‘This is cancer we are dealing with. I couldn’t keep my heart from pounding.’: Woman with Stage III breast cancer determined to beat it, ‘With him by my side I knew I would be fine’

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“When I was 24, I had everything. An amazing job that I was excelling at and could see as my lifetime career, a home I loved, and a boyfriend I knew was going to be my husband. I couldn’t imagine life being more perfect, and at that age didn’t even think life could take a turn. But it always does, doesn’t it?

Boyfriend and girlfriend smiling arm in arm outside
Courtesy Katie Hess

I was home alone one night in August getting ready for bed. My boyfriend, Adam, was out of state with some friends to see a concert. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was getting in to bed when I took off my bra and did that itch you do when you remove something that was constricting. That was when I felt it…. a lump. It literally took my breath when I felt it. I called Adam right away, crying. I didn’t know what to do. Is this emergency worthy? I wasn’t sure. He calmed me down, told me just call the doctor in the morning and get an appointment. This was logical, but I’m not a logical person when I’m in a panic. So, I stayed awake all night worrying. Everyone I talked to told me not to worry… it was nothing. I was too young. I wanted to believe them, but something felt different here.

Husband and wife sit beside each other smiling at restaurant table
Courtesy Katie Hess

I was able to get in to my gynecologist right away and he examined me. He also told me not to worry, I was too young for something like this. Thankfully he referred me to a surgeon to do a consult. He decided a biopsy should be done before we went any further. It was only days to wait for the results, but it felt like an eternity. Adam was always by my side… trying to be strong, but I could tell he was worried. So was I… and I know he was trying to be stronger for me.

The day we went back for answers was extremely stressful for me. I couldn’t keep my heart from pounding. I still had everyone telling me not to worry… but I couldn’t help it. As we sat across from the surgeon for the news… it just came out. This is cancer we are dealing with. It actually ended up being a very fast and aggressive cancer, Stage III. I cried. I was shocked, but not too shocked. Like I said, I just had a feeling. And something flipped in my head and I knew that I was going to beat this and not give in to fear. As my poor doctor talked about all the future would bring for me, I started joking with him. He was weirded out by it… but he eventually got used to me. Adam was amazing, but I could tell he was terrified. We went to lunch after that and I ate so much. I had the answers, I had the fight, and with him by my side I knew I would be fine.

In the midst of the chaos that surrounds a diagnosis like that, we tried to be somewhat normal. During appointments, tests, meetings, questions, and just overwhelming feelings… we tried to keep what normal life we still could. We attended Adam’s company picnic, we went to the beach, we did things with friends. We tried. The week before my surgery, Adam and I were able to use what he won at that company picnic… a romantic weekend getaway to various local places…. dinner, movie, hotel stay… it was so nice. I had a feeling that weekend would be memorable… but it turned out to be the most amazing! Adam proposed! Facing one of the hardest times a couple can face… he decided to stay and fight with me.

Over the next year we planned our wedding while I went through treatment. Chemo, radiation, blood transfusions, tests, hair loss, and sickness combined with wedding dresses, venue booking, photographers, engagement pictures, invitations, and all the details of wedding planning. For all the bad… there was the good.

Woman with breast cancer lays in hospital bed holding up frog stuffed animal as fiancee leans over her
Courtesy Katie Hess

I was able to stop my main treatment that next summer, which gave me just a little bit of time to grow some hair… but it wasn’t enough. I had to add wedding wig shopping to the list, but it didn’t matter. I would have married him bald.

We were married exactly one year after my first chemo treatment. 9-25-2004. The date wasn’t picked for that reason, but now I’m so happy that it happened that way. What better way to celebrate living your life with someone than putting the awful past behind you.

Woman stands behind bride with breast cancer buttoning her dress in hospital room
Courtesy Katie Hess
Bride and groom stare into each others eyes as they dance at their wedding ceremony
Courtesy Katie Hess

We celebrated 14 years this past fall… and we’ve faced all of the good and bad that comes together. We didn’t know if we could have children, and after some loss we have 3 beautiful daughters. We have had loss and heartbreak. We have had extreme joy and happiness. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to stay by my side and help me fight for my life.”

Woman who battled breast cancer stands smiling with husband and three children
Courtesy Katie Hess

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Hess. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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