In June of 2009 I received a call from my doctor with the results of a biopsy test I had on a lump found in my left breast. I was sitting in my truck in front of a local grocery store. Just parked and was there to buy a small container of milk to feed my 2 small children breakfast before our flight out to Canada for our summer vacation the next morning.
Doctor- "Rowena, I'm just going to get straight to it."
Doctor- "It's what I thought."
Now at this point in my head I am going over every conversation we ever had. What did you think? I thought it was nothing so are you telling me its nothing?
Me- "So.......what are you saying?"
Doctor- "It's cancer."
Me- "What? What?"
Doctor- "Yes, it's cancer."
I know more was said but it was a blur to me honestly. I just couldn't digesting what was being said! How can a youngish (37 at the time) yoga instructor have cancer?
In that next week I had two different test to see if the cancer had spreed to my organs and another to see if it had spreed to my bones. Both were clear. Then on day 5 I had a full mastectomy on my left breast. Although the lump was small (1 mm) there were other pre-cancer cells surrounding it and the whole breast needed to be removed. When the biopsy from the cancer removed came back I was told it was Triple Negative cancer.
Me "Ok, so is that a good thing? That sounds good, no?"
Doctor "No, not really a good thing."
That diagnosis means the three most common proteins known to fuel breast cancer growth—estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2—are not present in the tumor. Which means I would not respond to any of the targeted therapies developed to treat breast cancer with those characteristics. After surgery, my only treatment option was chemotherapy and radiation. Targeted therapy allows healthy cells to survive, but chemotherapy will kill normal cells when eliminating the cancer cells.
A photo of me on my second round of chemo.
When I attended my chemotherapy sessions, which took me to Abu Dhabi every two weeks, I would listen to a CD version of Eckart Tolle's The Power Of Now. I remember meeting with my Oncologist, a lovely man, Dr. Andre Rizk. I would share what else I learnt from my day on "Dr. Google" and get his opinion on the new changes I was going to implement into my life. You know, to become healthier. He would always tease me by saying there are always conflicting research and I shouldn't take it too far. But my theory is if I don't make changes then this could happen again. He was more concerned about my mental well being and staying positive. Staying positive isn't easy (no kidding right?). You have people that want to be with you so you don't feel alone but when they do come you feel like you are on "Positive watch" and end up exerting so much energy proving to everyone you are fine rather than just being, well what ever you are feeling on that day. One day after my 4th session of Chemo I thought enough! I need to feel better for me and you know what? I'm not going to let this break me down. I'll prove it to myself and to cancer. So at my chemo session after I get hooked up to my drip and while the chemo was going in, I started to bust out my favorite yoga moves. Holding for at least a minute while my lovely friend giggled and cheered me on taking pictures.
While my cancer was found early and hadn't spread (I do know how blessed I am) I would never want this to happen to anyone. Please, please, please do self exams. If you think you feel something, check it out. Plenty of us have fatty cyst in our breast that end up being nothing but don't assume because you are young, it will be nothing. Early detection does matter. I am now 10 years cancer free. Gave birth to my third child 2 years after treatment and I am living life.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.~ Eleanor Roosevelt