By Tami Edwards
In my pre-cancerous life, I was a very healthy and active individual. I had done everything right, according to everything I read after my first diagnosis. Yet, cancer still found me. In 2007, at 33, I found a small bump in my left breast, in the upper, inner quadrant. At first, I thought it was just a pimple and I would pick at it. It would bleed, then grow a little more. I was in a very bad marriage at the time and couldn’t really focus on my own health. I ignored it until it started to hurt. I finally showed it to a coworker who scheduled my appointment with my OBGYN that day. When he saw me, he thought it may be a cyst but referred me to a general surgeon, whom I saw 2 days later. When that doctor tried to aspirate the “cyst”, and couldn’t pull fluid out, he looked at me and said, “I believe this is cancer.” Something in me already knew that.
A mammogram revealed a very strange-looking mass. A biopsy a week later brought the official diagnosis of breast cancer and I was scheduled for surgery. On March 28, 2008, I didn’t know going into the surgery if I’d have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy; it would depend on my lymph nodes. Fortunately, those were clear and I only lost a golf ball sized chunk from my body. My oncologist planned my chemo treatments, 1 round every 3 weeks for 6 cycles, to be followed with 33 rounds of radiation. Then he told me I should do genetic testing because of my Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (all Eastern European). Five weeks later I found out that I am BRCA1, which carries with it a long list of other potential cancers and problems. At this time, I was the only one in my family who had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of my family had been killed in the Holocaust and so our history was limited. I was told to have a double mastectomy and total hysterectomy but I was only 33. I wanted more kids. So I opted to keep my own parts. And life went on.
Fast forward a little bit. I never did have any more kids. I was rendered essentially infertile from the chemo treatments and left that bad marriage in 2009. I had developed a drinking problem at the end and finally got sober in 2011, meeting my current husband in the rooms of AA. We married in 2014. I had both knees replaced in 2016 due to osteoarthritis brought on by the chemo. It had definitely aged my insides even if I still looked my stated age. In 2016 I was 41. In 2017, we relocated from California to Texas and I gained a lot of weight from the depression that set in. I had already started perimenopause and I was unhappy with my weight and my life.
In July of 2019, I had a cycle that started and then didn’t finish. At first I assumed it was due to the “change”. But then the bleeding got heavier and I was getting weaker and I finally called my doctor (my new GYN in Texas) and he put me on hormones to stop the bleeding and then we did a uterine biopsy. I was now 45 and figured it was time to let go of the idea of being a mom again. I was accepting that it was time to remove the plumbing, because there was no way I could continue with cycles like that for long. We decided on February the following year but 2 days later my biopsy results came back positive for uterine cancer. There was a question as to whether or not it was related to the gene but nothing would be known until my total hysterectomy on October 9, 2019. When I saw the surgeon two weeks later, he confirmed that it had also been found in my right ovary (I knew deep down it would be), a separate primary cancer, and we knew that the gene was responsible.
I went through chemo again, same schedule, different drugs. Fortunately I did not have to have radiation (radiation in my hoo haw??? Who wants that?). I gained more weight from the steroids and now that I’m officially in menopause, it’s stuck to me. And we moved to Utah in June, 2021.
I lost my mom to stage 4 breast cancer on 1/22/14. She had been too ill to meet Robert. She hadn’t wanted to get checked when I had the gene and when she was diagnosed, 3 years after me, it had already spread like wildfire throughout her body. I lost one of my best friends to lung cancer 12/23/20. She had always been too busy to see a doctor and when she was diagnosed, it was also too late. She only lived 9 months. I have lost many other friends to the awful disease of cancer, and some were seemingly preventable.
After my breast cancer, I took ownership of my life. If something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t look right, I go to a doctor. I’d rather it be nothing than find out later it’s too late and I should have done something sooner. Had I waited just two more weeks, the cancer would have invaded my chest wall and I likely wouldn’t be here. My daughter was 13 at that time. I would have missed out on so much. And that gene is still active in this body, waiting to attack something else. I have to stay vigilant.
I’m a big advocate for cancer research, of all types. I used to do charity walks (until the knees) to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I’d like to try that again. And I share my story with anyone who will listen. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. But the odds vary among races. One in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women will face the diagnosis compared to 1 in 500 Asian women. No one wants to be the “lucky” one. So get checked. Do your annual exams and your mammograms. Feel your boobies! But also keep in mind that uterine cancer is one of the most prevalent female cancers. And we are so dismissive! We shouldn’t be. Your odds of survival are so much higher when things are caught early, and the treatments are easier, too. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.