• Stacie Hansen

    Survivor


    While many of you were out popping champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve, I was home making baby bottles and reflecting on the past 18 months. As the clock struck midnight, I stared at my beautiful baby girl asleep in her crib and I thanked the universe for all our blessings. A little over a year ago, I was bald, and my newborn baby was living in a plastic dome. I didn’t believe in miracles. I thought God hated me. Wow have things changed. I found out I was pregnant with my third child, Skylar, at the beginning of 2017. Skylar was special for many reasons - I struggled through infertility to have her, she was my first girl, and she happened to have an extra chromosome (aka Down syndrome). Skylar was born prematurely on August 6, 2017 and was the most beautiful newborn I’d ever seen. She had to stay in the NICU due to heart and respiratory issues and I stayed by her side every day, watching her through the plastic wall of the Isolette. I was so worried about her little 4 lbs. body covered in wires and surrounded by machines. And I became so immersed in the NICU life that I almost forgot I had a breast ultrasound appointment the week after Skylar was born. It felt like such a nuisance to go to this appointment. I almost canceled it. But I had a large lump below my left breast, right at the bra line, and I knew I should probably get it checked out. I went in for my ultrasound and right away the technician was concerned by the images. She called in a doctor who identified a mass in my left breast and another mass in a lymph node. The doctor called in a more senior doctor who looked at the images, put his hands on my shoulders and said, “I am really concerned by what I’m seeing. I need to biopsy you and I have no appointments today but I’m going to squeeze you in.” I felt like I was in a dream. I floated downstairs to the lobby and called my husband and best friends. I cried and they all reassured me it would be ok...but I knew in my heart it was going to be bad news. I had the biopsy and it was thankfully painless. Two days later, the doctor called me early in the morning and I already knew what he was going to say. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Hansen. You have a malignant tumor in your breast.” He called a few days later to let me know the lymph node mass was malignant as well. While this wasn’t a surprise, I was still in disbelief. My baby was being kept alive by machines and now I had cancer. I felt my whole world crumbling. The week after my diagnosis, I met with my new cancer team. It was surreal. They were talking survival rates and all I could think about was my baby. Turns out I had stage 2 triple positive breast cancer, which is aggressive, but the survival rates are very high when caught early like in my case. I was told I would have chemo first and that was a shocker - I’m going to lose my hair in a few weeks?? Chemo is for sick people and I don’t feel sick! I’m only 39! My first chemo treatment was on September 1st. I would have it 6 times, once every three weeks. As I completed my first treatment, I got the news that Skylar was going into heart failure and would need heart surgery. That was heavy. I remember willing myself to be strong even though I wanted to fall apart. I knew I had to push through the sadness for Skylar. Thankfully her surgery went well and while her condition improved, she remained in the NICU. Meanwhile, I had my second chemo and it was harder than the first. Many people have asked me what chemo feels like and my answer is simply, “it feels like you’re dying.” Now couple that near-death feeling with the heartache from having a very sick baby. Welcome to my hell. Two months went by. I had two more chemo treatments and Skylar was still in the NICU. I felt like our NICU days would never end. It was exhausting, and I was becoming weaker with every chemo. But I was determined to give Skylar as normal a life as possible. We sang, read books, and we rocked until late into the evening sometimes. Even though she was so small, Skylar got me. She knew I needed her just as much as she needed me. She would struggle to stay awake just to hear my voice. Those days are very dark for me. Looking back, I barely recognize the woman I was. You just go into survival mode at that point. You accept what’s going on and try to survive it day by day. You assume God forgot about you. After 117 long days in the NICU (and 5 chemo treatments for me), Skylar was finally released just before Christmas. It was completely surreal putting Skylar in her car seat and driving away. I almost felt like we were stealing a baby from the hospital. Christmas was a blur and then I had my final chemo treatment on December 28, 2017. It was so special for me to have my final treatment at the end of the year. I went into 2018 knowing the worst part was over for me. My parents took me to that treatment and we rang the victory bell together. The entire infusion center cheered for me. It was a beautiful moment. Three weeks after chemo ended, I had surgery to remove both of my breasts and several lymph nodes. My surgeon inserted tissue expanders under my skin, but they were completely deflated at first. I will never forget seeing my chest area in the mirror after surgery. I didn’t think I would get so emotional, but I did. My breasts were gone. The breasts I used to feed my children for years were gone. A huge part of my life was gone. It was devastating. I let myself be sad for a day and then I knew I had to move on, being thankful I was still alive. And as my surgeon slowly filled my tissue expanders over the next month, I started to have hope again. My new breasts looked better than the old ones! I was not shy in showing my new breasts to anybody and everybody. I was proud. And even better, the pathology report from surgery came back completely clear of cancer. I was cancer free just five months after being diagnosed. I had reconstructive surgery last summer and I’m so happy with the results. I honestly look better than I did before cancer (minus the freakishly curly hair that’s sprouting on my head). And I finished 12 months of drug infusions (non-chemo but targeted for my specific type of cancer) last September. At my last infusion, my husband and kids came to the infusion center with me. What an emotional day. I was given the chance to ring the victory bell again and I let my boys do it for me. I held it together for a happy family photo, but I broke down as we all piled into our car. It was finally over. The chemo, the surgeries, the infusion center, the port, the sadness. It was really over. I cried until all of my sadness was gone. Then we went out to lunch and cracked open a chocolate piñata for dessert. Sometimes chocolate is the best medicine. I can finally say I’m a cancer survivor. I’m finally free. I can move on with my life and I’m certainly trying to. It’s not easy though. Sometimes you get stuck in the sadness of the past and it’s hard to move forward. Post-traumatic stress is a real thing. But I’ve never been one to dwell in my misery. And Skylar helps me. She keeps me going. She reaches out her chubby little arms for me to pick her up and I know what my purpose in life is. I was meant to be a mom. Skylar saved me in more ways than one. She kept me going on days when I didn’t think I could fight anymore. She gave me purpose and she kept me alive. I have more hope than I’ve ever had. I have witnessed so many miracles this past year that I no longer believe God hates me. Everything that’s happened was meant to happen. And I’m a stronger person than I ever imagined I could be. I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey. 

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