For as long as I live and breathe, the following memory will be recalled with the dream-like-fluidity and precision detail that only a trauma can create in one’s mind.
“Do you have any questions? Mrs. Woodward?”
I stared at the radiologist’s face. Did he have a wife? Kids? What was his first name? I mean, I really feel like we should be on first name basis to even have this conversation.
His face half hidden, my eyes frantically searched his for more. I needed MORE.
I heard my own quaking voice respond, “Well…I guess… my only question is…how sure ARE you that it’s cancer?”
He breathed in slowly, intentionally. I knew his answer before he spoke.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’m extremely concerned. We need to do a biopsy.”
Time simultaneously sped up and slowed down. Fire raged in my throat. I struggled to breathe through the tear-soaked mask plastered against my nose. I dressed, exited the hospital, and walked as quickly as my legs could carry me.
Get to the car. Get to the car. Just get to the freakin’ car.
I slammed the door and clutched the wheel with both hands until my knuckles went white.
A deafening primal scream erupted from my lungs. It surprised me nearly as much as the news I’d just received.
I didn’t need to wait for the biopsy. I knew.
Waves of nausea immediately racked my body as my mind became a deeper cesspool of panic and terror.
I mean is this an actual joke? My mom JUST died. And now I have… cancer… during a stinkin’ pandemic? I can barely carry the weight of my own mother’s death, and I’m a full grown adult. This cannot be happening to my own children. They’re just babies. Please, Lord, please, just NO.
Time and more tests would tell that it wasn’t a joke. Nothing funny about it really. Turns out, much like the bad-news-bearing radiologist, life will shoot you straight… whether you’re ready or not.
I’m going to back up a bit for second here.
For those of you who don’t personally know me, my name is Summer. That photo below is of my motely crew. And the idea of me not being here to embarrass them as teenagers is just totally and completely unacceptable. But thank you, Jesus, that doesn’t look to be the case. Early detection for the win.
If you’ve previously landed here on my blog, it’s been to read a very different type of post. Today, I won’t be writing about educating your little ones. There will be no homeschooling pep talk for you, my friend.
But I do want to educate you. I’m begging you to please give me your undivided attention for this little lesson. It’s the life or death kind.
So back to “the verdict”…
I have breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma.
I give it zero stars. Two thumbs all the way downtown, Sally Brown. Would NOT recommend in. the. least.
But the thing is… someone else’s cancer has most likely saved me because it led me to find my own.
My prayer is that my story will do the same for someone else. Maybe even you.
Other than my cancery booby-doos, I’m an otherwise healthy mother of three.
And if you had told me 20 years ago that in my mid-thirties I’d be a mini-van-drivin-home-schoolin-breast-cancer-warrior, I’m not sure which part of that would have been the most unfathomable. I mean that mini-van thing was a real shocker y’all, but my money’s still squarely on the cancer.
Whenever someone my age or younger gets breast cancer, it is quickly assumed it “runs in the family”. Not only does it NOT run in my family, my genetic testing was negative/normal.
I am 36 years old, and I have an environmental cancer.
And as my precious momma would’ve said in her beautiful Southern drawl, “You all wanna know what else is plumb kooky?!”
Well, honey, I’ll tell you.
Three years ago, I found a new friend in the beautiful lady pictured below. The world calls her Sara, but I lovingly refer to her as Tater Tot. Our kids are the same age, and they instantly loved one another as much as we did. Our friendship was like a breath of fresh air. It was unexpected and effortless and fulfilling. She thinks my lame jokes are funny and always laughs when I call breasts “booby-doos”, which is proof that being weird equals being lovable.
But just a year into our friendship, Sara was also diagnosed with breast cancer. And guess what? She was only 33, she had no family history, and her genetic testing was ALSO normal.
My little Tater Tot, the bad mamma-jamma she is, fought with a vengeance and came out victorious. Just before we could celebrate a year of her being cancer-free, I received my very own diagnosis.
Cancer likes to crash parties that way.
I received my diagnosis because I requested a baseline mammogram.
Sara lovingly harassed me until I made the appointment. And because I eventually listened, I caught my cancer early and now know that my prognosis is very good. If I had not become friends with Sara, there is no doubt in my mind that I never would have asked for that screening, and more than likely, it would have been too late once I knew something was amiss.
Through Sara’s cancer journey, she said over and over again that God is in the details. And Amen, Hallelujah, is He ever?!?
You see, Sara and I had known each other for years. But also, not really. We lived in the same apartment complex in college and had mutual acquaintances. We were social media friends and tagged each other in Myspace surveys (you’re welcome for that blast from the past).
Our “IRL” friendship came seemingly out of nowhere, and we soon discovered all sorts of weird coincidences in which our paths had earlier (and unknowingly) converged. For example, when we were toddlers, we lived in the exact same neighborhood in a town over an hour away. Her mom had been my physician without me ever knowing Sara was her daughter. In fact, it would be her sweet mother who would have to call me with the final pathology report to confirm and officially deliver “the news”.
The more we learned about each other, the more our odd pairing began to make sense. And now, it’s crystal clear. When we struck up this new friendship at our kids’ gymnastics class a few years ago, we both had the exact same kind of cancer… but neither of us knew it, yet.
I don’t believe God gave Sara cancer to save me, but I believe He always knew that it would. We’ve said before that we probably wouldn’t have been friends earlier in life for a myriad of reasons, and He allowed us to find each other at the most beautifully designed place in time.
In a few weeks, I will have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I may possibly need chemotherapy. I will have to take hormone-blockers for the next five years.
But I am going to LIVE because God worked through Sara to help me find my cancer.
My prayer is that He will now use ME. I hope God will use me to help someone else find their cancer.
I am pleading with you, friends… YOU could be the 1 in 8. Or maybe it’s your sister. Or your daughter.
Okay class, here’s the part where I want you to take notes:
It is now recommended that women receive their first baseline mammogram at age 35. HOWEVER, I have met so many women (whose testing did not indicate a hereditary component) who were diagnosed in their 20’s.
Ask your insurance company at what age they will first cover a baseline mammogram. According to my plan, I could have gotten one at any age as it is listed as preventative care. If I had gone two years ago, I may not have lost my breasts or possibly be facing chemo.
Many health care providers are still telling you to wait until you’re 40… DON’T.
Self-advocate like a mother.
If I had waited, I likely wouldn’t have made it to 40.
If you have a family history, the American Cancer Society recommends you begin mammograms at age 30.
If you are over 40, make sure you are getting your mammogram every single year.
And I’m screaming this part… Check. Yo. Boobies. Girlfriend.
Monthly exams are crucial. This is how Sara found her cancer.
Get to know your body and be aware of any changes. Looking back, there were a couple of things I had written off as “Well, I breastfed three babies. It can take a toll.” If you notice ANY changes, call your health provider and INSIST on a mammogram or ultrasound.
Be diligent. Advocate. Trust your knowing.
No one thinks it will be them, but it will be somebody.
It’s my beautiful and courageous cousin (who, by the way, also tested negative for genetics).
It’s the sweet lady who sits behind you in church.
It’s your high school teacher.
It’s your neighbor.
It’s your childhood best friend.
It could be you. And who knows, maybe God is in the details right here, right now. Maybe He’s aligned you with me for this very reason.
In my next post, I am going to lay it all out there. There is no ONE thing that caused my cancer or Sara’s… it is most likely the culmination of toxins we have been exposed to throughout our lifetime.
But man, oh man, oh man… what I wish I’d known ten years ago.
I will share what I’ve learned about these environmental cancers and encourage you to make some simple and inexpensive changes to your lifestyle, so you don’t end up where I am now.
I typically end my homeschooling posts with “Until Next Time… Happy Learning!”
And actually, I feel like that’s still appropriate here. Knowledge is power, and I hope you’ve taken something helpful away today.
Take care of yourselves… and for the love, check your booby-doos.