‘If I die, our kids won’t remember me.’ My husband excused himself to the bathroom, literally sick to his stomach.’: Woman mistakes breast cancer for ‘clogged milk duct,’ says chemo ‘almost killed her’

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“The ultrasound tech brought me a box of tissues, tears welling up in her eyes.

‘What are the tissues for?’ I asked, confused.

‘There’s an 80% chance it’s cancer.’

I was completely shell-shocked. Numb. The ultrasound tech said they would call me with the results and most likely ask me to come back in to discuss further. I couldn’t get out of the room and building fast enough.

Looking back, everything started to make sense. My second son Cash was born just 9 months beforehand and his pregnancy was nothing like my first one. I was sick all day, throwing up sometimes ten times per day. One week after I had Cash, I developed what I thought was a clogged milk duct and a nasty case of mastitis.

I went to see the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics. I also had my husband return a breast pump because I thought the right side was broken since hardly any milk was coming out (they later called me and stated it did, in fact, work properly). After prescribing me with a second round of antibiotics, my doctor said, ‘If this doesn’t do the trick, we will order an ultrasound.’ Well, the antibiotics seemed to work and do the trick.

I still kick myself for not pushing for an ultrasound. Cancer wasn’t even on my radar.

Courtesy of Lindsay Hawker

I completely forgot about my breast issues until 8 months later when I started losing the baby weight and felt a lump in my right breast. I could see the lump with my naked eye. It hurt to touch it and when I googled, it said breast cancer tumors typically do not hurt. I honestly thought it was nothing. But I made an appointment with my doctor and she was able to get me into a mammogram and ultrasound the same day.

When I left that appointment, I was so shocked – my husband and mom didn’t believe it. All I kept saying was there’s an 80% chance it’s breast cancer. I told them, ‘If there was a slot machine that had an 80% chance of paying out, you guys would play it, because those are pretty good chances.’ They kept reassuring me I would be that 20% and it wouldn’t be cancer, but I started to mentally prepare.

Well, I would quickly find out no amount of mental preparation would prepare me for the diagnosis.

When my husband and I met with the doctor, we received the ‘you have cancer’ confirmation no one wants to hear, let alone a mother with a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old. My husband had to excuse himself to the bathroom. He was literally sick to his stomach. My doctor indicated our next step was to see if the cancer was contained in my breasts or if it had traveled to anywhere in my body. My mind raced and all the ‘what ifs’ entered my mind. I remember turning to my husband with tears filling my eyes and saying, ‘What if the cancer has spread? What if I die? Our kids won’t even remember me.’ This quickly became my biggest fear yet also my biggest motivation to make sure I did my part to make sure I’d be around.

Courtesy of Lindsay Hawker

After a lymph node biopsy, we received good news. The cancer was contained in my breasts and hadn’t spread to anywhere else in my body. I was officially given the diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma Stage 2 breast cancer. The cancer was estrogen receptive and HER2-postive. Only about 20% of cancers are HER2-positive and it tends be more aggressive than other types, which is why I’d require chemotherapy before surgery in order to shrink the lump first.

The plan was I would undergo 6 months of hardcore chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with reconstruction (4 surgeries in total), then another 9 months of a lesser chemotherapy. The first 6 months of chemo were a nightmare.  I was so sick and would lay in my dark bedroom alone day after day. When I wasn’t throwing up, I was sleeping. I missed out on so much life and missed seeing my boys do every day things. Physically and mentally I was a shell of the person I once was. Completely bald, no eyelashes, no eyebrows. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. I longed to do everyday tasks – go to work, go out to eat, and especially exercise!

Courtesy of Lindsay Hawker

My husband and family were very supportive. My husband always told me how beautiful I was while I was bald and going through chemo. He told me he didn’t fall in love with my hair or breasts, it was my mind and heart he truly fell in love with and he made sure I knew and felt that! Even with all the support, I still felt alone at times, especially when I was bed ridden. It was hard to watch others continue living their lives while I was so sick and mine was on hold.

As I continued to receive treatment, one set of chemo drugs in particular did not agree with me. It made my levels and body so terribly sick and weak which culminated in me collapsing in the cancer center one day while receiving treatment. The chemo nurse couldn’t find my pulse and dialed 911. I woke up in the ambulance and realized just how close to death I was. Chemo had almost killed me.

Courtesy of Lindsay Hawker

Then, I had my double mastectomy with reconstruction. My scariest moment was being wheeled back for surgery. I remember staring at the bright O.R. lights before they put me under. I ended up staying in the hospital for an entire week post-op and was put on a morphine drip from the pain. I was so afraid to look down after my mastectomy but I truly had the best plastic surgeon who reminded me it would take her a while to make me look ‘normal.’  She ended up doing an amazing job and now I truly don’t mind my scars. They are a reminder I was stronger than something that tried to kill me.

My doctors indicated walking would aid in my recovery, so I started walking the hospital halls. It took every bit of strength I had to shuffle the hospital halls in my gripper socks. Then six weeks after my mastectomy I was cleared to exercise. I had never stuck to any exercise regime in my life but I remember being bed ridden and making a promise to myself to physically move my body when I was able to.

I downloaded the couch to 5K app and six weeks after my double mastectomy, I went on my very first run. Suddenly, running wasn’t so scary once I had faced cancer. To say I was slow when I first started would be an understatement. Having chemo in your body while running is hard stuff. Numerous surgeries and procedures would force me to stop running and it was like starting over each time I ran. However, I refused to give up no matter how many times I had to start over.

I’ve now raced countless 5Ks, 10Ks, and 5 half-marathons to date. I also just celebrated being 3 years cancer free! I would tell anyone who has just been diagnosed with cancer to stay positive. And remember your body can withstand almost anything. It’s your mind you have to convince and make strong – then your body can follow!

Courtesy of Lindsay Hawker

Running has truly been a gift and made me feel alive when I needed it most. Plus exercise has been shown to reduce the recurrence of cancer, so I feel like I’m doing my part to make sure I am here to raise my kids. Running was and is hard, but cancer was harder. As long as I am physically able I’ll be racing any and all distances!

My hope is to show others you can literally rise up from anything.  That you can completely recreate yourself and create new habits – it’s really never too late! I’m so glad I had the courage to begin something new and not look back! If I can come back from being a bed-ridden cancer patient to a runner, there really isn’t anything you can’t do either!”

Courtesy of Lindsay Hawker

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsay Hawker of Florida. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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