Fuck you, Cancer. I made you my bitch.


You always think it couldn’t happen to you. That you’re somehow immune. That happens to other people, not you. Then the day comes and you realize you’re not so special, it can happen to you. I thought with all the pain I’ve been through in my short life that I had met my quota of bad shit happening to me. The universe obviously thought I hadn’t learned what I needed to yet. At first I felt sucker punched by life but now I see it as the greatest gift that was ever given to me. My eyes have been opened and never again will I wander through life oblivious to the beauty around me. This might be the hardest and most personal post I’ll ever write but I feel it needs to be said. Maybe I can help someone else through this difficult time and come out the other side knowing that this was a blessing and not a curse. Here’s my journey into the world of all things cancer……

A few weeks after my 30th birthday I was taking a shower and thought I should be responsible and do a self breast exam(I know Mike is reading this right now and envisioning me in the shower groping my boobs lol). I started at the top of my left breast and wouldn’t you know my amazing luck I felt a lump. My mind was stuck on repeat saying no no no no this can’t be happening. I have never felt so crippled by fear then I did at this moment.

I didn’t have health insurance at the time so that week I went to a walk in clinic to see a doctor. He examined me and then confidently announced you’re only 30 and it feels like a cyst. I’m sure it’s nothing but to be safe we’ll do an ultrasound. Two weeks later I was back at the clinic getting an ultrasound. During the ultrasound the tech said you shouldn’t worry, at first look it looks like a cyst. Two weeks after that the doctor calls to tell me after looking at the pictures he was 99% certain it was a cyst but I should get a mammogram to be safe. I breathed a sigh of relief and went about my life. Since I didn’t have insurance I took my time finding an imaging center to do it and saving the money for it. Almost four months later I finally went to the doctor to get the paperwork and referral to the imaging center. My nurse couldn’t believe I hadn’t been set up with the Komen foundation. With in a week I was finally getting a mammogram.

They told me it would take 15 minutes then I would be on my way and get my results in two weeks. Then right after my breasts were squeezed and mashed by that slightly painful contraption they asked me to wait. I didn’t understand but thought no big deal, you’re young and the doctor said it was nothing. Well they wanted to do an ultrasound because they were looking at the pictures from October and the mammogram they just did and my one lump was now three and my lymph nodes were swollen. After the ultrasound I was told to wait and then the doctor came in and did the ultrasound herself. She told me at first look it looks nothing like a cyst but a hard mass and that I needed a needle biopsy as soon as possible. She tried to calm my fears but I knew in my heart it was cancer. Images of my children went through my head and I was terrified of leaving them with out a mother. My greatest fear.

Less than a week later I was having four needle biopsies performed, the three lumps and the lymph nodes under my arm. They usually only do two at a time but I told them no I can handle the pain and I only want to do this once. Sometimes I think I’m a badass and it gets me into trouble. This time it just cost me pain for months to follow. Two days later my doctor called me and asked me to come in for my results.

On February 17th 2012 my whole life changed forever. I was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. Triple positive breast cancer. Triple negative is the worst and Triple positive the second. I was crushed. The thought of telling my kids devastated me. I’m in tears now just thinking of the day I had to look into their sweet faces and tell them that mommy had breast cancer. They were four and almost nine at the time.

A couple weeks after my diagnoses I was finally meeting with an amazing surgeon and the head of oncology at UCI Medical Center. He wanted to start chemo immediately to shrink the tumors before surgery. My cancer was aggressive and spreading like wild fire. If I would have waited another couple of months it would have spread to either my brain, bones or lungs and I probably wouldn’t be here writing this to you right now. Scary to think about but harsh reality. The type of chemo they were going to do supposedly works wonders on triple positive breast cancer. In the past no one wanted to have this type of cancer but now with this new chemo some women are relieved to hear they have triple positive breast cancer. Relief is something I still have yet to feel. I did receive good news that day though, he could only feel one polyp in my lymph nodes so he was taking me down to stage 2. Stage 2 seemed easier to fight then Stage 3. Maybe luck was starting to be on my side. The next couple weeks were spent getting me ready for chemo. Breast MRI, Catscan, PetCT, EKG, echocardiogram and lastly my porta-cath placement surgery. This is so they can administer the chemo right into my jugular vein since the chemo is so harsh it would blow out the veins in my arm. The first week in March I started my twelve rounds of chemo. I went once a week but there were three weeks where my white count was too low or I had an infection and couldn’t get it. So it took me fifteen weeks to complete my twelve rounds. In this time I lost all my hair and some of my dignity. Throwing up in public will do this to you. My body hated me and I was sick and weaker than I ever thought possible. They couldn’t find one nausea med that would help so I started smoking pot from sun up to sun down. I guess that was a silver lining. This is why I think pot should be legal. It helped with the pain, insomnia, nausea, helped me eat and gave me something to giggle about daily. On July second I left the infusion center with my balloon and apple cider thinking bye bitches, I’m never doing this again. Turns out you should never say never. Fifel was right. More on that later.

I had to wait for the chemo to leave my body before surgery and I cherished that time with my children that summer. My energy was depleted but at least I wasn’t hurling daily. My hair started growing back as well and I was thrilled on my new ash blonde color that was coming in. My surgeon told me lumpectomy wasn’t possible and he would have to take my entire left breast. I told him to take both because I never want to go through this again. On August 30th 2012 I had a bilateral skin sparring mastectomy with partial reconstruction. Meaning they took everything but the skin, placed allederm on the bottom which is donor tissue that helps hold the implant up like a hammock and then put expanders under my muscle. The expanders were filled every two weeks until my muscle was stretched out to the size I wanted to be. Which was a full C if you we’re curious. Smaller than I was before. Finding dresses and shirts that fit now is awesome by the way. That was another silver lining. A week before my surgery I was a nervous wreck and a huge asshole. I was terrified of waking up during surgery, of never waking up again, of being less of a woman or worse yet looking like a monster. They were taking my favorite body part from me. Something I loved and always thought was beautiful. I was losing a huge part of who I was and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I mourned the loss of my breasts and on the day of my surgery I fought back the tears and walked into the hospital with my head held high and the strength of a fighter.

The surgery went well but I was informed that there were no clean margins. Which means there was no healthy tissue between the tumor and skin. I only had a 30% take with the chemo and not 100% like they had hoped. I was soon to find out what that meant at my four week check up. There were only two lymph nodes with cancer but they took out 21 just to be safe. I can never have blood work or my blood pressure taken from my left arm again. After surgery the worst pain was from the node dissection. The inside of my arm couldn’t be touched even lightly with out sending me into a fit of pain. Seven months later the pain is almost completely gone but the back of my arm is still numb. It feels as if I hit my funny bone 24/7 and I have been warned it may feel that way forever. Small price to pay for my life I think. I left the hospital three days later and stayed at my grandma’s where I was taken care of better than my wonderful nurses at the hospital. A week later I saw my amazing plastic surgeon and saw what had become of me for the first time. I was shocked but not horrified. My scars don’t go across like most do, they go up and down. Looks more natural that way. My scars go from where my nipple and areola use to be down to the bottom of my breast. I look sort of like Barbie now or maybe what Sally in a Nightmare Before Christmas would look like if she ever flashed us. I lovingly refer to them as my Frankenboobies.

At my four week check up my oncologist informed me she wanted me to do more chemo and 30 sessions of radiation. They wanted to give me the harshest chemo they could and attack with all guns blazing. My chances of the cancer coming back in the next two years were really high. Over 50% high. Now that I didn’t have breasts for it to come back to it would go from my lymph nodes to either my brain or bones. Which is a death sentence. I broke down for the first time in that exam room and sobbed while my nurse held me up and tried to comfort me. I would rather go through another mastectomy then more chemo but what choice did I have. They gave me a week to enjoy Vegas with my girlfriends and my 31st birthday before starting the chemo that cancer patients dubbed red death or the red Dragon. You can only have 6 sessions in your life or it will kill you and I was doing 4 over 8 weeks. I had a one in one hundred chance of getting leukemia on it as well since it depletes your white blood cells and platelets.

This next part of my journey was the hardest and most devastating of all. I thought about leaving it out but it’s apart of my journey and how my life ended up where it is today. Two days before my birthday and less than a week before the new round of chemo my husband left his cell phone at home. We had the same one at the time so when I saw a text from his best friend’s wife I looked thinking it was mine. After all she had been helping me with the kids over the last year and checking in on me regularly. To my horror I realized it wasn’t meant for me. It was my husband’s phone. There were days worth of overly sexual messages back and forth(I later found out it had been going on for 3 or 4 months, so he says). I preceded to go through his entire phone. Where I found three separate email addresses and all were linked to dating sites. The emails to multiple women started the day I left the hospital to go to my grandma’s after my mastectomy. It was crushing. It is something I don’t know I could ever forgive him for. I was already feeling like half of a woman and now he kicked me in the teeth while I was already down. I confronted him when he returned home that night and all I received was a shitty I’m sorry and he did it because he needed attention because I was getting all the attention. I didn’t ask for cancer or this attention. If I could give it to him so he could have all the attention then I gladly will. I told him I only had fight in me to live and beat this and that was it. I would give him my decision when I was done with treatment. I would play nice and he would have a few months time to win me back.

The following week I started red death and five days later ended up in the hospital sicker than I ever imagined with a white count of 130(healthy people have a minimum of 4,000) and a fever of 102.They said the wind could carry something strong enough to kill me. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong so they just pumped me full of antibiotics and a shot in my stomach everyday that helps bring your white count up. I spent five days in a hospital bed alone, crying over the loss of my marriage and the thought I might die. It is by far the most depressing time in my life. On the third day in the hospital I actually thought I might just give up. I couldn’t take any more pain and heartache. Then I thought of my kids and found some strength to keep fighting.

During the entire time of this second round of chemo I didn’t have one good day. My infusion nurse would have to give me a pep talk and hug before infusion every other week. I counted 84 days in a row that I was horribly nauseous and could barely leave my bed. My white count was always so low I was fearful of leaving my house. Once again all my hair fell out. I think it was a little more traumatic the second time around but at least I had comfort knowing I’m kinda cute bald. ha! I finished the week of Thanksgiving and four weeks later when I started to get my strength back and feeling normal again, I started my 30 sessions of radiation.

At 9am every morning, Monday through Friday, I was having a session. It only takes a few minutes but it’s exhausting going everyday for 6 weeks and it sucks the energy right out of you. Radiation is like having the worst sun burn of your life. After a couple weeks my skin was bright red and it blistered and broke open. It felt like I was being stabbed under my breast into my ribs where the effects of the radiation seemed to be the worst. January 31st was my last cancer treatment. I am cancer free. I have my life back and I’m going to honor it and be truly happy. In order to do that I had to make some hard decisions so after my last treatment I asked my husband for a divorce. He didn’t do a single thing to win me back in those three months and I wasn’t getting over what he did to me so I felt I needed to leave. I have been a stay at home mom since the birth of my youngest child and making it on my own is terrifying but I know I can do it. I beat cancer, I can do anything now.

I’m not completely done with all things cancer though. I have to take tamoxifen, a hormone blocker everyday for five years. I also go to infusion every three weeks where they give me herceptin, another hormone blocker for a year. Last and most important to me in August I will finally have my reconstruction surgery where they will take out these uncomfortable expanders and put in implants. Since I have had radiation they will have to take the muscle in my back and put it in my breast to support the implant and take some of the skin from my back to make me new nipples. After I heal they will tattoo new areola’s and the new nipples. I get to pick the size and color I want. I’m pretty excited and I’m happy that Mike agreed to help with that part. haha.

I have learned so much over the past year. To not take things for granted, to be a little selfish, be present and in the moment, love with all I am, to find beauty and happiness in every aspect of my life and that I’m capable and deserving of anything I want to do or be. I will be more honest, transparent, kind, loving, understanding, patient and forgiving from now on. I want to live my life honoring those that have been taken from this disease and helping those that are going through it.

For Mike ~ I am so thankful that I sent you that how are you message and that you responded the way you did. Having you in my life again and by my side is my greatest reward for everything I went through. You make me happier than I ever imagined was possible. You have helped heal my soul more than you will ever know and I will forever be grateful. Having you by my side and being a true partner in this life gives me the strength to do anything and kick ass. Forever and always yours…..

Marilyn

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