• Christine Whelan

    Survivor


    Faith and family get me through each day.

    On May 10, 2004, I was told that I had breast cancer. This came as a big shock since I'd just had a mammogram in February 2004 and was told everything was okay. Then, on April 25, 2004, I felt a pain in my left armpit. I thought I had strained myself because I had recently started doing push-ups. I felt a small lump and asked my husband to check it, too. He felt not only that lump but also another larger lump, which neither of us had felt before.

    Like many women, I did not check my breasts for abnormalities on a consistent basis, so who knows how long the lumps had been there. I didn't feel too scared since my recent mammogram had been negative, but I told my husband that I would get it checked out.

    I went to my doctor and, as I was waiting to see her, I debated whether to tell her about the lumps—I still thought it was nothing. I truly believe that the Lord was talking to me that day and told me not to ignore them. The doctor examined the lumps and I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned. She scheduled me to see the radiologist that very afternoon for an ultrasound.

    The next day, my doctor called and told me that I had a large solid mass and that I should see a surgeon right away. So, on May 9, I did. When he examined me, I could tell by the look on his face that the news was not going to be good. He did a needle biopsy and told me to come back the next day for the results.

    On May 10, he told me I had cancer and that the best option for me was a radical mastectomy. The news hit me so hard. My first thought was that I did not want to die. I have two children ages9 and 12, and I was only 44 years old. My husband and I sought a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic, and were told that I should get a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. If this course of treatment failed, they advised that I get a mastectomy, which my first doctor had recommended because he suspected lymph node involvement.

    I had to trust my own instincts about my best possible chance for survival, so I took my first doctor's advice. On June 11, I had surgery, and my left breast and 13 lymph nodes were removed. Twelve of the 13 lymph nodes came back positive. My doctor told me that there was a high probability that the cancer had spread to other parts of my body.

    Fortunately, I live in a city where there is a breast cancer center, and a group of experts worked on my case and came up with my treatment plan. I was to have eight chemotherapy treatments followed by radiation, and then take tamoxifen. I have now completed six treatments of chemo. The first four treatments were very hard on my body—I lost all my hair and felt very sick for days. A less aggressive chemotherapy was prescribed for the last four treatments, two of which I've had and have been able to handle better.

    I know that I am going through the toughest part of this ordeal and truly believe that I will make it. My husband, family and friends have been so supportive through this. I am still working full-time and have hardly missed work. In fact, I just got a promotion. I do my best to exercise, but I have learned to listen to my body and not overdo it.

    Cancer has changed my life so much and the way I look at things—I no longer sweat the small stuff. My faith in God is what gets me through each day, along with the love of my husband and children. I may have a long journey, but I know that, with the grace of God, I will beat this.

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