I was a healthy singer, songwriter, and yoga teacher. I had recently married and had been trying to have a baby. About a year and a half into my marriage, I received my cancer diagnosis.
I was so freaked out because it was the last thing I expected. I had felt a lump under my armpit, but I had recently had a mammogram and seen my gynecologist for my annual check-up, so I wasn’t worried it would be anything other than a cyst or fatty tissue.
My doctor sent me to a specialist, who alarmed me by telling me that it was something serious. Within a week, I went from thinking I was 100% healthy to finding out I had stage IV triple-negative breast cancer…it was crazy! And then, even scarier, finding out that the statistics for my cancer coming back was 50%…so basically I had a 50/50 chance to live. It was the scariest time of my life, I will never forget it.
The doctor who did that first biopsy told me I needed to find an oncologist… Mind you, I had no idea what an oncologist was! My husband and I asked all of our friends who had known people with cancer. We set up three appointments with three oncologists. That was definitely the most stressful part of my cancer journey — hearing so many opinions and treatment plans. My last appointment was at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center with Dr. Dennis Slamon. He had treated a dear family friend almost 25 years earlier. It was a “love at first sight” kind of moment for me, where I finally felt safe and very certain I wanted him as my doctor. Also, it was in his office that I had a profound experience. He was asking about all of my fertility treatment and the three rounds of IVF I had been through in the last year and a half. He said very casually, “it’s a good thing you didn’t get pregnant because the pregnancy would most likely have killed you. It would have made the cancer spread uncontrollably and we wouldn’t have been able to stop the spread.” From that moment on, I became a warrior, believing that cancer came to save my life, not to take it, and from that moment on I was believing that cancer was going to be the best thing to happen to me… And there was a reason for it.
But next was the discussion on treatment. I was told that, yes, I have triple-negative breast cancer and a big tumor in my right breast, and it was definitely in multiple lymph nodes. My brain MRI came back and was clear. But triple-negative is very aggressive and can only be treated with chemo. Dr. Slamon said the order of events would be chemo, followed by a double mastectomy, then six weeks of radiation, and one last surgery for reconstruction (which is when they would remove my ovaries). If all went well, chemo would kill all (or most) of the cancer, and removing the breasts would technically make me cancer-free.
Once I started chemo, I consciously wanted it to be a “good” experience, not a sad one. So I tried to make it fun. I bought different colored wigs. I enjoyed the naps. I appreciated all of the outside help from my friends and family. I basically focused on all the positives, instead of the negatives, and the positives seemed to get bigger and the negatives got smaller — such a huge lesson I learned about how powerful mindset is. Where you focus your attention and energy is what drives your experience. It was also during this time that I was filled with a passion to give back to cancer research and started my company, Zero Negative, to spread LOVE and POSITIVITY through accessories while giving back to research.
By my third round of chemo, Dr. Slamon could barely feel my tumor, which had started at 5.7 cm, which was a large one. I remember his shock, almost not being able to feel my tumor at all. It kept filling me up with so much positive energy, and I truly believe that was just as important as the chemo. By the time I had my double mastectomy, I had NO cancer cells in me. I technically went from having stage IV cancer to being cancer-free in four months, it was pretty cool!
I was fortunate to have such a great team of family and friends. All you need is one member to cheer you on, to help you out, but it’s pretty amazing how many people come out of your circle to want to help you. Another perk for sure! I had my “dream team” come with me for every appointment, and included my mom, Ellen, my younger sister, Caryn, my husband, Larry, and last but not least, my service dog, Bo. We had to have him with us whenever he was allowed. My dad, Robert, was also part of the team, but on the sidelines. He stayed at home, on the reserve list, waiting by the phone, ready to take care of anything needed. It was a job for sure — turning sickness into health, and we ran it like a Fortune 500 company! 🙂
It’s been a little over three years since I’ve been in remission. I see all my doctors every six months, including Dr. Slamon and my radiologist Dr. Susan McCloskey. And the statistics for cancer coming back go down every year. So I am positive my cancer is never coming back!
My advice for others going through cancer, first, when you are looking for a doctor, I would say how important it is to get at least a couple of doctor’s opinions and see who you connect with best. It is so important to find someone with whom you are willing to put 100% of your life in their hands.
Next, try to switch your perspective about cancer, as scary as it is. I saw it as an opportunity — an opportunity to learn lessons that have made me a better person through endurance. I believe there was a reason for it!
Also, stay grateful for every day, and even keeping a daily gratitude list or journal is very helpful. I would advise looking at chemo as medicine that is saving your life. Being thankful for everything, as hard as it is. Surrendering to the process is much better than fighting it.
Ask for help, for support, from loved ones and caregivers. Appreciate everyone who wants to be there for you. Believe in your journey, it’s happening to HELP you, not HURT you, and then you become the writer of the story you wish to live out… It’s your movie, and you are the lead character — and then go for it!
(Disclaimer: This webpage may contain general information relating to various medical conditions and their treatment. Such information is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified health professional. Patients should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing a health or fitness problem or disease. Patients should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis or treatment.)