09/30/2020 By Courtney J Nelson
My cancer story actually begins at the end of April. At that time, I found a lump in my left breast. I immediately made an appointment to be checked out, which lead to a series of other appointments of ultrasounds and biopsies, and almost a month later I got my diagnosis of aggressive ductal carcinoma. I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it, I just turned 29 and felt like I was in great health. And what was worse, at least to me at the time, was I was just finishing my bariatric program, and had finally gotten my stomach sleeve surgery scheduled after working towards that goal for about a year. I was ready to make a huge commitment to better my health all around, and give myself the attention I knew my body needed.
But cancer happened instead.
I held out hope I’d somehow be able to have my surgery, but as soon as chemotherapy was on the program, it was no longer an option. The risk of me dying from malnutrition was much too high.
So two weeks before my surgery was supposed to happen, I canceled it. The team I worked with at the bariatric center were so wonderful and supportive, and saw me jump every hurdle (most of it insurance riff-raff) and helped me get to the finish line. When my surgeon got the news of why I canceled he called me that weekend to give his condolences. His wife had gone through having breast cancer as well, and wanted to give his support.
This is just one of many amazing moments I’ve had with someone since I announced my diagnosis. People from every corner and time of my life have come to my aid in one way or another. It’s still overwhelming how beautiful people can be. And honestly, it’s exactly what I needed after the last 15 years of my life being so difficult. I’ve come so far from making my way through traumatic experiences, to multiple emotionally abusive relationships, which included losing multiple homes and loved pets.
I hit my lowest last year when right after moving in with a man I thought loved me and had my best interest at heart. I simultaneously got diagnosed with mono and during him cheating on me and neglecting me. The sicker I got, the more it made me feel I needed to leave immediately. I thought I was a failure for having nowhere to go but my parent’s house, since I had been living on my own for ten years. This of course goes along with the impossible local economy Seattle is facing right now in the face of corporate greed and failing government. As a house cleaner, I don’t make enough to afford anything in or relatively near my city on my own.
A year later I had managed to get back to work, found an amazing place to live with wonderful roommates, found a real man who does love me for exactly who I am and is sticking by my side through this whole difficult process. It was a blow to receive the news of having cancer after finally feeling like I was back on my feet and feeling better than ever. Because of last year I broke down thinking that getting sick means you lose everything you love.
The PTSD from that experience is taking a while to get over.
The biggest thing that helped me to do that is my support group. I have an army behind me, making sure that this is as easy as possible. Seeing my community come to my aid has changed my perspective so much. I’ve learned to trust again, which I didn’t think would ever happen. I’ve been lied to, manipulated, tricked, and hurt so much so often in my life and close relationships I forgot that not everyone is like that. I found out to set healthy boundaries for myself, and now I am only surrounded by people who make me more and never less.
Back to the cancer itself. Through my next set of tests once we knew it was cancer, we looked into the extent of what was going on. Unfortunately, there was more cancer than just the one spot I could feel. I have three individual cancer spots, one in the left and two in the right. However, the other two are so small they only showed up on one scan. All of them are different, and not related, however, they are all stage 1 and very curable. No other cancer has been found, so that was a relief as well. I’m still waiting on my genetic test; we found a mutated gene, but it’s only in my body (my parents both got blood tests, and they were negative), but the strange thing is, it’s only 20% present, so it’s not enough to say, “Yes, this caused the cancer.” In a month I should know what’s going on with that, for now I am a mystery mutant.
It’s interesting when your oncologist says she’s never seen this in her 20 year career.
I just had my second chemo cycle treatment, and things are going well. My hair is half way gone, I shaved it off beforehand since hair all over the place got annoying pretty quick haha. I’m not having any severe reactions, and my large tumor has already shrunk significantly! I’m not gonna lie, chemo is the pits to go through, but it’s vey nice to see it working so well. I’m not sure if I’ll be having any surgeries on my chest, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
One thing I do want to emphasize for anyone going through this or something similar, is let yourself have all the moments you need. Powering through, or not letting yourself feel what you need to about all of this is not going to help you. Be curious, be kind, let the experiences happen, struggling is a waste of energy we can’t afford. I’ve gone through the mental ringer to get to this zen like point, but that’s how I got here, I experienced every single emotion to the fullest and came back to myself, stronger and more stable. I’ve been doing mental health work on myself for years, with an amazing team behind me of course. I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve learned I’m not wrong for having feelings, which many ties to tell me I was. When you fight that, you’re also fighting yourself and at a time like this who needs multiple battles? Be at peace with yourself and love and accept yourself for who and where you are, and you will have such a better journey through this difficult time.
GRYT is knowing something is going to be immensely difficult, and facing it with open arms, accepting it into your life so you can better conquer such a difficult task.
GRYT is being curious instead of afraid, I worked through every emotion to get to this place of peace, so now my only job is to heal.
GRYT is asking for help when you need it and letting the ones who love you be by your side, helping you fight to the best of your ability.