By Lyndsay Hodges
It’s hard to believe how much my life has changed during the past year. Last Thanksgiving I couldn’t imagine giving thanks for anything. All I could focus on was praying that my biopsy would come back negative, meaning there was no sign of breast cancer. I tried laughing with my family and enjoying the moments we had that day, but no matter how hard I tried not to think about the peanut sized lump on my breast, it always found its way back into my head. What was supposed to be a nice relaxing week ended up being filled with panic and stress while I waited for the results of that very important test.
I went back to work the Monday after Thanksgiving break. For the past seven years I’ve taught physical education and health at Clear Falls High School in League City. I also coach the school’s volleyball team. What began as a typical Monday after a holiday break quickly became anything but typical when the phone rang. November 30, 2015, is a day I’ll never forget. The test results were back; I had breast cancer. After some freaking out, some ugly crying and the usual question ’why me?’ it was time to figure out what came next.
I was referred to a nurse navigator with Memorial Hermann named Sylvia, who set me up with my amazing oncologist, Dr. Anneliese Gonzalez at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. Just one meeting was all it took. I knew Dr. Gonzalez (or Dr. G as I call her) and her team would take care of me. Dr. G asked me to give her six months to a year. I put my trust in her and had my first chemotherapy treatment December 18, one week before Christmas.
I didn’t have much joy last Christmas.I enjoyed the time with my family and all the love I received, but the impact the chemotherapy was having on my body was way more than I expected, even after Dr. G’s warnings. Each day that went by I became weaker, yet at the same time I grew stronger in my determination to beat cancer. We were confident that the ‘Red Devil’, as the chemotherapy treatment was called, was attacking my cancer. After four treatments, I had an ultrasound to check the size of the lump; it had not changed. Dr. G decided to move forward with surgery because the most important thing now was to get the cancer out of me. A month after I finished the chemotherapy, I was scheduled for a mastectomy. We were praying the cancer hadn’t reached any lymph nodes.
The morning of the surgery couldn’t have been easier. The doctors, residents, nurses, and staff, were truly concerned about my well-being and comfort and the day went by in a flash. Recovery from the surgery was tough, but I made it. My hope was to get home and then go back to work two weeks after the mastectomy and expander placement surgery. Unfortunately, the day before I was set to go back to work, I learned the cancer had reached my lymph nodes.
So, as it was, the day I was supposed to go back to work, I checked back into the hospital for a second surgery. I was still tender and sore from the first surgery so I was pretty uncomfortable before the procedure even started. The staff was still caring and attentive but nothing changed the fact that this new development made everything more serious than it already was.
Another two weeks down, it’s time to meet with Dr. G again. She explained the extent of the cancer in my lymph nodes, and I focused on another round of chemotherapy. Hair loss, exhaustion, aches and pains all awaited me again. I kept telling myself to take it one day at a time. Just like before, I prepared for the worst but prayed for the best and kept looking for all the good that was around me.
Each week that passed, I grew slightly more tired. I was still going to work through all of it, except on the day of treatment. It was good to be at work and around the students. It was nice not having to think about cancer for a few hours and be able to just be “normal.” I had to take more frequent breaks during class, sitting down seemed like the only thing I could still do well. Summer finally came and on July 22, 2016, the 12 weeks of chemotherapy was done.
I was able to get nearly four weeks off before I started my next round of treatment. August 24, 2016, was the beginning of 28 days of radiation. The hardest part of the radiation treatment was leaving school every day during my athletic period for the treatment. Fortunately, I was able to receive the radiation treatments at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital, which was close enough that I could still work and coach. Just a few days into the radiation treatments I was hit with another challenge, lymphedema. Now I would need therapy four days a week to treat the lymphedema on top of the radiation treatments. I soon began treatment for lymphedema at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation West University. It seemed like every time the cancer had given me a new challenge, my treatment team had an answer. The staff at Memorial Hermann Southeast and TIRR Memorial Hermann made my days better. I was welcomed with a smile and spoken to like I was a friend, not just a patient. Before I even knew it, my 28 days had come to an end and my therapy steadily went down from four days a week, to just one day a week.
I’ve had some pretty big days this past year. July 22, the day of my last chemotherapy treatment, October 3, the day of my last radiation treatment and November 21, the day I was told my CT scan and mammogram was clear! Now, I could officially say that I kicked cancers butt in less than a year! Dr. G had saidto give her six months to a year. She was right; we did it.
I just marked the year anniversary of my first chemotherapy treatment. I can honestly say that as hard as it all was, every ache and pain, I am so blessed and so happy to be sharing my story. Without everyone at Memorial Hermann, I wouldn’t be in such a great place. It all feels so surreal now like somehow it doesn’t exist, it couldn’t possibly exist. But I know that it does, and I am a stronger person for it. In March, I will hopefully have my final reconstruction
surgery. I realize I still have a long road of healing ahead of me, but I truly am blessed.