"Five minutes ago, I was having lunch... and now I have cancer?"

My name is Eve and I am a breast cancer survivor. Sounds like an introduction at an AA meeting. Let's try this again... my name is Eve and I am a vivacious, animal loving, bicycle riding, paddle boarding, educated professional who happens to also be a 7-year breast cancer survivor at the age of 42. Sound better? Being a breast cancer survivor doesn't define who I am as a person, though I would be lying if I said it hasn't had a deep and profound impact on the course of my life.

The day I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma, just a month after my 35th birthday, I knew my life would change forever. I felt a lump in my breast while in the shower. I panicked momentarily. I called a friend and don't even remember what was said during that conversation... but the very next day, I was in the waiting room of another friend's radiology center waiting to have my first - and what would be my last - mammogram. In my mind, the lump I felt was going to be a benign fibroadenoma. I decided I wasn't going to worry until I had something to worry about.

Subsequent to the mammogram, I was scheduled for a needle biopsy. Still, I wasn't going to worry until I needed to. Then the call... "Eve, this is very serious... you have invasive ductal carcinoma..." What?! But five minutes ago, I was having lunch with a neighbor and looking at flat screen TVs, and now I have cancer?! I started sweating. I was in the car driving back to work. How can this be? My biggest problem ten minutes ago was the five pounds I wanted to lose, and now I have CANCER?! And so begins my journey...

Given my desperate need to gain control, I immediately began lining up appointments with oncology and breast reconstruction specialists. I educated myself, asked questions, and realized very quickly I would have to become my own best advocate. I wanted to make a well-informed decision based on the information I had about my situation, not allowing the bleak statistics of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) to rule my head.

What I came to learn about my diagnosis was that the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth - estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene - were not present in my cancer tumor. Since my tumor cells lacked the necessary receptors, common treatments would be ineffective. TNBC occurs in only 10-20% of diagnosed breast cancers. It can be more aggressive and difficult to treat. Also, the cancer is more likely to spread and recur.

Wow, that was scary... but I consciously decided that I was not a statistic and I was adamant about being treated as a person with breast cancer, not a breast cancer patient. I wanted to deal with the cancer within me as swiftly and efficiently as possible. I did this in an effort to move forward with the healing process. The early stages of my breast cancer journey were characterized by strength.

Fortunately for me, the physical aspect of my treatment was fairly uneventful. I have a BRCA1 gene mutation, so my course of treatment included a bilateral mastectomy, followed by eight rounds of chemo, reconstruction surgery, followed by more reconstruction. Oftentimes the reconstruction process is thought to be secondary to the treatment to rid the cancer, but it was important to me and allowed me to feel whole again.

Throughout the treatment process, it was also important to me to stay mentally strong and continue to "live." Some days I was more successful than others. I went to work every day, went out with my friends, and maintained as much of a sense of normalcy as I could. I never felt sorry for myself. On the contrary, I was thankful that I caught "it" early.

It took longer than I thought it would for my spirit to heal. Maybe it was the scars or lack of sensation I now experience, fear of a recurrence, or maybe that I continued to screen for ovarian cancer due to my increased risk as a BRCA1 mutation carrier. I did this until recently, when I prophylactically had ovarian/Fallopian tube removal surgery.

I don't know why it has taken me so long to heal, or if I'm being honest with myself - I'm not sure I ever will heal. Time may not heal all wounds, but it can take the edge off. I've been cancer-free for seven years. I think about it, but it no longer rents real estate in my head like before. Resiliency is what characterized this stage of my breast cancer journey.

I've never, nor will I ever, think of myself as being "in remission." That terminology doesn't resonate with me, because for me it equates with the possibility of cancer's return. As far as I'm concerned, it's gone. You can learn a lot about yourself through adversity. Cancer has altered my perspective on the important, and not so important, things in life... and simultaneously, to never take anything for granted.

I got lucky... I won my battle. Sadly, I've lost several friends to the very same disease and now my mother lives with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer to the lung. This leaves me at my current stage in the breast cancer journey - one that, although bittersweet, is characterized by hope.

All three - strength, resiliency and hope - are what got me through my breast cancer journey. This journey isn't over.



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