I met Tabitha through the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas Facebook group. Here is her story…
Tell us your story / stats:
I was 34 years old and had just had my daughter earlier that year. She was 4 months old and I was breastfeeding. It was such an exciting time of our lives, we had not planned to have my daughter and I actually thought we were done having kids, we had our son who was 5 years old at the time. When we found out we were pregnant it was such a surprise and we were so happy! I was the healthiest I had been in my life since I was a teenager, at this point. I was rock climbing, doing yoga, working out, eating healthy and feeling great! The two years before I got pregnant with my daughter I had lost about 90 pounds and was maintaining it by just eating healthy and working out, so I was feeling amazing!
When I first felt the lump in my left breast, I thought it was a clogged milk duct since I was breastfeeding. The lump did not hurt, it was just there, so I tried all the normal things you do for a clogged milk duct because I did not want to get mastitis. A month before this happened, my sister was breastfeeding and had gotten mastitis really bad and it looked so painful so I did not want this to happen to me! After about a month of this lump not going away, not moving, not hurting I started to get worried that this was not mastitis and decided to go to my OB for her to check it out. She got me an appointment right away that same week and when she felt it she said she did not like how it felt and wanted me to get an ultrasound. I waited about three weeks before I could get into the ultrasound, they were very booked. While doing the ultrasound the MD didn’t like how it looked so they gave me a mammogram that same day and then scheduled me for a biopsy. I had to wait two weeks before I could get in for the biopsy but I did it and then waited. It was right before Labor Day, the biopsy was August 30, 2017 so I had to wait the long weekend for the results and it was the longest weekend of my life. I was so scared for those results!
We went to Tahoe for the weekend and was with family so that helped keep my mind off the biopsy. Tuesday morning I went back to work, it was September 6, 2017 and I will never forget what would happen next. I got a phone call and it was a phone number I did not know, I usually don’t answer those due to telemarketers but I knew I was waiting for my biopsy results so I went into the break room and answered. It was my MD, she was calling me personally from her cell phone because she was on vacation and was not going to be back for two weeks and didn’t want me to wait that long to give me my results. When she told me it came back positive for breast cancer my heart sank, I was silent, I couldn’t even move. Here I am with a 5 year old son, a 5 month old baby girl and finding out I have breast cancer at 34 years old, I was devastated. All I did was cry. I was so surprised, to my knowledge at this point, breast cancer did not run in my family and no one I knew had any kind of cancer.
Since the results came back triple negative and I was so young, they wanted to do the genetic testing to see if I had any of the hereditary cancer genes. I was sure in my head I did not have any of these and was not at risk and boy was I wrong. That test came back as being positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation and I was once again so shocked I did not know how to react. I was so surprised. And so this cascaded a chain of events over the next year, lumpectomy, chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction, radiation and now I have my full hysterectomy scheduled for December 2018.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
I am a quiet person, I love being outside and in nature. I went to school to become a geologist and love rocks and the earth! I enjoy rock climbing, hiking, camping, yoga, kayaking and canoeing, being at the beach (the ocean is my second home). I come from a big family I am the oldest of 9 children but only 6 of us lived together growing up. I love hanging out with my friends and family and just being around all the people I love. My husband is my rock, my best friend and means so much to me! We literally grew up together. We started dating when we were 16 years old and got married when we were 20 years. Jan 2019 we will be celebrating our 15 year anniversary. My kids are everything to me and I would do anything for them. I love watching them grow and helping them become the wonderful little human beings there are. My favorite colors are all shades of blues, purples and greens and I love flowers! I believe in Jesus and Love!! Love is the most important thing in my eyes and we should all just try to love each other and be there for each other as much as we can.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
That I didn’t want to die. That I wanted to watch my kids grow up and be there for them and I was so scared I would miss out on them.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
Prayer, when things were really bad all I could do was just pray and try to stay positive. I wanted to try meditation but I still haven’t tried it LOL. I think that would really help, maybe I will try it this year!
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
I was so blessed to have such a great support system. I don’t have much family here, only my sister but I have all of my husband’s family and they are just like my family. They have always loved me and been there for me as I was their own and it means the world to me to have them by my side. It makes me stronger. Through all of this, they have always been right there for me, watching my kids, taking care of me after chemo appointments, taking me to all my appointments and being there with me, getting us anything we need, feeding us and just supporting us. They have always been there for us but dropped everything to come to our aid after my cancer diagnosis, which was such a blessing! We could not have gotten through all of the cancer treatment without them!
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
I would like everyone to know that once you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s a life long thing. Even after treatments and the cancer has been removed and no new cancer has shown up it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It doesn’t mean my cancer battle is over. It’s something I will have to live with for the rest of my life…the chance it could come back or a new cancer can develop will always be there in the back of my mind. I have to learn to cope and deal with that and learn to live with that forever. It actually makes me sad when people say “Oh you beat cancer, it’s over” because it’s not, it’s just over for now which is ok but it’s never gone.
Where are you at in life now? Mentally, physically, emotionally…
Currently I am trying to get back into really living my life and not letting this fear of cancer overtake me. I get depressed and sad more easily now and some days I will just be so sad and not even know why so I am trying to get over that mentally. I also deal with severe anxiety now and this is totally new for me because I have never had experienced anxiety like this in the past. My heart was damaged a little with the chemo and radiation so now I go in and out of A-Fib, my MD’s are hoping the more I get back into working out and strengthening, that this will correct itself and that my heart is not damaged forever, so we shall see. I am back to work and back to going to my kids school events and really being a part of their lives which is so amazing and is helping me get out of this funk I have been in since my cancer diagnosis. I am just trying to teach myself new coping skills so I can try and get back to my old self. I am still pretty weak from my bilateral mastectomy, my chest muscles are still underdeveloped and sore. I have not gotten my full range of motion back but am working on it. All in all, I do feel so lucky to be here and want to make the most out of my life and be with those I love!
What are you passionate about? Is this different than what you were passionate about before dx?
I am very passionate about spreading breast cancer awareness to all women, young and old! Before I was diagnosed I really thought breast cancer was something that happened to older women after 50 and that I had nothing to worry about and man was I wrong! I didn’t know young women could get breast cancer and I wish I was more aware, maybe my story would have been different if I was. I just don’t want young women to be blindsided with this like I was. And also, spreading more awareness on your options when you have breast cancer. When I found out I had to have a mastectomy, all my MD’s were just encouraging reconstruction so I thought I had to do that. I didn’t even realize staying FLAT and having no reconstruction was even an option. I had to do my own research and reach out to women who had no reconstruction to even find out about this option. So I am really passionate about that as well, I think all options need to be presented to women equally.
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…
To just love yourself, love others and show them love, tell them you love them because time is precious and we are not guaranteed time in this life. Make the most of it now, in the present!