Finding the Will to Survive Breast Cancer

by Melissa Danels
(Bronx, New York)

My story begins when I stopped breast feeding my daughter in October of 2009. When I stopped, my breasts were engorged, and I was eating more than usual. I remember feeling a lump in the shower, but I remember thinking that it might be nothing because I am only 36 years old, and maybe it was a swollen milk duct gland.

I knew I had a family history of breast cancer since my aunt on my mother's side developed the disease at about the same age. We did not know until she was very sick 20 years after the initial diagnosis. She kept it very private. She passed away in June of 1998. I spoke with my aunt in Savannah Georgia and she told me to get it checked out, and so I did. I had a little difficulty with the health insurance, but my primary physican helped out.

It was a bit scary because when my mamogram came back it was during the Christmas season and it was hard to get the right information from the health insurance, and the doctor who I was reffered to was on vacation. So I was in limbo for about a week. Finally the Friday after New Year's day, the nurse/receptionist told me to come in that Tuesday. I did, and I came with my mom which was unusual because I usually do most things by myself. However I really needed someone.

They looked at my slides from the mamogram and did a biopsy. Three days later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and no more than a month later after all the scans were taken, I was told there were spots on my lungs, and my lymph nodes were afffected. So I had a port installed and began treatment for chemotherapy.

I found a school for my daughter to go to, and my mother and family helped with my older two children. Taking care of my daughter who was now 2 years old was good for me because it helped me to feel in control, and not like I was dying. The diagnosis was so shocking and all the symptoms that I had the cough, the fatigue, sore throats, shortness of breath and tiredness were I thought were all just a part of growing older.

When you have things to do, you sometimes ignore yourself and keep going. The lump in my breast was a wake-up call for so many things. Beginning chemotherapy, and installing the port were mortifying to me, but as my dad says just get on with it because it's going to save your life. And so I did. I tried to remain as normal as possible with my routine. My mom and family helped a lot, and my family in the south was my moral support. That sustained me including prayers and a positive attitude.

When I had another scan done in June my diagnosis was good, they actually asked me immediately after the scan was over did I ever have a false positive in which I said no. One week later the doctors said I responded very positively to the chemo, and tamoxifen. He said some people don't. Now my surgeons suggestion is that I have my breast removed because I understand that my cancer is HER2 positive, fast growing and the mammogram showed calcifications, but I still don't want to remove my breast.

It is a bit traumatizing to have something removed from your body, but I guess it's like my dad says "get on with it and stop the foolishness. This can save your life." However I am still hesitant, and now I am awaiting surgery, but my main reason for pushing on are my children and my wanting to see them grow. In addition I have goals for myself which are important. Everyone has to have an aim a goal something to strive for. A reason for being, other than yourself. It makes you yearn for the next day.

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