“’I don’t know how to say this but it’s malignant, you have breast cancer.’ These are the words that often replay in my head from June 17, 2019, just five months after having my third baby. But before I get ahead of myself, let me take you back to the beginning.
In 2009, I met my husband Niko while hanging out with my best friend Kristyna, her boyfriend, and his friends. We quickly became friends and would hang out all together in a group setting, but we didn’t really connect on a personal level until a little over a year later when he asked me out on a date. Our relationship moved kind of fast and by August 2013 we were married.
Not long after our wedding, we had learned we were expecting our first baby, and it was a girl. We were so excited to be parents! Our daughter Adrianna was born in December of 2014 and she was the light of our world! I had decided I wanted to breastfeed, and thankfully it worked out well until she was about 11 months old when my supply suddenly dropped. I took a pregnancy test, and to our surprise, we found out we were expecting our second child (which was another girl)! I was thrilled to have two little girls who would be so close in age. Briella was born in August of 2016 and we were thrown into parenthood of having two under two.
About a year and half went by when we found out we were expecting again, with a third baby girl. Mia was born in January of 2019. Our family was complete and I couldn’t be happier to have three happy and healthy little girls. I began my breastfeeding journey yet again with Mia; this being my third time around, I felt like a pro. Breastfeeding was such a rewarding feeling for me; I loved being able to provide for my girls and have this special bond. Sadly, my third go around would abruptly end. I had noticed I had a lump on my right breast around May, but I figured it was a clogged duct. I was very familiar with mastitis and clogged ducts as I have had them a few times before, so I tried to pump and nurse this ‘knot’ out.
After a week went by, the lump in my breast was not going away. It was actually feeling harder, so I decided to give my OBGYN a call. He knew my history of mastitis and decided to try an antibiotic for ten days first. As my 9th day on antibiotics approached, I received a call from his office asking how it was going and I proceeded to tell them it has not gone down a bit, in which they said I had to come in to see my doctor. At my appointment my doctor was very calm. He had said he wanted to send me for an ultrasound to play it safe, but he thought it was most likely a cyst. God forbid it was anything more, he has the best breast surgeon he could send me to. I trusted my doctor and scheduled my ultrasound the following week.
I wasn’t nervous going into the ultrasound and I even saw it as a little break from the kids. I enjoyed a coffee and blasted some music in my car with the windows down. Even once I sat down and started talking to the ultrasound tech I felt undisturbed. That all changed when a few minutes into my appointment she excused herself from the room to return with the radiologist. There was no conversation as she scanned me and he just glared at the screen, looking at this mass. It was silent and I started to sweat. He had suggested I get a biopsy done and I left the appointment waiting for the order to be sent. I remember calling my mom after my ultrasound and she calmed me down by saying almost 80% of lumps are benign and to not worry, they just want to be safe. I felt like my heart and my head were not on the same page. My head was urging me something wasn’t right while my heart was wanting to ignore this all and resume my normal life.
About two weeks later, I went for my biopsy and was told I should hear back in about two days. When I called two days later about my results, they informed me they were sent out for further testing and I should hear back by Monday. Again, I was in denial as Sunday night rolled around. I got a massive infection from the biopsy that I thought was actually mastitis and told my husband, ‘Well, here it is. This lump was a clogged duct and this is the worst mastitis I’ve ever had!’ First thing Monday morning I called my OBGYN and explained my symptoms and they wanted me to come in. When I got there, they had asked if I got my results back yet and I informed them I hadn’t, so they went to make a few calls to see where they were at. The nurse practitioner took a look at my breast and thought it was either an infection or mastitis. She wrote me a prescription for meds and told me to get dressed and wait a minute as she was going to see if they faxed over my results.
When she came back in I was dressed and ready to go, but she looked at me like she saw a ghost. She said, ‘Jena, you need to sit down. I don’t know how to say this but it’s malignant, you have breast cancer. I’m so sorry.’ Tears were in her eyes. I don’t remember much else other than feeling like I was going to throw up and then panicking, saying I needed to get home to my husband. I was more worried about him already than myself. I don’t remember how I even drove home, but I remember calling my husband, my mom, and my best friend. How was this happening to me? I was only 27 years old, I live a healthy lifestyle. The thing I kept repeating was I can’t leave my daughters without a mother. Once I got home, I was met with our family waiting in the driveway and I collapsed, crying hysterically into my husband’s arms.
The next few days were a blur. I don’t even remember eating. I do recall walking into my OB office the next day to remove my IUD and he was telling me the story of how he beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was telling me how I need to keep my faith. It was everything I needed to hear in the moment and I hope he knows that meant the world to me. The day following, I met with an amazing breast surgeon who recommended a lumpectomy. She diagnosed me as stage 2 estrogen positive breast cancer. On June 28th, I had my lumpectomy done and a sentinel node biopsy. That following week, I received the call from my surgeon informing me the cancer had started to spread into my lymph nodes and I would definitely need chemo.
I didn’t even know where to begin looking for an oncologist and luckily I had a friend advocating for me when I woke up one morning to a call from an unknown number. When I answered the phone, I was introduced to Dr. Chunduri, who would soon become my oncologist. I went on a whim as I had never heard of him, didn’t google his name, and I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into, but I thought he must be a good doctor if he made a call to a random person looking for an oncologist. Later that day, I went to his office and I was met with a familiar face (a girl I knew from school), and she gave me the biggest hug, something I didn’t even know I really needed. It felt like she brought a sense of familiarity and immediately I didn’t feel so alone. Then I met with my doctor. He was so nice, made a few jokes, and even made my husband and I feel at ease during this very scary situation.
Dr. Chunduri went over my pathology reports with us and informed me I was negative for estrogen, progesterone, and her2. I just looked at him and said, ‘So I’m triple negative?’ And he shook his head yes. Now, they tell you not to google things when you are diagnosed with cancer, but I took it upon myself to become certified in WebMD so I had read about triple negative breast cancer and almost joked like, ‘Thank God I’m not triple negative, that’s the worst’ but here I am, in fact triple negative. He put a solid plan in place that I would get a port within the next few days, then do four rounds of AC chemo (aka the ‘red devil), then do four rounds of dose dense Taxol, putting me at 16 weeks of chemo, followed by an axillary dissection to remove the rest of my lymph nodes.
I started my chemo on July 23rd and I was fully ready to tackle this beast head on. When I was told the first chemo I would be doing had the nickname ‘red devil,’ I had no idea what to really expect, but that’s the type of thing that will scar you for life. As the nurses came by to administer it with gowns and goggles on, they told me don’t be surprised if your pee or tears are red, it’s normal. I still to this day cannot drink anything red because it makes me gag, reminding me of the days that followed those chemos, being sick with a never-ending hangover.
Thankfully I had my girls to come home to in order to keep me pushing forward. They were my strength and everything I did, I did it for them. They were too young to understand Mommy was sick and needed help. And when my hair started to fall out and my husband shaved my head, we told them it was because Mommy wasn’t taking care of her hair so she had to cut it. I didn’t want them to worry about their Mom. On days I was tired and needed to rest, we made it sound like they were going to their cousins house for a play date, and it ended up working out as I got snuggles with Mia and they were distracted and played. They are kids and I wanted to preserve their innocence.
Every other week, I went to chemo and we had a few bumps along the road such as port infection, blood clots, neuropathy in my hands and feet, and GI issues, but by no means was this an easy battle. From what I hear from family and friends, I made it look almost effortless, although it was far from it with the nausea, fatigue, migraines, stomach aches, loss of appetite, bone and joint aches, etc. As my 16 weeks of chemo came to an end, I had a few weeks to let my body recover before getting my lymph nodes removed. I was a ball of nerves going into that surgery, just hoping the chemo did its job and killed all the cancer cells.
Two days after my surgery, I got a message from my oncologist letting me know the lymph nodes were clear and I just couldn’t help but cry. All this pain and sense of loss was worth it. Having to stop breastfeeding, losing my hair, and missing out on time with my kids was all worth it in the end. I could finally breathe! I knew the next step in my treatment would be 33 rounds of radiation and that flew by in the blink of an eye. I am now almost a year and a half out from active treatment and I am feeling great. I cannot thank my OB and my oncologist enough for their support and for guiding me through the worst time of my life.
Before being diagnosed with breast cancer, I was unaware that younger women could even have breast cancer. I have decided to take my situation that could have destroyed me and turn it into something good. I now advocate for young women fighting against breast cancer and share my journey on Instagram to raise awareness from the highs to the lows. I remember feeling like I was the only woman at 27 diagnosed with this type of breast cancer, but unfortunately there is a whole community out here, and if I could help someone with either support or early detection from hearing my story, then I will feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to know your body and to speak with your doctors if something feels off or different.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jena Losurdo of Hebron, IL. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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