By Kristina Burke, PHR
Hope for a Better Year
Prior to this year, the only experience I had with breast cancer was about 20 years ago, when my mother went through her own journey. At that time, I was a young college student and while I went to a few of her appointments and supported her as much as I could, I don’t really think I grasped what her breast cancer diagnosis meant for her or our family. However, I was about to become very familiar with the world of cancer.
This year was supposed to be better for us. We were settling into our first home, our beautiful rainbow son was thriving, my husband’s mother was doing amazing after a double transplant and the world was recovering after COVID. We were looking forward to adding to our family again. But on Valentine’s Day, I got a phone call that changed everything.
A Devastating Diagnosis
I noticed a lump right around Christmas in 2022. I didn’t say anything at the time because it wasn’t very big and I really just thought it might have been a swollen bug bite or a bruise of some sort. But over the next few weeks, the lump didn’t seem to go away. In fact, it seemed to grow. So I mentioned it to my husband who is a nurse and he pushed me to call my doctor. So I did. Over the next few weeks, I underwent multiple mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies. While going for testing for the original lump I found another one on the other side. Luckily, the second lump was benign, but the original tumor was Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma- Breast Cancer. The “C” word had entered our little family and changed our plans for 2023.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
I had many emotions in those first days- I was angry, full of fear, and quite defeated. I didn’t know how I was going to be the mother, wife and employee I needed to be while battling this horrible disease. I really struggled. Luckily, the last few years have taught me some things. The first was to reach out when I was going through a hard time. I reached out and formed my support team filled with both professionals and close family and friends. Part of my job is to host the New Hire Orientation. In January, I updated our presentation to include information about a new online therapy service. With my busy life, this was the perfect option for me- I could talk to someone around my schedule. It wasn’t easy to reach out. But, I am glad I did. The therapist I was matched with has been wonderful and I am grateful to have had her in my corner for every step of this journey. I have also been blessed with amazing family and friends. During all of this, I was also able to add a few new friends to that support team. All those people became invaluable over the next few months.
As I started to meet my medical care team- the numerous doctors, nurses and techs who were going to help me fight this disease- I came to grips with the fact this was definitely not going to be an easy road. During the pretreatment stage my tumor almost tripled in size. Because of this the decision was made to do chemo before surgery. I would do 12 weeks of Taxol/Carbo chemo followed by 12 weeks of AC chemo. That would hopefully stop the tumor from growing and best case, shrink it! After my first chemo session, I had a port inserted. Ports help make blood draws and chemo infusions easier without damaging your veins as much. I was told recovery would be fairly easy and I wouldn’t even feel it after a few weeks. Eight months later it still feels like an alien living in my chest. It is only my friend on infusion days. Every other day I hate it at a level I didn’t know I was capable of feeling.
By the third week of chemo, I was in the hospital with a high fever. Unfortunately, we didn’t know what caused the fever. Over the next few treatments, we discovered it was one of my chemo meds. I was able to eventually complete the rest of my treatments, but still had many side effects, the most concerning of which is being pushed into pre-menopause.
Moving into the Next Phase of Treatment
Finally, on August 28, chemo was done. I rang the bell surrounded by my family, friends and so many members of my support team. Ringing the bell is an important milestone for any cancer patient- it’s a celebration of completing one step in a very long and scary journey. I was happy to have that step behind me, but my journey wasn’t over. I am now recovering from a double mastectomy and the first step of my reconstruction. It is really unlike anything I have ever gone through and I still have several surgeries to come.
However, my surgery recovery hasn’t been completely horrible. On Tuesday, October 3 I received the news every cancer patient wants to hear: negative margins around the tumor that was removed and no additional cancer cells were found on either side or in the removed lymph nodes. I am officially considered a NED patient- NO EVIDENCE of DISEASE. I have entered the next stage of my cancer journey- SURVIVORSHIP.