Mother, Michigan native, grandmother
ABOUT TINA, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- Michigan autumns have a place deep in my heart.
- I am still active in my church community, still too busy for my hobbies, and I’m still here for my girls.
- I am a firm believer that life does not end here.
My Family History
I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of a fireman and homemaker. There was a lot of love to go around. After my dad retired, we moved to Northern Michigan. This was a big change, coming from the city. It’s where I fell in love for the first time—with autumn. With the crunch of dried leaves under my feet on cold, crisp mornings and with the heavy smells of nature, I felt utterly at peace. I eventually moved to Texas and was blessed with three beautiful daughters. While they were growing up, we would fly back to Michigan so my children could experience the seasons and the love of our family. To this day, Michigan autumns have a place deep in my heart.
Both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer; my father had lymphoma and my mother had two separate episodes of breast cancer. My father passed away, but my mother recovered both times. Because of my family history, I was more mindful than average of my own health, and I went in for mammograms.
But when you are young and strong, cancer, disease, and sickness aren’t top of mind. You think of your future, your children, your love life. You think of all the things you want to do when you get older, all the things that need to get done around the house, and your career. There’s no time for hobbies, there’s too much to do, and there’s too much to teach my little girls before they grow up. Because of that, I found excuses when I occasionally skipped a mammogram.
A Change In My Health
I became much more consistent with my mammograms when I turned 50, and the only irregularities that kept showing up were fluid cysts. One day, I noticed that my left nipple looked like it was literally being sucked in. I had never heard of this happening, so I wasn’t sure if this was an alarm or not. I had a mammogram appointment coming up and would ask about it then. At the appointment, the tech asked me if I had any concerns. I told her about my nipple, and she said that since I expressed this, she could not do the mammogram and that I would need to reschedule my appointment for a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound.
I went back for the ultrasound and mammogram. Both showed a mass in the upper center of my left breast and the lymph nodes in my left armpit. They took a biopsy of both areas. They called me the next day and told me I needed to see an oncologist.
Breathe, I told myself. Nothing to worry about. My mother went through it twice, and both times they were able to remove her cancer and she lived. I would follow suit.
I immediately started shopping for an oncologist. A friend gave me the name of a breast cancer surgeon, so I made an appointment. The surgeon went through the entire process and told me all of my options, including a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, a double mastectomy, all with or without reconstruction. If I opted for reconstruction, they would use the fat from my belly for the reconstruction process. Wait, what? You mean I can trade in my barely Bs for some sexy Cs and get a tummy tuck? And insurance is going to pay for all this? Heck yeah! Maybe this isn’t so bad!
From Nothing To Metastatic Breast Cancer
The surgeon wanted me to meet with her team’s medical oncologist and radiation oncologist before we did any surgery. They both went over the same procedures that the breast surgeon already reviewed with me, but the medical oncologist also wanted a PET scan to make sure I didn’t have cancer anywhere else. A PET scan is where they inject you with a radioactive dye, which attaches itself to cells that are growing faster than normal, which of course, are cancer cells, and the dye lights up on the PET scan. Good, I thought. We are being proactive. I wanted to know I was clean everywhere else. I went in for the PET scan and the results came back the next day. I lit up like a Christmas tree.
My oncologist wanted to see me immediately. I brought two friends, one of my daughters, and another daughter on the phone, all of whom were a huge support. Along with the cancer in my left breast and lymph nodes in my armpit, there was cancer in my neck, my pelvis, my chest, and two places in my spine, all of it inoperable. Surgery was pointless now. No trading in my barely Bs for sexy Cs. No tummy tuck. And seriously, in that moment, that was all I could think of. I forgot everything the doctor said to me. With the doctor’s permission, one of my friends taped the conversation—which I highly recommend if the doctor will allow it. We were able to listen to everything again and get some clarity.
I had my mammogram records for the last three years sent to my oncologist, but there wasn’t anything there. How does that happen? How does a person go from nothing to metastatic breast cancer in a year? I asked my medical oncologist, and he said I had done everything I was supposed to do. That wasn’t much comfort.
Taking Charge And Moving Forward
My oncologist started me on IBRANCE and letrozole right away. He explained that IBRANCE in combination with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor, was a first-line treatment for HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Today, I am doing relatively well on this treatment. Some side effects I’ve noticed include low white blood cell counts, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and hot flashes. Other patients may experience common side effects including infections or fatigue. Please know that everybody is different, and others may have different results.
For now, my treatment seems to be working. I am fighting it with everything I have. I believe that faith, whatever denomination we are or whatever religion we belong to, can give us strength. It can give us hope too, for us, for our loved ones, and for our future. I am a firm believer that life does not end here, that this is just a small, but very important part of a huge eternal picture. I also believe that we should be doing everything we can to overcome our trials, whatever they are, and be there for our families and friends as long as we can.
My life has changed, but the important things remain constant. I still enjoy the cool, crisp mornings of autumn, I am still surrounded by loved ones, and I am still playing Legos with my grandchildren. I am still active in my church community, still too busy for my hobbies, and I’m still here for my girls, still giving them much more advice than they ask for. And like when I was a child, there is still a lot of love to go around.