2020. Am I Right?
Amy is a 37-year-old professional living in NYC. A New Jersey native, Amy is a former triathlete who completed many races—including two half Ironman triathlons. In her free time, she also enjoys gardening on her pint-sized balcony, exploring new places (local or abroad), and playing a game or two of competitive Scrabble with friends.
So, it’s been a rough year for everyone. We’ve all been navigating our way through the COVID-19 pandemic as best we can.
But 2020 threw me another curve ball when my body staged a coup and I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Apparently, cancer doesn’t care at ALL about COVID.
For the past four years, I’ve been working in corporate services at NYU Langone Health. It’s been an honor to help people tell their stories and share how they’re facing and overcoming their own health challenges. I never thought I’d be on the flip side of this narrative—that I’d be the one needing life-saving treatment.
I want to find meaning in this diagnosis, and cancer’s sure not going to hand it to me. So I’m going to make the meaning myself. If by sharing my story, someone decides to go in for an annual checkup (since cancer’s not going to stop for a pandemic), or decides to listen to their body, or feels a little less alone, then it’s all worth it.
Treat it and beat it
At the end of January, I felt a lump on my bra line. I thought, “Huh. That’s interesting. Probably just a cyst.” and made a mental note to keep an eye on it. Then COVID-19 came, and the entire world turned upside down.
In September, I got my first mammogram (that was fun) and an ultrasound. As we were wrapping up, the doctor wanted to talk to me right away. My stomach dropped. She showed me the scans, which was pretty cool because I could see everything in detail. What I thought was a cyst was actually a BI-RADS 5 mass, which has a 95% chance of being malignant.
The next morning, I called to schedule a biopsy and cried afterwards. That’s when it got real.
The nurse at my biopsy was a breast cancer survivor and she had me in hysterics. I could barely stay still from the laughing. It was exactly what I needed. Knowing I had that level of camaraderie with my care team made me confident that I could do this.
After the biopsy, my surgeon Dr. Shapiro and I went straight into making a treatment plan. At one point, he looked at me and asked if he was throwing too much at me. I said, “You don’t know me yet, but I thrive in taking action. This is how I’m going to get through the process. I’m super Type A. I’m a planner.”
I had the lump removed on September 23. The lumpectomy went great.
Also great was the planning binder I made to keep track of my records and note all of my conversations with the care team. Like I said, Type A.
I had the lumpectomy follow-up appointment on October 1. The diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma, and luckily my lymph nodes weren’t impacted. However, the cancer had entered the lymph channels—which means it was on its way to the lymph nodes—but we caught it in time. This is exactly why early detection is so important.
They can’t tag in
Telling my family, friends, and colleagues about my diagnosis was more difficult than being diagnosed. In some ways, it’s harder for those who love me than it is for me. I have my binder to get me through, but they can only sit back and watch. They can’t tag in. But while they can’t take on the diagnosis for me, they’ve been walking along side me every step of the way. And that is all I could ever ask for.
There for me
Just like my family and friends are there for me, so is NYU Langone. I always knew the hospital was incredible, but now as a breast cancer patient I have a front-row seat to what patients have been telling me for years. It’s like a family, a community. They treat me like an individual with cancer—they’re not just looking at my cancer. Because I am more than my disease.
I’m waiting for the final pathology details, which will inform the treatment plan. That’ll probably start this month, and I’ll let you know how that’s going in upcoming posts.
Next week, I’ll tell you what’s new on this journey of mine, and my doctors will do a Q&A on their work as clinicians and surgeons.