As a retired chiropractor, I have enjoyed pretty decent health most of my adult life. I have even devoted the better part of the past decade to being a caregiver for my sister in Christ who battles with chronic lung disease. I’ve watched as she has experienced many ups and downs in her health yet was thankful to escape with few issues of my own. However, in June 2012, the doctor became the patient when a routine mammogram returned an unexpected diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Doctors initially thought I had a small mass in my left breast which they had planned to remove via lumpectomy and treat with radiation. However, an MRI that was intended to rule out any areas of metastasis instead revealed two additional areas of concern. So what started out as a “simple” lumpectomy with 7 weeks of radiation now left me needing to remove two masses on the left and one on the right. As a Christian, my first line of defense was to pray. And while I would love to say I was miraculously healed, I felt instead that I was to trust God to walk me THRU the process rather than sparing me FROM it so in July 2012, I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Then, after much prayer, I opted to follow the medical route for treatment and chose to undergo 16 rounds of chemotherapy followed by 33 radiation treatments.
I began chemo in Sept 2012. The first 4 treatments were supposed to be the worst (they call it “red death” for a reason!) but other than a handful of the “usual” side effects (hair loss, fatigue, mouth sores and altered taste buds), I got thru the initial four rounds with relatively few issues. Then I started the 2nd phase of chemo (12 weekly doses) which was supposed to be “easy”, with few, if any, side effects. However, my body had other ideas. Just 5 treatments into the Herceptin/Taxol regimen, I had an unusual reaction to the chemo that no one could quite identify. My blood pressure spiked and it left me with pain and tingling up and down my spine into my head every time I stood up. Two weeks later, the day before my next treatment, I had sudden onset of head pain and nausea and had to call an ambulance. By the time I reached the hospital, my BP was thru the roof and initial scans revealed that I had an aneurysm in my brain which had ruptured (it had started to leak the week prior during chemo) leaving massive amounts of blood in my skull to put pressure on my brain. Doctors gave me a 50/50 chance of surviving the night and worked quickly to drain the excess fluid from my brain by drilling holes in my skull and inserting drain tubes. Initially I had a 30-second memory reset and little idea of what was going on around me or who was talking to me. Gradually things began to improve as the pressure was reduced in my brain. I spent 27 long days in the hospital (mostly in the neuro ICU) as little by little, the fluid was removed and I returned to normal (or so that was the hope).
Just prior to being released from the ICU, a test was run to see the status of my brain and in addition to confirming that I had an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) ON TOP of the blown aneurysm, the test also caused a stroke which resulted in left-sided weakness and numerous sensory deficits. I had a 10-day reprieve at home before returning to the hospital for a craniotomy to remove the AVM. The week following brain surgery was extremely challenging, with constant pain and vomiting, but I made it thru and was transferred to a rehab hospital where I had to relearn how to walk and swallow, as well as doing simple things, over the course of several weeks. I was pleasantly surprised at how much progress was made in such a short time! I was released to home health and did rehab at home for two weeks before moving to outpatient rehab for three months.
I finally completed my treatment regimen in May 2013 after 7 ½ weeks of radiation and was able to return to work a few weeks later. Unfortunately, I developed a raging infection in my left tissue expander that went septic so I had to be hospitalized for another week to remove the expander. In January 2014, I underwent “Lat Flap” surgery to repair the mess that was made on the left side when they removed the expander. Another expander was inserted and slowly filled over several weeks. However, since the skin on that side had been radiated, the surgical incision never healed and after weeks of having the incision debrided, the surgeon finally had to remove the expander again in March. After taking a number of months to heal, I had my “final” reconstructive surgery in Sept 2014 and am looking forward to a little bit of NORMAL for awhile.
It has been 2+ years since the initial diagnosis and I am thankful to be alive. There are days that the recovery seems to be going much too slow for my liking but I KNOW that apart from the grace of God, I wouldn’t be here to share my story so any progress is good. And the testimony wouldn’t be complete without sharing that God was not just faithful to me but to my sister in the Lord who became MY caregiver, in spite of her own limitations, and has walked with me thru every step of my treatment and recovery. As I have surrendered the process in prayer, God has been faithful to carry me thru and meet EVERY need along the way. As crazy as it sounds, cancer saved my life – if the AVM had blown instead of the aneurysm, it would have killed me. But a reaction to chemo revealed what was hidden and I now am a walking talking miracle on the mend from cancer with only a few minor issues remaining from the stroke! I’m thankful for every person, medical or otherwise, who has shared this journey with me and helped me fight like a girl! And I give all glory to God for all He has done!!