I was diagnosed with Stage 1, triple positive, invasive mammary carcinoma on March 8th, 2016 at age 28. Despite self-exams I did not find the lump, but it was found by my gynecologist during my yearly exam. It was off to my right side, so close to my armpit I didn’t consider that area part of my breast. I underwent an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy. Three days later I received the worst phone call of my life.
I immediately began scheduling what seemed like endless doctor appointments. In the span of about 3 weeks I saw 3 surgeons at 3 different facilities, 2 oncologists and 1 genetic counselor. I also had numerous X-Rays, a PET scan, and blood tests done. The results of which revealed there was no cancer in my bones, most likely no cancer in my lymph nodes, I was positive for the ATM gene mutation, my tumor was roughly 1.8 cm in size, and I was expected to undergo chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Now that I was armed with more than enough information, it was time to make decisions.
I had no idea I’d have so many choices to make about my treatment(s). As much as I would have loved for someone just to tell me what to do when I was the most confused and overwhelmed I’ve ever been, I had to decide for myself.
Along with deciding my course of treatment(s), I decided to strive to keep some semblance of normalcy in my life. For me that meant continuing the summertime ritual of underwater photo-shoots with my better half, Joe.
I didn’t know if I would be able to model while my body struggled through the poison coursing through my veins, but somehow I managed. I couldn’t taste food properly, exercise, or even sit in the sun, but I could hold my breath and so I did. We scheduled photo shoots around my “good weeks” in between infusions. The process of creating these images, and certainly the images themselves, helped me feel strong and beautiful throughout the treatment process. It gave Joe and I something to look forward to when most things we enjoyed doing together had been put on hold. Cancer doesn’t just effect the person diagnosed, but inevitably hurts everyone close to them. Joe suffered right along with me, and our underwater photo-shoots became our escape. It’s hard to worry about everything else when you have to focus on holding your breath. He aptly named the series “Hold Your Breath.”
Something else that has been invaluable to me throughout this is being able to reach out to fellow survivors. There has been so many questions that came up after I’d left the doctor’s office, that women who had been where I am were able to answer. It helped me immensely to hear things from people who had experienced them firsthand, and not just read them as a possible side effect listed in the numerous papers I was handed.
That being said, I’ve been documenting my experience on social media for others to interact with. If I can bring awareness, help others understand what their loved ones are going through or even help those stricken with cancer, it makes the journey all the more meaningful.