Single mother, faithful churchgoer, optimist
ABOUT PRISCILLA, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I was a single mother as my daughter was growing up, and we’ve always been there for each other.
- My friends and family have been a huge part of my journey.
- These days, I’m focusing on loving my family, keeping a strong faith, and taking care of myself.
- I think attitude is so much of this disease—doing your best to stay positive is so important.
Life is about taking one step at a time, always putting one foot in front of the other, even when you don’t feel like it. My walk with the Lord is so important to me—it’s how I live each and every day.
I was a single mother as my daughter was growing up, and even though she’s an adult now, we’ve always been there for each other. About a year before my daughter graduated from college, I noticed pain in my left mid-chest. It had been there for some time, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. Sometimes it felt like it came from the middle of my chest and other times it felt like it came from the left side, underneath the breast. At first, I was able to dismiss it, but the pain began to increase in its intensity and I could no longer ignore it.
Around that same time, I was due for my annual GYN appointment. It was during this visit that a lump was discovered. My doctor asked me, “When did you have your last mammogram?” I told her, “Last year.” She said, “I want you to go and have another one.” I’ve been told I have dense breasts, so I asked my doctor to order an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram.
I went for the tests. We saw nothing on the mammogram, but during the ultrasound, I looked over and saw a malformed circle with uneven ridges. I’m a nurse—I remember learning how to identify cancer. I immediately knew what it was. The radiologist came back into the room and told me that the lump could be benign, so we’d recheck it in six months. I didn’t want to wait that long but thought, Okay.
My Path To Diagnosis
Six months later, I had another mammogram and ultrasound, which determined my lump was aggressive and had doubled in size. My gynecologist immediately recommended that I see a breast surgeon. At that point, I didn’t tell my daughter, who was still in college and nearing the end. I just didn’t want to worry her.
Even though I didn’t have an official diagnosis yet, I knew it wasn’t good. Day by day, I began to lose hope. I remember standing outside of my church one evening, and as I was about to walk in, I came to a frightening realization. I thought to myself, Why work towards my dream car? Or anything else for that matter? I won’t be here for it. I became very depressed, but per my doctor’s instructions—and with her help—I made the appointment with a breast surgeon.
At my appointment, the doctor stuck her head in and said, “Hi. You look scared.” I told her I was. She replied, “Don’t worry unless I’m worried.” She came in and confirmed it was breast cancer, and from there, I had a biopsy and several more tests to determine the extent of the cancer we were dealing with. We reviewed the X-rays that day, and then we were both worried.
A few days later, the phone rang. It was my doctor, and she told me my tests had come back positive for Stage II breast cancer. It was now “official,” and I didn’t want to hear anything that she was telling me. My breast surgeon discussed my options. I could either remove my breast, since the lump was so large, or try chemotherapy and hopefully preserve my breast. The thought of losing my breast—which, by the way, I had nice breasts—was more than I could handle. We decided to try chemo, then a lumpectomy.
The Next Chapter: MBC
I thought I was home free until early the following year when I started noticing crust around the incision site. That discovery prompted my doctor to order another biopsy and a PET scan. When the result came in, it showed that the cancer had come back—and it had spread. My doctor told me matter-of-factly, “The breast has to come off.” Without a word, I picked up my purse and left. On my way out, my doctor asked me to call the breast surgeon as soon as possible.
It took time to wrap my head around it. I didn’t call the breast surgeon back until days later. When I finally scheduled an appointment, I learned the details of my new diagnosis—metastatic breast cancer (mBC). The cancer had moved from the left breast to my right lymph nodes across my chest. My doctor hadn’t seen this type of movement before, so he consulted with his colleagues. We determined my treatment plan and agreed to remove both breasts. I had surgery and, thankfully, all went well.
Treating With IBRANCE
Soon after, I met with my oncologist. She had gone to a conference and learned about a treatment called IBRANCE. She thought it might be a good option as a first-line treatment for my HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer. She discussed the possible benefits and potential side effects of IBRANCE. I did some research on my own, but my doctor had explained it all so well. So, together, we made the decision for me to start IBRANCE in combination with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor.
I have experienced some side effects, including low white blood cell counts, extreme fatigue, and nausea. I’ve also experienced changes in my appetite—like my food not tasting the same. But please remember, this is my own experience. Other patients might experience common side effects like infections. Patients should always work with their healthcare teams to find a treatment plan that is appropriate for them. Right now, my doctor is happy with my results. And if she’s happy, I’m happy.
My friends and family have been a huge part of my journey. When I had chemotherapy, my stepmother was with me every single time. She adjusted her work schedule and sat with me for eight hours straight. I so appreciated that. My friends were the same way.
I decided to tell my daughter about my diagnosis after the cancer had metastasized. She was upset, to say the least—not only because I had cancer, but because I didn’t tell her sooner. If I could go back, I would have told her earlier. But now I do my very best to reassure her that I’m doing everything I can and will keep fighting—even when it’s hard. I want to set an example for her that, no matter your circumstance, it’s so important to love people and to live life as fully as possible.
These days, I’m focusing on loving my family, keeping a strong faith, and taking care of myself. I spend my time doing the things I love with the people I love—shopping, going to church, and following through with my dreams. I think attitude is so much of this disease—doing your best to stay positive is so important. You have to take one step at a time—one foot in front of the other—and eventually you’ll get to where you’re trying to go. Of course, the sun doesn’t always shine. That’s for anybody, cancer or not. Some days are rainy, some days are cloudy. But no matter what, the sun always comes out again. I thank God for that. Because at the end of the day, you just gotta keep going.