Accepting My Journey

Accepting My Journey

Alyson T

My first and only child, Simon, was born in December of 2007.  We couldn’t believe that this blond haired, blue eyed baby was ours.  He was perfect. We were learning to be new parents and were sleep deprived but happy.  We laughed at all of our missteps, like the time when there was a giant poop explosion and somehow our son ended up covered in poop from head to toe.

Then it was time to go back to work.  I only had 8 weeks maternity leave and I cried when I dropped off Simon at daycare.  I decided to phase out breast feeding; Simon was constantly hungry and I couldn’t keep up.  My breasts reduced to their normal size. Then I stopped and felt my breasts and was surprised to find a big lump.  I figured my milk ducts were clogged, but I would get it checked out. 

I went to the ObGyn who delivered Simon, who sent me for more tests.  I lay on my back and had a biopsy of my breast. The radiologist came out and told me that it looked “suspicious.”  I spent my first mother’s day awaiting what seemed like it would be a terrible diagnosis.

And it was.  I had Stage III ER+ breast cancer, despite having no family history and having led a very healthy lifestyle.  It was big and bad and aggressive. Since I was young, the treatment would need to be aggressive.

The next year that ensued seemed like it would be the worst year of my life.  My hair fell out on my new baby. I had chemo, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and radiation.  These were the days that I felt I should be frolicking around with my newborn. Instead, I was sick from chemo and extremely depressed.  I would carry my son and hide my face behind him. I somehow felt ashamed because this wasn’t what motherhood was supposed to be. 

Flash forward to the next 10 years.  From 2008-2018 I was cancer free and aced all my screenings.  I felt great, I became a Vice President at my company, I traveled the world.  I was somehow doing it all – I was a mom and successful at work. My past with cancer haunted me, but I believed I was past it and that I would be ok.  We were living a beautiful life in our home out in the woods, with wonderful friends and neighbors. Until things got worse.

In November of 2018 I noticed that my neck was swollen.  My relationship with my oncologist had grown a bit distant since I only saw him once every 6 months.  So I went to my primary care doctor to have my neck checked out. I was extremely worried and exhausted from worry.  My primary care doctor called me. She said, “I’m very sorry I have bad news. It’s metastatic breast cancer.” My husband and son heard me yell the F word in the living room.  Life had come to a halt.

And if things couldn’t get any worse, they did.  The cancer is triple negative breast cancer. I knew all too well that that my particular breast cancer had a poor prognosis and few treatment options.  How was this possible?  I had ER + cancer! But it can change.  I did not know that and have since met other women who have had their receptor type change.

I cried my way through Thanksgiving.  I started chemo in December 2018 and was surprised that I did not feel terrible.  In December 2018 I went to Israel for the first time and prayed at the Kotel for healing.

Starting in January 2019, I somehow settled into the new normal of getting treatment once a week. I didn’t feel bad.  I exercised, I ate well, I meditated, I prayed, and felt very grateful that my cancer was under control and that I was still feeling good.  In June of 2019 we spent two glorious weeks in France. In July 2019, my stretch of good living came to a sharp halt with a new surprise – my treatment was no longer working.  I spent a few days crying, and then got back up. I started planning next steps. I decided to become part of a clinical trial. I would not give up. I got on the calendar to meet the leading doctor in Triple Negative Breast Cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Knowing that I am not alone has made this journey easier.  It makes me stronger. It fuels my persistence. It keeps me moving even on bad days.

Sharsheret has helped me to keep going and not feel alone.  I could not believe the thoughtful and age appropriate care package they assembled for my son. My relationship with my Sharsheret social worker, has been very meaningful.  At the beginning 2019 we spoke every week. She tells me that I have really grown in my acceptance of my diagnosis, and it is helpful to have this relationship over time so she can see my progress.  I even met my Sharsheret social worker at a conference for patients and when I saw her, it was like hugging an old friend. She has shared some beautiful words of wisdom throughout my journey, and her positivity has helped me a lot.  Sharsheret makes me feel extra supported and loved. I keep items they have sent me close by as a reminder of the support.

I am grateful to have met Sharsheret and my amazing social worker on my journey.  This is a hard journey, but making such wonderful connections along the way makes it easier to accept.