By Samantha Sosa
I try to regularly perform breast self-exams, but as a working mom with a 2-year-old daughter, my life often gets busy. Not long ago, I had forgotten to check myself for a while and had also gained weight over time. When my job hosted a friendly weight-loss competition similar to “The Biggest Loser,” I decided it was time to join Weight Watchers® and dropped weight quickly. Eight weeks later, I had won second place in the competition! I was excited and happy with my new body, and decided I was going to start taking better care of ME. Soon after the competition, I performed a breast self-exam like I had done many times before. But this time, I felt something.
It was something large and very dense in my right breast. Since I had breastfed my daughter for 14 months, I immediately assumed it was a clogged duct. I had also had a well-woman exam just nine months prior and since my doctor hadn’t detected a lump, I didn’t let my mind race about it. After talking with my mother and my best friend, however, they were concerned and encouraged me to make an appointment with my OB/GYN. My doctor said the lump might be fibroadenoma, a noncancerous tumor that is common in young women, but she scheduled a mammogram just to be certain. If my doctor wasn’t overly concerned, I thought I shouldn’t be, either.
The following week, I went in for a 3D mammogram. At 32 years old, it was my first mammogram and I was nervous. I had done my research, so I knew an ultrasound would follow the mammogram to measure the mass and get a more accurate picture of the location. What I didn’t expect was how I would react when I saw the lump glaring at me on the ultrasound screen. I knew deep inside that something wasn’t right. As the ultrasound technician looked for a pronounced border, I searched her face for clues, but she didn’t give any.
Two weeks later, I had the lump biopsied because the doctor said, “it looks suspicious.” Those three words took my breath away.
I was wrecked with anxiety waiting for the biopsy results. The day of my follow-up appointment, my mother and I sat in the OB/GYN’s office and chatted about lunch – anything to distract us from what was to come. Soon enough, my doctor walked in and broke the news that I had Stage 2 breast cancer.
She kept talking, but I couldn’t hear anything else. I was in shock and my mind went to my daughter. Who would love her like I do? Would she know how much I love her? Would she even remember me? I looked at my mother’s face, which was consumed with tears. My tears followed.
The drive home was brutal. I was struck with fear. I didn’t sleep for the next few days. I was so afraid to walk around with a mass in my chest. I felt trapped in my own body.
My mother moved very quickly, and scrambled to find me the best doctors and treatment options. A friend of my mother’s mentioned a surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), who specializes in breast diseases. The hospital also connected us with Shirley Ruiz, an oncology nurse navigator at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center – Texas Medical Center, who scheduled my appointment with Dr. Anneliese Gonzalez, an oncology hematologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann-TMC and UT Physicians.
At my first visit to the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center, I learned I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Dr. Gonzalez reviewed my ultrasound and biopsy results, and explained that the stage of the cancer was not definitive until I underwent additional tests to ensure the cancer had not spread. She recommended that I start a chemotherapy regimen before meeting with a breast surgeon. I left the appointment feeling overwhelmed and scared beyond anything I had ever imagined. The following week, as my heart pounded and I gripped the exam table, I learned the cancer hadn’t spread. My mother and I thanked God for good news, and we prepared ourselves for treatment.
Chemotherapy’s job is to destroy and that’s exactly what it does. I was apprehensive, of course, knowing that my only hope of killing the tumor could possibly damage my heart, impact my chances of having more children and could make all of my hair fall out. But, I decided to take those chances because I wanted to beat this cancer.
I began my first of 16 treatments at the Memorial Hermann Cancer and Infusion Center. I sat in the recliner with my favorite blanket, pillow and book of affirmations and waited for the chemo to enter my body. I had never felt so sick in the days that followed, and I couldn’t imagine feeling that way 15 more times. A lot of prayer got me through the worst days early on in my treatment.
I am now at my halfway mark, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Courageous, strong and brave are not adjectives I would have used to describe myself prior to my diagnosis. Anyone who knows me knows I am the most anxious, cautious, over-analyzer ever to have walked this earth. But through this journey I have learned a lot about myself. I remind myself throughout the day that I can beat cancer. People may wonder what keeps me motivated – my faith. I encourage anyone who has to fight this battle to stand firm in your faith, no matter who or what you believe in.
Also, surround yourself with people who love you and support you. My mother is my rock and I could never thank her enough for believing in me when I thought I wouldn’t be able to fight. I especially cherish my daughter, Elaina Michele, who is fearless. I look at her and am reminded that life can change at a moment’s notice. But I will keep sharing my story and I will keep fighting to inspire others in their cancer journey. Watch out world, here we come!
Learn more about breast cancer symptoms and signs here.