In May of 2017, I felt I was ready. Ready to discuss starting a family. I made an appointment with my doctor and began getting excited about all the possibilities in my future. A few days before my appointment my husband noticed a dimple on my chest, a small indentation that he could see when I leaned forward. I felt it then – a small hard knot.
Everyone said that it was likely a cyst and not to worry about it. When my doctor did a breast exam at my prenatal appointment, she moved right over it and didn’t seem to notice. I had to point it out to her. She gave me the same response: Sure, we will follow up, but she was not concerned; it was likely a benign cyst.
A few short days later it was confirmed: I had triple positive breast cancer. 33 years old, no family history, no major risk factors and yet there I was facing the long road of treatment ahead. No one had an answer for why this happened to me. What once felt like a new beginning (starting a family) quickly felt like an ending (fighting for my life). I could only put one foot in front of the other and follow the treatment plan laid out by my doctors: two surgeries, six rounds of intense chemotherapy, a year of another kind of chemotherapy and over 30 rounds of radiation.
As many know, going through that kind of treatment is exhausting. I just focused on surviving. Making it through each day and knowing that as soon as I felt like myself again, I would be getting more chemo and the cycle would start over. The physical exhaustion and complete lack of appetite is something I can hardly put into words. I was not prepared for how little I would be able to do and how awful everything would taste.
I think about this feeling often, how helpless I felt then. Since my active treatment has ended and I am now able to find my “new normal,” I have slowly started to cultivate how I want cancer to have a lasting impact on me. I want it to make me a better person and to help me appreciate what I have. I want to feel in control of my body again. Two years since treatment ended, I am finally getting there. We cannot choose what happens to us, only how we let it affect us.
My life overhaul included returning to the nonprofit sector, more specifically back to my home, Lakeview Pantry.
One of my favorite programs at Lakeview Pantry is the Health and Hope program, which provides healthy groceries to oncology patients at local hospitals like Illinois Masonic. I know from my own journey that eating anything (that one can stomach) while going through treatment is very important. Maintaining one’s weight is highly correlated with positive treatment outcomes. I can’t imagine not having food available to me during my treatment. I couldn’t imagine having to go grocery shopping during that time either. I am so proud that we provide food (fuel) to people who are facing cancer. I am relieved to know that is one less thing these patients have to think about.