I Was Unexpectedly Diagnosed With Breast Cancer, And Found A Strength I Didn’t Know I Had

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The Diagnosis That Changed It All

“I was about the healthiest person you could find in a 10-mile radius. I exercised regularly, got plenty of sleep, had tons of energy, no cavities, no broken bones, no medications, etc.

On June 3, 2022, I was bowled over by a cancer diagnosis. Despite having no family history of any type of cancer, I had Stage 2, Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

In late April, I was in bed reading and kept scratching at my right side, a feather from my pillow poking me. As I reached over to itch again, I noticed a lump. A lump in a place you don’t want one.

I think I knew right away there was a problem; this thing was very large and once I went into the bathroom to check it out, I noticed it was actually protruding from my right breast.

I called the doctor, went for a mammogram, and knew we were in trouble when the doctor at the imaging center wanted to biopsy it immediately. I wasn’t surprised by the results and didn’t freak out or even cry. I had phone calls to make.

One to my mom. We had just lost my sweet dad 7 months prior and this was what I dreaded the most…having to tell mom there might be a problem.

One to my new boyfriend. They were ‘the one’ that everyone always says they are looking for in life. God was like, ‘Hey, here’s the guy of your dreams….and a tumor.’

One to my boss. How was I going to be able to work and go through treatment? I also had to sit down with my daughter to prepare her.

Grief Of A New Kind

I moved to Arizona in February of 2021 to be closer to my immediate family. With my ex-husband’s agreement, I packed up my teenage daughter and our little dog and we made our move south and bought a house in the same city as my sister and my parents.

We had 9 really good months with my dad before we lost him. He had been suffering from liver disease for most of my adult life. He was in Vietnam and we’re pretty sure it was the effects of agent orange that caused him so much trouble.

He did great for a long time with medications but he slowed down the summer after our move. In October, things fell apart quickly and he went from being at home to admitted to the VA hospital, to hospice, and gone within 5 weeks. I think we were all in shock that things turned and he went so quickly.

Dad in blue shirt smiling
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

He was only 75 and he had been so happy that us kids were all in the same area. There was nothing he loved more than having the family together for dinner or a hangout. This was a huge blow to my mom.

They were married for 51 years and I really saw a change in her. Where she was always so upbeat and fun in the past, she was now very morose and fearful of the world around her. How were we going to pull her out?

We did our best to keep her busy and I think it was starting to work, until my diagnosis. I didn’t tell her about the lump until I had a confirmed biopsy appointment. I was terrified to make that call.

Breast Cancer Treatment

Mom came with me to my first oncology appointment. Of course, we had done WAY too much Googling and we were sure I would ‘just need surgery and maybe some radiation.’ We were so wrong.

I wasn’t going to be able to take the elevator on this one. I was going to have to take the stairs: chemo, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy. I was told I’d be in treatment for a full year. Mom cried at that appointment and I got lightheaded and had to lay down.

They scheduled me for my first chemotherapy round a week later, along with a port insertion and an MRI. We were off to the races.

Prior to the biopsy and again after my first oncology appointment, I told Dream Guy he had an out and that this wasn’t what he signed up for. He repeatedly told me he wasn’t going anywhere unless I wanted him to.

He took off work the day of my biopsy and sat in the lobby for an hour with my mom (who he had only met once before). He made it to every chemo round after putting in a full day at the job so he could tag mom out.

He left sweet notes of encouragement and love in my chemo bag. The night I had to have my hair shaved off, I woke up to his hand on my head. We planned date nights during my chemo rounds for the days we knew I would feel decent.

Cancer patient getting head shaved in salon
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

He didn’t treat me like I was ‘sick,’ but I knew if I needed him, he was there. Plot twist, he’s still here. And every day is better than the one before.

He called me a badass once for how I handled the whole debacle and to date, it’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. He could have taken the out, but damn I’m glad he didn’t.

Boyfriend and girlfriend holding hands during chemotherapy treatment
Courtesy of Cara Hedin
Boyfriend and girlfriend smiling in cancer treatment wing
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

The care I received at the cancer center (MD Anderson) was top notch and never once did I question their abilities and decisions. They took a tumor that was larger than a golf ball and shrunk it down to literally nothing within two weeks of my first chemo round.

I went from going to the doctor once a year for a checkup to being at the cancer center multiple times a week. Never once did I have an unpleasant experience (minus all the pokes and prods of course). What an outstanding thing to be able to say, considering I encountered so many nurses, doctors, and office staff during my time there.

Family Support

My sister is a nurse and I know how hard it can be. She was able to accompany me to a few appointments to translate medical jargon. She was also a good resource when the nausea hit like a hammer.

It was her that forced me to call the clinic at round 4, when I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch for 6 days. Thankfully, some additional IV fluids and long-acting anti-nausea meds got me back on my feet and I got through the rest of my rounds relatively unscathed.

I’m not saying it was easy, it was one of the most physically and emotionally taxing times of my life. But at least I could get out of bed, walk my little dog around the block, and function a bit.

My daughter got really good at asking me daily if I’d eaten anything or had anything to drink. She knew just how to toast an English muffin so it would be appealing to me, and served it with a side of PowerAde.

Mom and daughter smiling in sunglasses
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

She’s involved in student council and always has a large amount of activities going on. She very proactively got rides to and from whatever the latest event was, and did her chores (mostly) without too much harassment from me. Special shoutout to her friend’s parents; they were the very epitome of ‘it takes a village.’

I don’t know if she was scared by all of this. If she was, it never showed. Kids are like cats in that you don’t always get a say in what personality you get. Let’s just say I got lucky with this one.

So, how does one overcome obstacles when it seems like you clear a hurdle, and another bigger one pops up?

Love. Positivity. Family.

The right people around you. A rock-solid support system. A little dog.

Faith in medical care and science. A perfectly-shaped head. Unwavering belief in yourself and your ability to withstand anything that comes your way.

VIP tickets to Dashboard Confessional. The drive to prove nothing can take you down.

Cancer patient and friend wearing match black t-shirts
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

Road To Recovery

Very early on, the day of my diagnosis in fact, I knew I had a huge decision to make. How was I going to handle this? Whatever I decided, that attitude needed to be carried through this entire course.

In seconds, I knew I had to keep my head up and keep a positive outlook, no matter what. I’m a mom and I wanted my daughter to know I was going to be okay. I also find that humor helps.

I bought pirate flags to tape to the top of my infusion pole so we could stage a ‘mutiny against cancer.’ We passed several out to other patients and some of the nurses.

Fast forward to today. I just finished my last immunotherapy round and had my port removed. I’ll be on routine meds for 5 years but overall, I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been back to work for almost 6 months and I’ve resumed a regular workout routine.

Family standing in hospital lobby
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

Food is amazing once again and my tolerances have returned. I had short hair for 25 years prior, and it’s almost grown back to ‘normal.’ Mom volunteers at the cancer center weekly due to the incredible experience we had there.

We remember dad often and regularly remark that we are sad that he’s missing things. I’m not sad he missed this though; it would have been really hard on him to see me go through what I did.

I also found that ‘living’ helped me keep my focus. There were dinner dates and weekends away with Dream Guy, concerts, lunch, shopping excursions, family hangouts, girl’s nights, even dancing at a bar on my sister’s birthday.

The more routine and mundane things also make the list. Walking the dog, washing dishes, grocery shopping….it all made me feel like I was not my diagnosis. I was still Cara and I had things to do and get done.

Obstacles are often cleared with a little ‘help over the wall.’ I had all of the tools at my disposal, a luxury many do not have. Family close by, an employer that was encouraging me to take a leave of absence to focus on my health, a very resilient daughter, an absolute gem of a boyfriend, friends that fully made their support felt in every way, and one of the best cancer centers in the country just down the street.

If I can get even one woman a year to make and keep her regular mammogram screening, then I have done my job.”

Family standing on front porch of house
Courtesy of Cara Hedin

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cara Hedin. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more about breast cancer:

Breast Cancer Survivor Talks Radically New Outlook On Life, Finding Purpose, & Navigating Post-Cancer Life

I Am Living With Incurable Breast Cancer, But I Have Never Felt More Alive

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