“My name is Christa and this is my Survivor Story. It was May 27, 2001. I knew as soon as I felt it – this isn’t normal. I had a nursing instructor in college hammer home the importance of monthly self-breast exams and I did them every month. After telling my husband what I had found, he assured me it was probably nothing but to follow up. I made an appointment with my OB/GYN, we small talked, he told me this was probably nothing, and then he felt it. ‘This isn’t normal, I don’t like it’, he said. So off to OSU my husband and I went. We were met with a wonderful, caring group who put me through some testing and finally decided to punch biopsy the lump at that visit. The physician had told us before the biopsy he felt confident it was nothing. As he was walking out of the room after the biopsy, by husband stopped him and asked if he still felt confident and that’s when it became real – ‘No, I’m not confident. It doesn’t look normal.’ And then it started – the chaos. This definitely wasn’t normal. I was a 31 year-old mother of four beautiful children (ranging in ages from 9 years old down to just 10 months old). How could this be? Not only was there no history of breast cancer in my family, but my pathology came back as invasive ductal carcinoma and triple negative. My surgeon had advised me not to google my diagnoses and I wish I would have followed his advice. The five year survival rate for a young woman with triple negative breast cancer was substantially lower than other types of breast cancer. So, our temporary, new normal started: lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and lots of follow-up visits. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it actually took three villages to raise our four children. The communities of Anna, Jackson Center (my husband’s hometown), and my co-workers from Wilson Health Family Birth Center sustained us in every way.
Time passed and treatments ended. My dirty blonde hair decided to return as jet black hair. With the exception of every three month check-ups, we were trying to return to normal. It wasn’t until 18 months after my last radiation treatment, I was diagnosed again. A follow-up mammogram noted a new area in the same breast. There was nothing even remotely normal about this. It was not a reoccurrence but a second primary tumor had grown. The OSU Tumor Board decided since my case was so abnormal they would convene and come up with a plan. Lumpectomy, Bilateral Mastectomy with all nodes removed, Total Hysterectomy with ovaries removed, chemo again, and 7 years of Tamoxifen and Arimidex. Once again, our friends and family completely rallied around us and our children and helped more than we can ever repay them. I eventually decided seven years later to have reconstructive surgery. Multiple scares have occurred over the last 16 years….bone, liver, lung, brain, nodes. Each is met with extreme anxiety and fear because you see I can’t answer why any of this has happened. My genetic testing was completely normal. I can’t even provide a reason for the chaos.
My children now range in ages from 26 down to 17 and I have 2 AMAZING grandsons. There are days when I wonder what in the world happened – we seem so dysfunctional compared to other families. My family is all of the following (at different times): emotional, fearful, impulsive, laid back, anxious, depressed, kind, successful, driven, controlling, passive, positive, negative, faithful, hopeful, appreciative and above all else - resilient. I recently looked up the definition of normal: the usual, average, or typical state or condition. Breast cancer established the NEW normal for us.
I am the over-bearing Mom and Grandmother (GaGa as they call me) – I am so thankful that I am here to celebrate every single success and trial with my children, family and friends…..all because of a piece of advice a nursing instructor gave to our class. Take care of yourselves, listen to your bodies, and follow your gut.”
Christa is the Manager of our Wilson Health Medical Group Ob/Gyn and Pediatric practices. She is a 16 year breast cancer survivor.