The Promise Newsletter: Amy’s Story
When I was 34 years old, I had the world by the tail, was very well established in my career, and was the pillar of health… or so I thought. Training for a half marathon, my world came spiraling out of control when I found a lump in my right breast while changing into my running gear. My physician examined me the next day and found 2 more lumps in my left breast. He assured me it was most likely fibrocystic disease given my age, my healthy lifestyle and no history of breast cancer in my family. I was beyond stunned when my biopsy’s revealed that all 3 tumors were malignant. The tumor in my right breast was a very treatable, garden variety type of cancer. The tumors in my left breast were a very aggressive, dangerous type of breast cancer that did not respond well to treatment. After undergoing bilateral mastectomies and removal of 65 lymph nodes, I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
My oncologist suggested a very aggressive chemo treatment from Slone Kettering designed for young women like me. He also encouraged me to get a second opinion, which I did. My family and I traveled back to the breast care team at U of M to meet with a world renowned oncologist. She was very interested in my case given my tumors were different. She agreed with my oncologist and as she was leaving the room with her team of residents, asked if I had any questions. One of my family members said, “I do. What’s her survival rate?” She replied, “I never answer that question unless the patient asks me.” I had never even thought to ask this question, but suddenly I desperately needed to know and told her so. She looked me in the eye and said, “20%. I recommend the Lance Armstrong book. It’s very inspiring.” And then, just like that, she left.
You could have heard a pin drop in the car on our way back to Toledo. When we got home, my mom looked at me and I said, “Please get me the book”. Then I went upstairs to try and wrap me head around the news I had just received. When I came down to dinner that night I told my family I’d made a decision. I told them I was not going to die from breast cancer. End of story. I also told them we would never revisit this topic again.
My oncologist and I got to work. He told me he was going to kill me and then slowly bring me back to life. He was true to his word. As sick as I was, I was thankful because I knew the treatments were working. I told my mom I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me. Instead, I wanted them to look at me and say “what an inspiration. If she can do it, I can too!”
At that time, a new miracle drug was being introduced to the breast cancer arena. It was designed to drastically reduce the risk for cancer reoccurrence in patients with my type of cancer. My oncologist felt so strongly about me receiving this drug he had the pharmacist come speak to me personally. Fifty treatments of Herceptin would have cost me $375,00. Feeling very hopeless, my oncology nurse, who was truly an angel on earth, got me on a clinical trial to receive all 50 treatments of Herceptin. This clinical trial was made possible by a grant from Susan G. Komen Northwest Ohio.
A year later, I had completed all of my treatments including radiation and returned to the “land of the living.” I was finally able to return back to work. Knowing it was going to be a very emotional day for me, my boss greeted me with open arms and escorted me back to the pediatric unit. When I stepped onto the unit, the floors were lined with doctors, nurses, therapists, child life specialists, unit clerks, and a slew of ancillary staff cheering and clapping, holding signs, hugging me and welcoming back home. I will forever cherish that memory. I had a new lease on life and have never looked back. My new moto was to give back and help other men and women walk this journey, knowing that breast cancer does not need to be a death sentence. Few people understand that 75% of the funds that we raise here in North West Ohio stay in our community to help serve women and men such as myself. We are making a difference!
I have been extremely blessed with an amazing husband, family, and an incredible support network of friends whom many of you are here this evening. I have been very fortunate in my career and have obtained countless accomplishments for which I’m very proud. The one single accomplishment which I can say I am the most proud of is to stand before you this evening and tell you that I am a 15 YEAR BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR!!