By Amanda Cabrera
In this blog post, guest blogger Amanda Cabrera shares her story of how she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after becoming a new mom. She stresses the importance of early detection as she does her part to raise awareness of this cancer that will affect one out of eight women over the course of her lifetime.
July 11, 2019 was like any other evening in the Cabrera household. I was home after a long day at work with my husband and our 15-month-old daughter. My sister came to visit and watch a movie, something we do on a weekly basis. We had just finished dinner and sat down to start our movie when I received the phone call.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when my doctor said the words, “It’s not good. It’s cancer.” It was like a heatwave I’ve never felt before that came up and over my head, like a volcano was erupting. Up until that point, everyone, including my medical team, thought that whatever was in my breast was likely benign. I was only 33 years old, just weaned breastfeeding a few months prior, and had zero family history. Who would ever think that it would be cancer?
I’m sure you’re probably wondering, what triggered me to go see my doctor? I’m frequently asked by women, “did you find a lump?” And the answer is — not really. I have always had very dense, fibrocystic breasts, which is extremely common in women during their twenties and thirties. Feeling lumps and bumps in my breasts was not alarming. I go every year like clockwork to my gynecologist for my exam and every year they would say the same thing: that everything felt benign. My trigger was that for about six weeks, my toddler would lean on me, and I felt a weird pain in my left breast that I had never felt before. Pain is not usually a red flag for breast cancer, but it was persistent enough I wanted to get it checked out.
During my first appointment, the doctor thought I may have had some mastitis from where I had weaned breastfeeding seven months prior. Luckily, she took it seriously and ordered the initial mammogram and ultrasound. That led to the breast biopsy, which then led to that horrific phone call.
The next three months of my life were a whirlwind of appointments, tests, blood draws, and numerous people pushing around on my breasts. The MRI was the only imaging that got a good picture of the beast itself, a six-centimeter tumor. Due to the size of the tumor, my only option was a mastectomy. I made the decision to keep my right breast and do a simple, single mastectomy on the left side with delayed reconstruction.
After my surgery, I received the information that I had been waiting weeks to hear. My cancer was Stage 2b, Grade 2, estrogen-receptor positive and no lymph node involvement. It sounds complicated, but if you’re going to receive a diagnosis, hearing you have clear lymph nodes is like winning the lottery.
One thing I’ve learned in these past three months is that when life hands you something bad, you must stay focused on the good and all the things you have to be thankful for. Managing a cancer diagnosis is all about mindset. Lean on the ones you love, accept their help, and stay positive. Receiving that phone call that evening was life changing (bad) but having a cancer that’s treatable and that had not metastasized is a blessing (good).
The next chapter of my journey is 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by radiation, followed by reconstructive surgery. Prior to starting my chemo, I took some steps to prepare myself for what was to come. First, I started following other young women on social media who had also received the ugly wild card of chemotherapy. I bought several beautiful scarves and hats that will keep my head warm this winter. Shortly before my surgery, I cut my hair to help ease the transition from long hair to no hair. After I was healed from surgery, my family and I made a fun trip to Pittsburgh, PA, where I bought a wig. And finally, I remind myself daily that hair grows back, and I’m thankful for every single day that I have with my beautiful baby girl.
If my story can have one message, it’s for everyone to know your body and trust your gut. I very easily could have brushed off the pain, convinced myself it was probably just a cyst and never made that appointment. But the thought of that scenario is more terrifying than the phone call I received.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. No matter what your age, do monthly breast exams; and if there’s ever any doubt, call your doctor and get checked out. I’m proof that early detection can save your life.
Amanda Cabrera lives in Morgantown, WV, where she works as a Labeling Specialist for a pharmaceutical company. She is grateful for the support of her loving husband and family as she undergoes treatment for breast cancer. Her motivation comes from her beautiful 18-month old daughter, Catalina, whose contagious smile helps her to stay strong and positive through it all.
Thank you, Amanda, for sharing your story of courage and hope with our readers.
If you have a story to share with our readers about participating in a clinical trial, overcoming adversity, or living with a chronic condition, please let us know. We’d love to have you guest blog for us. Guest blogging helps others learn about your struggles and increases awareness and understanding. We will help promote your website and social media accounts as well as your favorite advocacy group. Contact us to get started sharing your story now!