Soccer has been and always will be an important aspect of my life. Growing up, it taught me discipline, teamwork, and gave me a strong foundation rooted in physical fitness and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It taught me how to be a competitor and to never give up. In June of 2016, soccer may have just saved my life.
I was playing in my coed league on a Tuesday night and was elbowed in the breast during a tackle. I thought nothing of it and went home and complained of the soreness to my husband. A few days later the soreness had subsided but I felt a lump where I had been hit; a lump that I had never felt before. I still thought nothing of it, until a few days later when my husband realized it was still there. I made my annual appointment with my OB/GYN and mentioned the incident to her. She did the routine breast examination and felt the lump. She told me she wanted me to have a diagnostic mammogram. This mammogram was something I knew was imminent, given my mom is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed at age 47, and my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 51 and passed away at age 60. I knew I was required to start mammograms at age 35. I had just had my 35th birthday two weeks prior. My OB/GYN warned me that if a mass showed during the ultrasound, they would want to do a biopsy. She (thankfully) warned me not to be initially concerned if this were the case, seeing as the lump could be a handful of things, other than cancer.
My biopsy was scheduled for the next day and of course I called my husband and freaked out. While I could keep telling myself that it could certainly be something other than cancer, I also knew cancer was still on the table. I tried telling myself I was too young, too healthy, but another part of me knew those two factors alone did not keep me safe.
We waited for 5 long, stressful, anxiety-filled days.
For most of the modern world, we remember D-Day (June 6, 1944) as the beginning of the end of World War II; the turning point of the war in Europe. For me, June 6 2016 is my own personal D-Day. Diagnosis Day. The turning point in my life. No one is ever really ready to hear the words “you have cancer,” especially not at age 35. I had a husband, a 5-year-old daughter, and a whole life ahead of me. We went through the results with our Nurse Navigator. I was diagnosed with HR+, HER2-, and Stage III breast cancer. I had a tumor that measured 8 centimeters in my left breast. My only option was a mastectomy. I would be starting hormone therapy immediately, followed by surgery, followed by a grueling chemotherapy regimen and radiation, followed by a second surgery. I was numb.
As we navigated the next month, my days were filled with doctor appointments, needles, MRI’s, and more paperwork than I knew what to do with. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. My double mastectomy came and went. We celebrated my last chemotherapy treatment and then my last radiation treatment. My family and I stayed positive. We took trips, we laughed, we loved, and we were determined to not let cancer win. I continued to play soccer and coach as well. I did everything I could to keep my life “normal.”
Ultimately, cancer changed my life and my family’s life, but I have to thank it for that. It has taught me to take nothing for granted. It has taught me to be present in every moment, to feel everything. It taught me how to fight, harder than I ever thought possible, and I found an inner strength, stronger than I ever realized I had.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” – Haruki Murakami