By: Dana Dinerman
In 2011, I was 34, with a one-year-old son, when I was diagnosed with stage III intraductal carcinoma. The original tumor was only 2cm long, and had reached the majority of my lymph nodes under my right arm. It was a shock, because I have no family history except for a great-aunt on my mother’s side of the family. I was told her story does not count toward my diagnosis, but I feel in some ways it does.
I was a stay-at-home mom, having given up a teaching position at a local high school. While my son was napping, I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had cancer. I had this urge to run away, not wanting to look my son in the eyes and say his mommy had cancer.
The day I spoke with doctors about my mastectomy, we drove home feeling drained. I looked out my window and saw a parade of pink as we were driving up our street. I remembered instantly that was the day Susan G. Komen 3-Day walkers made their trek by our house. I got out of the car and ran out into the street flagging down some of the walkers. I remember breathlessly telling them that I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. The moment the words came out of my mouth a group of them wrapped me up into a large hug. They held onto me and allowed me to cry. A couple of them shared their stories with me. Hearing the stories from these ladies gave me some hope.
Needless to say the journey after that was tough. I had to endure six months of the toughest chemo regime that could be given. I remember lying down next to my son’s crib each night asking God to give me five more years so I can see my son go to kindergarten. I did not want to leave my child without a mother.
I was able to take a break before my radiation therapy, and my husband decided to plan a tropical vacation to Hawaii. While shopping for swimsuits, I remember walking into a local boutique and realizing that I could not fit into any of the swimsuits that were available. Before my mastectomy I was able to shop and find something fairly easily. I searched online for swimsuits for women who have had mastectomies. Unfortunately, they were not well designed and were made with poor-quality fabrics. I knew something needed to be done.
I continued to feel uncertain about my cancer diagnosis, constantly worried about it returning. That fall, I faced my first recurrence. My son was two years old at the time, and I knew I needed to be aggressive with my treatment. After many rounds of radiation therapy, I was able to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and walked out the doctor’s office feeling as though a new chapter had begun.
The next three years would be centered on building my swimwear brand, Hulabelle Swimwear. The idea is to give women – like myself – more quality choices when it comes to swimwear.
I would learn how to source material, talk with vendors and crunch numbers. It would take up time that I would normally use to worry about another recurrence. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people while showing the line, and participated in various charities and fundraisers. It was truly a year of growth, until the end of summer when I faced another recurrence.
When you are diagnosed as metastatic there are only so many treatment options. We decided to start treatment right away. I was very upset to be losing my hair, yet again. As I walked my son into his first day of kindergarten I would be facing another fight. This time since I knew God had heard me the first time and I asked for another 20 years to watch my son grow.
As the fall months flew by, my doctors would eventually find no evidence of disease. We were thrilled to see the medicine had worked again and that no radiation was necessary. Although I was relieved, I am yet again waiting for the next checkup and scan which are scheduled every three months. It is now a waiting game - which direction will my life head today?
I hope that in time metastatic disease will no longer be seen as a death sentence. I know that organizations such as Susan G. Komen have it made it possible for the day to come where people are surviving after a breast cancer diagnosis. But it is time to shine a spotlight on metastatic disease. We need someone to save all women, because you might be saving my life.
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