(Photo: Rebecca Amber Photography)
Learning that I had breast cancer was a result of my reluctant and arduous efforts in gaining medical insurance. After answering all questions required before getting onto a temporary plan, I came to the realization that I didn’t have an annual checkup in 2012. It’s now February of 2013, and since my new insurance is telling me that these annual checkups are not covered, I think to myself, “Welp, I’ll skip this year, too, and just feel myself up right now.” Small breast, big lump. Weird, hard lump. I’m only 26, and this is the first time I’ve ever done a self-examination. Assuming it wasn’t cancer, but freaking out just a little tiny bit, I went ahead and went to a family doctor because that’s the smart thing to do. She told me that I had other lumps aside from the one I felt. She also told me that she wasn’t concerned about these lumps but that I should get an ultrasound since there is a history of breast cancer in my family on both sides. The dude doing my ultrasound tells me he’s taking this route because he doesn’t do mammograms for people under the age of 30. He then tells me after doing the ultrasound, but in his words, “Just kidding, that doesn’t look cool. Let’s do a mammogram.” To put it briefly, I’m told I have aggressive DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ, stage 0), I opt for a bilateral mastectomy, then ended up freezing some embryos with my boyfriend and doing chemotherapy after learning that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, stage I, which was within the stage 0.
In March of 2014, I was about five months out from my last chemo, still recovering and feeling weak, and I was so lucky to be chosen to attend the B4BC ReTreat Yourself in Rossland, B.C., at the Red Mountain Resort. I had the choice to ski or snowboard, and although I had only been once before and didn’t know what I was doing, I chose to snowboard. I thought it was so amazing that an opportunity like this existed after the awful year I had just experienced. I was so excited and nervous at the same time. After everything my body had been through, I wasn’t feeling so confident, but I needed a push to become more active again. Going to this retreat was absolutely amazing and was everything I needed it to be and more. A big reason why I didn’t go snowboarding before, like a Utahn/Coloradoan should, is because I didn’t want to hold others back with my lack of experience. I didn’t have to worry about that because it was all about me. I had an incredible instructor and was with another lovely lady from the retreat who was also at my beginning level while those who are more experienced were able to do their thing with others at their more advanced level. I had a blast. In addition to that, it wasn’t about pushing my limits; it was about making the best of a shitty situation, so it was completely understood when I needed to take breaks or cut my boarding time short. Snowboarding will now be a part of my life, and I’m so stoked about it.
Meeting other women who are going through similar things or who already have gone through similar things was so relieving, so awesome, and so needed. I learned things that I didn’t know I needed to learn from these women, and I’m so happy to now know them and the wonderful B4BC women as well.
I’m in love with the fact that this retreat was all about encouraging health and wellness. The yoga, the talks, the massages, the snowboarding, the heavenly food, etc. was all a great reminder and teacher that I need to not just exist, but I need to live and thrive. Everything that B4BC stands for and values is all that I hold dearly. My corny heart was very full after leaving Canada, and I am so very grateful for this opportunity.
I provided certain details about my story the way that I did because I want people to realize how easily I could have been dismissed. I tested negative for BRCA1 and 2 and for p53 (genetic testings), and my family members who had breast cancer were much older when they were diagnosed. Aside from the fact that I could have relied on the assumption that what I felt was something other than cancer and not gone to a doctor, there were other lumps that I didn’t even feel after my self-examination. If it weren’t for my family history, my doctor “wasn’t worried,” and a mammogram wasn’t originally going to happen because of my age.
Even after the extreme measures I took with chemo and mastectomies, I will still continue to check myself. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but this all would be much harder if I had waited to see a doctor or if I never felt my breast in the first place. It blew my mind that that was the first time I was feeling such a pronounced lump. I felt my breasts all the time! Yeah, I liked to touch them, I also washed them, I’d lift ‘em up in my pushup bras, have them talk to each other, the usual. But I know now that there’s a difference between feeling and examining. There’s also a difference between diligence and paranoia. I’m not feeling to look for cancer; I’m feeling to know what’s normal for me. Furthermore, I add healthy lifestyle choices to my daily routine, which are exactly like those that B4BC advocates.
Thank you again for everything you’ve done for me, Boarding for Breast Cancer, and thank you again to the beautiful women who have inspired me.
xoxo, Staci Roberts
Staci learning to snowboard at last month’s ReTreat. Photo: Rebecca Amber Photography