Elsy’s cancer story
It was an ordinary evening in December. I was reading a bedtime story to my four-year-old. I had some pain after my workout at the gym, so I checked my breast muscle at the armpit. It felt very stiff. There was a lump between one and two centimeters. I kept on reading and when my girl was asleep, I started googling and realised I needed to have this examined. I was scared but thought that as soon as I got an appointment it would all be fine.
A week later the doctor examined the lump and since it was soft and moveable, he said it was not anything dangerous. I went through mammography and ultrasound. The doctor told me not to tell him where the lump was, but when the ultrasound swept over the area it was obvious. The biopsy was next. And I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted them to check everything else too. What he said next stayed with me during the hard months coming. ‘Prepare yourself for the fact that we have to remove the tumor. The results will take 10 days, and I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am.’
There and then it was like the world stopped. I realized that it might be breast cancer. To prepare, I did a lot of research into what the results could show. There are three different types of breast cancer. The first and most common one is hormonal, and 80 % of all who are diagnosed are diagnosed with this type. The other one, which affects 10 %, is called her2. This type used to have a worse prognosis, but thanks to research the survival rate is as good as it is for the hormonal type. And the third is called triple-negative for which there is no targeted treatment. It is often aggressive and there is no explanation why some are cured and others not. A friend of mine died from it, only 39 years old. My only thought was - I hope I don’t get diagnosed with the triple-negative type.
Due to the holidays, I had to wait over a month for the result. That was the worst part of this journey. It was all I could think about. The only one I told was my husband. The thought of my kids losing their mum was the hardest.
The doctor called on a Friday afternoon and said that part of the results had arrived and that I had to wait for the surgeon for more specific results. There and then I told him to tell me now. He said that it was not hormonal and had the highest growth rate. ‘You’ll be fine he said.’ You have no idea I thought to myself.
A week later my plan for care was all set up. It all went extremely fast. Despite receiving the worst news, everything felt a little easier. I joined a Facebook group for others like me, diagnosed with triple-negative and saw that there were a lot of positive stories.
The hardest thing was telling my kids. I told them I had a dangerous disease, but that I would get medicine to take it away. Kids are fantastic, and how they handle it too. We tried to live as normally as we could. Thankfully schools stayed open even if the third wave of Corona had hit us.
The treatment is split into three parts and is the most intense ones you can get. Chemotherapy for 4 and a half months, then surgery, and lastly radiation therapy. Since the risk of spreading to other parts of the body is high, this is the way the treatment must proceed I decided to trust the medical profession and all the research there is.
The surgery was successful, and no cancerous cells could be found in the area where they had performed the surgery. The chemo had done its thing.
The final part of the treatment was breath-controlled radiation therapy. I had to breathe a certain way to avoid damage to the heart. The radiation is performed in the armpit and on the breast to minimise the risk for any cancer cells to survive.
Now, when my treatment is almost done, I must say that the mental part is the hardest. To deal with the fact that it can spread and cause death. That is hard. They say that triple-negative breast cancer has a higher risk of relapse the first 3-5 years, but the risk is less than for the other types of cancer when those years have passed. The mental journey starts when the treatment stops. When you are supposed to be thankful for being free of cancer.
I know now what is important in life, and I love when everything is calm and ordinary instead of always looking for challenges as I did before. I also find strength in helping others that must go through what I had to. It makes it all meaningful somehow.
I am convinced that research is helping people survive and if I can be a part of putting light on what’s important, I am more than happy to.
Please go to your mammography and check your breasts regularly. Ask for a check-up if you find something that doesn’t feel normal. It will be worth it. I promise.
If you know your normal it will be easier to find any changes in your breasts. Discovering breast cancer early will help the prognosis. Here are some tips before you begin.