I had high hopes and expectations for the summer of 2014. I was married on May 31st to my best friend and soul mate, Frank. We honeymooned in Las Vegas at the beginning of June. On Wednesday, June 8 after returning from a day of sightseeing, I had an itch on my left breast. Frank was sitting in the other part of our suite. While itching, I felt a significant lump. I remember thinking, "This is not what I think it is". Frank walked in from the other room and instantly asked, "What's wrong?" The look of fear on my face told him that something was really wrong. I told him what I found. He felt it and his eyes were wide with fear. The time difference between Nevada and Ohio is 3 hours. My doctor's office was closed and I went to bed intending to call first thing in the morning. Thursday was a day of gloom, the elephant in the room was consuming our minds. We tried our best to enjoy our last day of our honeymoon. I was able to get an appointment with my doctor on Friday. After numerous ultrasounds and core needle biopsies, I received the call about my diagnosis on June 24, 2014. It was a 1 minute and 30 second phone call. "I regret to inform you that you have invasive ductal carcinoma". I was out shopping with my daughter, Mackenzie. I told her we were needed at home. I had her stay downstairs while I searched the house for Frank. He walked out the bedroom door, looked in my eyes and I burst into tears. I bawled uncontrollably for 20 minutes. I composed myself and went downstairs to hug Mackenzie. Phone calls were made to our parents and grandparents. I was a walking zombie for a few days while I processed my diagnosis.
As a teenager and a young adult, writing was always my outlet. I conferred with my best friend, Belinda and asked her opinion of sharing my story with the world. I decided that it would be therapeutic for me. I created a page on Facebook titled Jocelyn's Journey. Currently, I have over 1500 followers that consist of family, friends and strangers.
I had a full day of consultation appointments on July 8 at the Cleveland Clinic. I was accompanied by my husband Frank, my mom and my mother in law. It was a long day of meeting with my medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist, and the genetic testing team. I elected to have genetic testing done considering my age and zero history of cancer in my family. It was revealed that my diagnosis of cancer, "just happened". I did not have a gene mutation and am not a carrier of the BRCA gene, thus the percentage of Mackenzie developing breast cancer is low.
Chemotherapy lasted 8 weeks, every other week. The drive to Cleveland is an hour and forty minutes. My first day of chemotherapy was August 6. Each trip started with pathology for a blood draw, followed by a visit with my medical oncologist and chemotherapy. Each visit lasted approximately 9 hours not including travel time. The day after each chemotherapy session I was injected with Neulasta. The drug was to help increase my white blood cells so I could receive chemotherapy as often as I was. I had an aggressive treatment plan because my cancer was aggressive. Based on MRI scans, my lump was 3.5cm in diameter plus my left lymph nodes were involved staging me at IIB which is one level below stage 3. I was very fortunate to have found the lump when I did or it could have spread to my lungs, neck or brain.
My last chemotherapy was completed on November 12. It was a bittersweet day. After many trips to and from Cleveland, I was thankful for a break in the "new routine". I had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection, 16 nodes were removed on December 17. My surgery was more than 4 hours long. I stayed one night in the hospital and was released the late afternoon of December 18. The healing from my surgery was painful. I could only sleep on my back or right side. I was on strict orders to drain my bulb 3x a day, restricted to no driving and unable to pick up Mackenzie because she weighed over 10 pounds. I healed for over 4 weeks. After healing came radiation therapy. I had 36 treatments of radiation, every day for 8 weeks. The areas of concentration became red and inflamed.
I have been declared cancer free based on my final pathology report, complete pathological remission which is rare.
The hardest thing about cancer for me wasn't the side effects of treatment, although those were difficult, it was the loss of normalcy. My "old" normal used to be running from one thing to another without any thought of fatigue or illness from others. It meant staying up past 9pm. It meant making plans with friends weeks in advance with anticipation without worrying about how you will feel the day of. It meant no canceled plans with family. It meant discussing your hopes and dreams with your spouse. It meant those hopes and dreams had the possibility of becoming true. My "new" normal is resting when my body tells me to. It means you don't run errands for everything you want but prioritizing what is really needed to risk illness. It means canceling plans that were made months ago because you're too exhausted or just not feeling well. It means realigning your hopes and dreams no matter how much it hurts.
I've been declared cancer free but my body is still healing from the abuse it has endured for the last 9 months.
As an adult I never thought "cancer" would strike me. Our family endured my aunt passing from lung cancer in 2006. She was a fighter, a saint in human form. I believe she was fighting for me and praying for me. One particular moment during my journey still leaves me speechless. My father passed away when I was 10. When I was pregnant with Mackenzie, the song "All American Girl" by Carrie Underwood would play every time I was in the car. I began to associate that song with my dad saying "everything will be ok". During one particular rough time these past few months, I heard that song. It was a flashback to 6 years ago and I smiled. I knew then that everything would be ok.
My husband and I are expecting a baby in early April. I was diagnosed at 32. We were unsure if chemotherapy would make me sterile. This is our miracle.
I am incredibly humbled by the encouraging words, stack of cards received, generous donations to offset medical and travel expenses, and unconditional support from family, friends, strangers, co-workers and students. This journey hasn't been easy and I will never know why I was chosen to fight but I am a survivor.
- Jocelyn Mader