This was my third year of participating in Race for the Cure. We started our day off very early, at 5:00 a.m. Every year, I make my daughter Abbey a special race-day shirt. This year I found the cutest decal at a hobby store and I put it on a shirt for her. It read “Hope for a Cure.” She also wore a big pink tutu. We got down to the race grounds around 6:30 a.m. I had an opportunity to speak at the survivor breakfast. It is always so important to me to take advantage of such opportunities because when I was first diagnosed almost three years ago, I promised myself and my family that I would never give up, and I would do whatever I could to take my awful experience and make something good come out of it. My dream is to live long enough to see a world that my daughter lives in without breast cancer. It is so important to me to spread as much awareness as I possibly can by sharing my story.
When I first noticed my lump, I found it in the shower. I remember finding it and being very scared. I had my fiancé Tyler feel it, just to confirm that I was not crazy and feeling something that simply was not there. When he told me he could feel it also, I immediately called my doctor and made an appointment. A few days later, at my appointment, the doctor told me that it was probably a cyst. I had no family history of breast cancer and I was only 24 at the time. Throughout the next five or six months, Tyler and I got married and pregnant. The breast that I had found the lump in became very red and hard, and my nipple became indented. It was sore and felt swollen. When I went in for an OB appointment, I showed the doctor my breast. She was immediately concerned. She told me that these were all signs of breast cancer. I remember feeling like someone had just punched me in the stomach.
We made an appointment with a breast cancer specialist. At that appointment, my husband and I explained our concerns and showed the doctor the area. He did a breast exam. A biopsy was scheduled for that visit as well, but after he did the breast exam, he told us that because I was pregnant, he did not want to cut me when it was not necessary. He said everything felt like normal breast changes due to pregnancy. I specifically remember him saying: “I deal with breast cancer everyday and this does not feel like breast cancer to me.”
I have never been more relieved in my life. Over the next three months, I watched it very closely. When my breast became completely hard and the area had tripled in size, I went back to my OB doctor and told them that I did not feel comfortable and that something was not right. This was my first pregnancy and I knew that breasts change dramatically, but my gut was telling me that this was wrong. I went back into that same specialist and he ordered a biopsy of the area. A few days later an ultrasound was done, followed by another, more thorough, ultrasound and a biopsy. The biopsy was excruciating. Within a few days, the specialist called me at work and told me I had breast cancer. It was one month after my 25th birthday and I was six months pregnant.
I share my story because at 24—and then 25—I know that breast cancer was the last thing on my mind. I was finishing college. I was getting married and thinking about starting a family. I wanted to find a house to settle in with them. I was trying to find a job as a teacher. I was preparing to become a mother. I knew absolutely nothing about breast cancer or the signs to look for. I had every sign of breast cancer, and I did not know. It is hard not to live in what ifs. I feel responsible sometimes because if I would have known what to look for, or if I would have spoken up sooner, maybe my cancer would have been caught sooner.
Early detection is crucial. It is so important to know those red flags and to be your own advocate. You know your body better than anyone, which is part of the reason why Race for the Cure is such an important day. The money that is raised for research and awareness helps save lives. It helps men and women, like me, get the care they need to survive. I am in a clinical study right now and fighting for my life after being diagnosed as terminal in February of this year. Many clinical trials that save lives, like mine, are funded through things like the money raised through the Race for the Cure. I feel so blessed to be apart of such an incredible day. It may be a small step, but it makes me feel like I am making a difference in someone’s life when I speak and share my experience. It is so amazing to see so many people coming together for a cause like breast cancer. To watch all the people who are walking for their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and grandmothers. To see the expressions on their faces as they take each step. It makes you take a step back and look at what is important in your life.
It was such an amazing day from beginning to end. I am so proud to be a part of such a sisterhood, and to know that I am making a difference in the world.
Read “What Happened to Abbey’s Mom.”
Read Nicole’s first blog post.
Read Nicole’s second blog post.
Read Nicole’s third blog post.
Read Nicole’s fourth blog post.