while? I still didn’t need to say anything about it being a wig and why.
I started four cycles of AC (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) and by the end of those sessions I was more willing to be up front about what was happening. The first cycle didn’t affect me to terribly badly. I had some nausea, but not as extreme as I feared. The steroids didn’t really kick in right away, and the aches and pains were kept at bay very easily with a combination of pain reliever and Claritin.
By the second cycle I was starting to react more strongly. The “’Roid Rage” I experienced was off the wall and surprised both Rick and me. I was also starting to have some problems with taste, i.e., everything tasted like metal, yuck! And the frustrating thing is that I can smell everything and it smells wonderful. I remember what food is supposed to taste like, but it just never got there. The aches and pains were getting a little more severe, along with some fatigue. I would walk a couple of blocks and feel as if I’d walked miles. Thinking became difficult, too. Everything I did took two to three times longer because I had to keep checking and rechecking myself to make sure I had it right. At home I sometimes didn’t give myself the time to figure that out and got impatient, and made some doozies of mistakes, too.
I’m grateful for forgiveness.
By the third cycle, at the end of July, I was a little more accepting of the fact that I couldn’t power through all of this, and willing to take it a little easier. At this time, I was also willing to let more people know what was going on. I stopped wearing my wig and wore caps and scarves to work and started talking about it to the friends I’ve made there. I began attending some support groups at The Victory Center in Toledo and found that being understood by people who’ve been down your road is a pretty good feeling.
I’m thankful there’s a place where I can go and just let my hair hang down, so to speak. I'm thankful my hair is growing back in.
In September I started my next set of chemo, Taxotere. And this year I walked in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure as a survivor. I’ve done these walks for years, starting with the Revlon walk in Los Angeles about 15 years ago. Once I moved Ohio I didn’t have anyone to walk with me so I stopped for a while. It was good to be back on track again. The office has a team that participates each year.
The Taxotere, in a word, kicked my butt!! I lost taste almost right away, had some more regular nausea and sores in my mouth. My skin started getting really dry and flaky, my fingernails and toenails felt bruised and tender, and my bones just hurt. I get tired really easily and it takes a lot longer to get things done. And the brain farts! Sometimes I wonder if I can string two, uh, what were those things, again? oh yeah, words! together. Also, we discovered that I’m allergic to it so I had to take even more steroids for that.
My final chemo was on Nov. 15, exactly one week before Thanksgiving. I might not have all my taste back by then, but I’ll really enjoy the dinner. It’s nice to be around family on holidays like this.
In my childhood Mom and Dad would pack up the kids (myself and two brothers, Victor and David) and travel over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house, mostly in Ohio. We’d get up hours before dawn and try to arrive in time to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Mimi would have the turkey roasting and had made the pies the day before so the aromas when we got there were just awesome! Dinner was between whatever games were on that day, and dessert was late in the evening. Most of the time it was just us with Mimi & Grandpa and Anne & Denny, my mom’s youngest sister. A couple of Thanksgivings all of the aunts, uncles and cousins were there, too, and we had a blast.
The day after Thanksgiving my grandparents treated us all to a movie. As an adult I now appreciate the rest it gave them, but it was a wonderful treat for us all. We’d go home on Sunday loaded down with turkey sandwiches and great memories.
On Dec. 5 I will be going in for surgery to have a total mastectomy. I’ll be home the next day, recover for about a month and then begin radiation treatment. I don’t yet know how much or how extensive it will be. Then, six months after the radiation is complete I will have breast reconstruction. At that point, God willing, this journey will be at the end of its road.
I know that I will never be free from the shadow of cancer. For the rest of my life I will have to be hyper vigilant, but as I said earlier, I have a testimony of a loving Heavenly Father. I believe in the eternity of life; that even when I do die I will be with my family.
I am thankful for my life.