‘5 months after my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, I felt a soft lump in one breast. ‘It’s not cancer,’ the doctor assured me. I believed her.’: Mom diagnosed with breast cancer 5 months after daughter’s leukemia

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“My daughter lost her hearing in 2014. I noticed her speech delay at a very early age. Since she was 17 months old, she was in speech therapy. It wasn’t until she was 4, her hearing loss was caught. I started to read up on anything and everything about deaf culture. This was going to be our new normal and I was going to do everything possible for her. She was different, not less.

In 2015, my son was diagnosed with autism. I noticed him regress after he turned 2 years old. I went to his pediatrician and mentioned he was showing signs of autism. His pediatrician said they couldn’t test him until he was 3. One week before his third birthday, I was able to have him tested. 4 to 6 hours later, they broke the news to my husband and I. Here I go again, reading and learning about everything and anything in regards to autism. This was going to be our new norm now and I was going to do everything possible for him. He was different, not less.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

In September of 2016, our precious daughter was diagnosed with cancer. That afternoon, as she finished up at her dojo, I noticed petechiae–tiny brown-purple spots–on her skin. My mama instinct told me to get that checked. One day and blood work later, I got the call she had cancer. She was 6 years old. I started to read up on anything and everything about pediatric cancer. This was going to be our new norm now and I was going to do everything possible for her.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

In January of 2017, I noticed a soft lump in one breast. I went to the doctor and she assured me, ‘It’s not cancer.’ I believed her. I carried on with endless appointments, lumbar punctures, blood draws, infusions and hospital stays with my sweet girl. The year 2018 came around and I went back to get my lump checked. Again, I was told it couldn’t be cancer because my lump was soft, not hard. Again, this mama bear carried on caring for our daughter, who was still battling leukemia. My focus was all on her.

When the year 2019 finally arrived, our family was thrilled. We had an end of treatment party for our daughter on January 17th! Along with family and friends, she took her last pills that evening. Woohoo! As thankful as we were, I was also extremely scared and worried that now she was off chemo, her leukemia may come back. This is a thought, I came to realize, which will never leave me. I will pray and stay positive but the fact that there is no ‘cure’ is very worrisome. It wasn’t until she finished treatment, I took some time for myself. Life was turning around for us. The clouds were parting ways and we were blessed she had made it this far.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

With my schedule freeing up from all her oncology appointments, I was now free to take some time and care for my body and mind. I joined a gym and challenged my friends daily with activities to keep us motivated. Life seemed to start looking up. But that lump? Something told me to go one more time. I went and was told the same thing: ‘Cancer feels hard like a rock and yours is soft,’ she said. Three different doctors had the same response. This time, it didn’t sit well with me and I pushed for a mammogram. Thankfully, my persistent worked and the mammogram was scheduled within days. There I was, 38 years old and just having gone through the worst years of my life. Life had been dealing me the wrong cards. It couldn’t possibly deal me another bad hand…right?

I knew it was cancer as soon as the technician stopped chatting with me during the mammogram. She couldn’t look at me and I remember her clearly saying, ‘Whatever happens, please stay positive’ and ‘I’m going to red flag these images.’ An ultrasound and biopsy were done 3 days later, which resulted in confirmation. I had breast cancer. I was diagnosed 5 months to the day after my daughter took her last chemotherapy pill for leukemia.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

I was angry. I cried. I allowed myself to feel sorry for it all. It still didn’t hurt as bad as when I got the call about my daughter. Maybe that experience desensitized me somewhat. All through her treatment, I had asked, ‘Why her and not me?’ Well, someone was listening. It’s difficult to write down all the emotions I had after I was told. I remember calling my husband and telling him the biopsy came back positive for cancer. He was silent. I was so upset all three doctors had brushed it off. Knowing our daughter had cancer, they should have been proactive and sent me to get checked. I wanted to go chew those doctors out because they could be brushing other women off. My husband calmed me down and said, ‘Let’s focus on healing you first. Everything else can wait.’ He was right. When you start treatment, you have to go into a different mindset. There’s no time for hatred or negativity.

I allowed myself to take a day or two to go through the rollercoaster of emotions. All I needed was my husband to let me vent. We made a deal he would let me vent and then, ‘You will suck it up, buttercup!’ Time to get into fighting mode! If it wasn’t for his strong will, I wouldn’t have been able to get through those months. He continuously carried and still carries the weight of our family without ever complaining. I can never tell him enough how wonderful he is.

Now I had to tell my parents and children. I put a brave face on! I didn’t want them to see my fear and my sadness. I played it well. I am very overprotected of my loved ones and mama bear made sure they knew I was going to fight this! My daughters were amazing. My daughter that had leukemia was ready to take the lead and help me ‘because I know how it is, Mommy.’ She hugged me so tight and looked into my eyes, ‘When you lose your hair, you’re still going to be so beautiful.’ My oldest daughter, then just 12, has been the strongest sibling on earth. She helped me with her brother while her sister was in treatment and now she was ready to help with both her siblings while I went through treatment.

Courtesy of Teresa F.
Courtesy of Teresa F.

It has been difficult to know how much of all this my poor son comprehends. He doesn’t verbally communicate but his big bear hugs are all I need to know he loves me. He loved playing with my bald head. He was the only one who saw me without a head wrap. I kept my head covered because every time I saw my daughter’s bald little head during her treatment, it made me sad. I didn’t want my family to be sad because of me.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

My official diagnosis was Triple Positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 1. I cried because I honestly had already concluded the cancer was all over my body since I had felt this lump back in 2017. It was a weird relief to hear Stage 1, Grade 1. Praise our Lord! I questioned my surgeon because I just wanted to make sure the pathology report was correct. He confirmed and then we talked about the treatment course. I was given the option to do chemo, a lumpectomy, and then radiation. Instead, I opted for chemo and prophylactic mastectomy. This is an elective operation to remove the breast so the risk of breast cancer is reduced. The surgeon stated he thought it was too invasive and a lumpectomy would be sufficient. Not for me. I wanted to minimize any chances for this disease to come back.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

We proceeded with six TCHP treatments, two chemo rounds, and two target therapies every 21 days. The side effects hit me 4 to 5 days later. Every treatment I had caused different side effects. The fifth day landed me in the hospital with severe dehydration and neutropenic fever. During treatments, I wasn’t myself. I felt different, I looked different and all the medications made me act differently. You question your faith. You question why you continue to fight. Your mind goes to deep dark places. My mind was constantly fighting back and forth. It was awful.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

After 8 to 10 days, I would start feeling like myself again, pretty much just in time to have another treatment and spiraling down again. I tried my best to be there for my kids and family on my ‘good’ days because it was extremely difficult to function on my ‘bad’ days.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

Almost two months after my final treatment, I had my surgery. I was expecting the worst pain ever but luckily it went well. As a mom of three, it is very difficult to not do anything, but I allowed myself to stay put as much as possible. My husband, mom, and mother-in-law kept it all running smoothly. I am so enormously thankful.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

My journey is not over. I still have months of target therapy and years of medication to take. It will never be ‘over’ and I’m okay with that. I will always be a mom to a little girl who lost her hearing and had cancer. I will always be a mom of a son who is autistic. I will always be a mom that had breast cancer.

Courtesy of Teresa F.

I will wake up every day and be thankful. Life is too short. What we make of it is up to us. Being bitter and miserable is not for me. I am surrounded by family and friends supporting me throughout this journey and because of them, I have reasons to keep smiling. Things will never really settle down in our household, but I will try my best to continue to advocate for my children and others like them. I will never stop expressing how important early detection is. Question and question your doctors. Get second opinions. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re just in your thirties or 6 years old. If you can, please donate to Childhood Cancer Research. They need funding.

I hope sharing my story can help others. I am a strong woman and a woman of faith. I believe everything happens for a reason and through this roller coaster of a life I have, I have met so many wonderful people. At a time when our society is so divided, it’s been so humbling to see there are many caring and thoughtful human beings. I will continue to pay it forward. As I said before, life is too short. Let’s make the best of it!”

Courtesy of Teresa F.
Courtesy of Teresa F.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Teresa F. from California. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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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