The moment my life changed forever was nothing out of the ordinary. I had just put my 2-year-old son to bed. I remember his little face looked so sweet holding his blankie. My husband was in my 5-year-old son's room reading him a story. I lay down next to them on my son's bed and folded my arms. My left hand touched what felt like a hard marble just under my left breast. In that second, I knew exactly what it was.
I made an appointment for a mammogram. I was barely 31 years old. The mammogram progressed into a sonogram. The radiologist said she didn't like what she saw. Any doubt I had vanished. The radiologist said she wanted a biopsy. My husband drove to the hospital from work and we sat together, shaking and trying to keep calm. After the biopsy, we went to pick up our kids at my husband's parents' house. When his mother opened the door the look on our faces said it all.
I had to wait all weekend for the biopsy results. On Monday my husband and I huddled around the phone to hear my doctor. "Christina, I don't have good news for you" is the first thing she said. I repeated those words over and over to my family members when I called with the news. "I don't have good news. The biopsy is positive for ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer." Later that day I found myself in a breast surgeon's office. She told me she thought the cancer was already in my lymph nodes. She recommended a double mastectomy based on my strong family history of breast cancer and my young age. She told me to meet with a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction and let her know what I decided. Chemotherapy would come after the surgery.
What I did next is one of the things I am most proud of. The day after I was diagnosed, I sent my husband to work and I picked myself up and dusted myself off. In slow motion, I showered and put on a nice outfit. I dressed and fed my kids, made their lunch boxes and took my 5 year old to school. Everything looked different to me: suddenly I was fighting for my life and everyone else was, well, just being normal parents and teachers. After I dropped my son off, I stayed busy with my 2-year-old and spent the day doing normal mom things. I easily could have stayed in bed crying, I could have crawled home to my mom. I could have done so many other things but I decided to pick myself up and deal with it.
My surgery was two weeks later. I chose to remove both breasts. The cancer had spread to three lymph nodes and was found in 95 percent of my breast. Then came five months of chemotherapy, 16 rounds in 20 weeks. The weight gain from the chemo and steroids was one of the hardest things to deal with. My beautiful children saw their mother turn into a bald, gray, pudgy woman who didn't look anything like herself. Almost every day, my 2-year-old would say, "Mama, your hair look beautiful." I had no hair, but he thought that would make me feel better. Going to chemo almost every week felt as though I was running a marathon. But I had no choice but to keep going, keep running my marathon. My husband was beside me every step of the way. We made a paper chain with 16 links, and after every chemo my sons would break a link. When my last link was broken, when I endured my last round of chemotherapy, we threw a party.
After chemo I started radiation, which I went to every weekday for six weeks. I would drop my now 6-year-old off at school and my now 3-year-old would go with me to radiation. It has been one month since I finished radiation. My hair is growing back and I am working hard to lose the weight. My skin is back to its normal, healthy color (not gray or green anymore) and I feel great. I have heart damage from the medication, but we're hoping it is temporary and that I can continue with a drug called herceptin. I am at peace with my experience. Will the cancer come back? No one knows. I do know if it does recur, I will again pick myself up and dust myself off. I will again start the marathon and get through it. We all will, because we have to.