Chemo To Scrubs: Q&A With A Breast Cancer Fighter
Thanks to Annie for sharing her story with us here at Scrubs Mag. Follow her journey on Instagram.
Tell us a little about your story.
After graduating college in April 2016 with my BS in Biology/Pre-Medicine, I eagerly applied to Physician Assistant school. By September that year, I was prepping for interviews and had begun my first round of imaging on the 3cm lump that my doctor felt was suspicious. Interviewing amongst the stress of what was happening was extremely difficult. One interview was on the day I was supposed to hear about my biopsy results! After about 3 weeks of the stress of worrying about the possibility of having cancer, on September 28, 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer.
It was only 3 weeks after my 23rd birthday. Very quickly, I jumped into treatment: 4 rounds of IV chemo, 2 major surgeries, a long hospital stay, 33 rounds of radiation, then finally 8 rounds of oral chemo (I am still undergoing this last step and am very eager to finish!) After completing radiation in May 2017, I was accepted to Midwestern University’s PA program in Arizona! It was probably the most exciting, relieving, and proudest moment of my life—I had gotten accepted to one of my top-choice PA schools despite battling the massive BEAST that is Stage 3 Breast Cancer.
My sickest days help remind me where I’m headed. To keep my eyes on the prize. To stay motivated. To fight. For me. For my future patients. • This round of chemo is kicking my butt–big time. And I start as an Instructional Assistant at GCU on Monday (shoutout to deferral year!) But you know what? If I can push through now, just think of how good it will feel that day I can say I’m a cancer-free PA-C! • A huge thank you to @mdfinstruments for helping me stay motivated and equipping me to help others!
What inspired you to pursue a career in the medical field? I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in medicine but entering college, I had no idea in which part of healthcare I wanted to work. I started out as a pre-nursing student, eventually switching my major to Bio/Pre-Med my sophomore year. From there, I shadowed various doctors and decided that the supportive, collaborative role of a PA was the best choice for me! I love how flexible PAs are and the balanced life that the profession offers. Before my diagnosis, I knew I would become a PA, but didn’t know the field in which I would want to practice.Now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that oncology is where I desire to be. I hope to help young cancer patients who are traversing the treacherous world of cancer as I have been doing for the last year. I am confident I can impact many lives and encourage patients and families of patients to have hope and a solid support system. Now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that oncology is where I desire to be. I hope to help young cancer patients who are traversing the treacherous world of cancer as I have been doing for the last year. I am confident I can impact many lives and encourage patients and families of patients to have hope and a solid support system. Are there any doctors or nurses that stand out to you? Why? Two of the providers that I’ve seen have had the biggest impact on me: My Medical Oncologist and my Plastic/Reconstructive Surgeon. These two incredible physicians have saved my life and have helped provide me the opportunity to feel as normal and whole as possible. I’ve been incredibly blessed by their detailed, intricate work, their empathy, and their desire to help me heal mentally and emotionally as well as physically. What were your scariest moments over the last 2 years? How did you get through those? I had my bilateral mastectomy in January 2017, followed by immediate reconstruction. Less than 24 hours after my 5-hour surgery, I had developed a hematoma that required emergency surgery to evacuate it. I was extremely drugged up on pain meds and was very sick from the lengthy first surgery, so I don’t remember very much around that time. But as time progressed after that emergency surgery, my blood counts dropped lower and lower due to having just finished 4 rounds of intense chemotherapy. I ended up requiring blood transfusions which eventually brought me out of that incredibly sick, deep, dark hole that I was in. I look back on photos my family took during that hospital stay where I looked almost dead—it was more shocking for me to look back on those moments and realize just how sick I really was than it was to actually live it. What about your happiest moments? Every time I met a new milestone (finishing chemo, completing radiation, etc.) it would call for a major celebration and inevitable dance party in my apartment! It meant I was one step closer to being in full remission. It meant I was one step closer to starting my new, cancer-free life. It meant I was one step closer to becoming a PA and making an impact on other cancer fighters. In September I celebrated my first Cancerversary (one year since my diagnosis), and once I finally finish the last of this oral chemo, I’ll be done with active treatment and that will call for my biggest celebration yet!
This month’s #FeelItOnTheFirst is extra special because it’s October. Which means it’s the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month! 🎀 • Remember to take 3 minutes out of your day to perform a self-exam, snap a pic and share it with #FeelItOnTheFirst, and get in the habit of doing it every month! Educate yourself on what signs to look out for and have a conversation with your healthcare provider about ways you can live a healthier lifestyle. • I am blessed to have so many people encouraging me and cheering me on as I keep making my way through treatment. Remember: cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t choose its victims. And there’s no way to prepare yourself for a life of fighting. But if you maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle, you’ll be better prepared physically should you ever have to enter such a battle. I certainly don’t wish this on anyone, but unfortunately I don’t make those decisions. • #Stage3AintGotMe
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What do you want to share with nurses / our readers? What about to people battling cancer either firsthand or as a supporter?
I want all those in healthcare to know that you absolutely cannot understand what a cancer patient goes through until you’ve actually been there yourself. You can watch thousands of patients or even your loved ones suffer, but until you actually live it, you can’t understand the feelings, thoughts, emotions or hardships that we face every day. It’s a never-ending mental battle as much as it is a physical one. I’ve never been able to talk to or relate to other people like I can with other survivors and fighters. Because they get it. They understand the emotional exhaustion and thought processes that come along with fighting such a battle.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, yes, but Breast Cancer itself is so much more than pink ribbons, fun walks, and cute t-shirts. Breast Cancer is a killer. A life-taker. The realities of it NEVER leave an individual. I have to face my scars every single day when I look in the mirror—there’s no escaping the impact it’s had on my life. When people who have not had Breast Cancer live through October, they’re being exposed to the light side of it. They’re not being cut open to have their breasts removed at age 23. They’re not undergoing 10 years of hormone therapy. They’re not losing their hair, being hospitalized, poked constantly, or having chemo brain. Breast Cancer is not their worst nightmare. But it sure is mine.
For other fighters (of any cancer)—there is hope. There is a strong community of survivors and thrivers who can help provide you support. I found my community of young Breast Cancer fighters on Instagram and am so thankful for each of them. We support each other, love each other through those hard times, and rejoice in one another’s victories. Cancer doesn’t just have to be sadness and hard times—there can be joy amidst the pain. Enjoy those happy times, and the memories will propel you through the darkest moments.