(Guest post authored by Jenny Powell, beloved teacher, Mom, wife, and friend, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. She shares her journey with us here.)
“You look awfully young.”
That’s typically the first thing I hear once people find out that I have been battling breast cancer. Most people are shocked to learn that my breast cancer battle began when I was only 29 years old, but I can assure you that no one was more surprised than myself.
You see, I always knew I would end up with cancer of some sort. For me, it was always a question of when not if. I have an extensive family history of all different types of cancer. I just never expected to be diagnosed with cancer when I was trying my absolute hardest to raise a precious baby boy that I had only given birth to nearly two years prior to my diagnosis.
As it would turn out, that precious baby boy played a very important role in my cancer story. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know when I would have found my breast cancer. Ryder, my son, could be a little rambunctious at times like any other almost two-year-old toddler. He loved to run around, climb on furniture, and occasionally tried to climb all over you as well.
One evening, as I laid on the couch, Ryder came charging towards me and decided to scale me like a mountain. One of his feet landed directly on my right breast and it hurt like crazy! I didn’t think anything of it until two nights later when I felt a bump and soreness in that breast. I brushed it off and chalked it up to the fact that a 30-pound toddler had stepped on it just two days before. It was probably just bruised; no big deal!
For two more weeks, I experienced sharp pain, tenderness, and soreness in my right breast off and on. By this point, I decided it would probably be best to call my gynecologist, Dr. Michelle Gee, and set up an appointment just for peace of mind. Like any other rational person (note the sarcasm), I had already scoured the internet for all kinds of information I could use to self-diagnose. I figured Dr. Gee would probably know more than Google and WebMD.
During my appointment with Dr. Gee, she performed a breast exam and decided to send me for an ultrasound and mammogram. The appointment was made for six days later, two days before Thanksgiving.
At my ultrasound and mammogram appointment, the nurse quickly informed me that they do not normally perform mammograms on women my age. Our breast tissue is normally too dense so it can be hard for the mammogram to detect anything. So, we began with the ultrasound. She saw the lump. She measured it. She sent me to another room to wait for a mammogram to be performed. I instantly got a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. After the mammogram, they came back into the room to let me know that they wanted to do a biopsy as well. Something definitely wasn’t right.
Because all of this took place right before Thanksgiving, I was not able to receive any news until November 26, 2018, nearly one week after my ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy. The anticipation was killing me and my anxiety was in overdrive. Stupid me decided to look at my online patient chart since I wasn’t having any luck getting in contact with a nurse at the breast center. As I sat at work and read my mammogram results online, I came across the words “category V–highly suggestive of malignancy.” My heart sank and the tears flowed. After numerous frantic phone calls, I was finally able to speak with a nurse navigator who was able to provide me with more information.
I can still remember that day so vividly. My life changed forever. The next few weeks were filled with numerous doctor appointments, tests, scans, fears, worries, and the list goes on and on. After having an MRI, the doctors noticed that there seemed to be something else going on in my right breast besides the one tumor they had found. As it turned out, I had two types of breast cancer. Not only did I have invasive ductal carcinoma, but my entire right breast also had DCIS. This was only confirmed after my double mastectomy on January 7, 2019. Lucky for me, my cancer had not spread to any lymph nodes and I was officially diagnosed with stage IB breast cancer.
The next few months were a whirlwind. There were more surgeries, chemo treatments, and radiation treatments to endure. Through every step of the journey, I refused to ever think for one second that I was going to die or that this disease would win the war. I was going to fight this beast with every ounce of strength I had.
Some days were really rough. Some days are still really rough. Now that I am on the other side of my treatments, I have had time for reality to really settle in. From November 26, 2018 until July 5, 2019, I was in full-blown fighting mode. But now, I have come to the realization that there were many feelings and emotions that I pushed to the side in order to stay strong and focus on the battle before me. Those feelings and emotions are now creeping up on me at the most unsuspecting times. There will be moments where the feeling of loss is more than I can bear–loss of my hair, loss of my breasts, loss of my health, loss of peace of my mind, loss of the chance to carry another child.
Trying to win my battle with cancer was an incredibly difficult feat; however, I am finding that life after the surgeries and treatments is no walk in the park either. I have been changed forever. My outlook on life is not the same anymore.
I am in the midst of figuring out my new normal. It is a constant work in progress. It is as though I am taking on a new identity and figuring out who I am in this new skin. Whoever I turn out to be after all of this, one thing is for sure. I am strong and will continue to live my life knowing that God’s plans are always great no matter what.