SHARITA: SHE IS BACK

My journey and fight with breast cancer began February 25th 2016. Just a few days before I'd gone to my scheduled mammogram appointment that I had been struggling to get for a few months.

I had a lump on my left breast that I'd had for quite some time that I could sometimes feel and at other times I couldn't even find it. I told my doctor almost a year earlier at a check-up that I had be feeling a knot on my breast and when he did my breast exam he didn't feel it and neither did I. His reaction, and mine as well was that I probably didn't need a mammogram because I was so young and didn’t have any family history of cancer. It was probably nothing to worry about. I put it in the back of my mind and didn't really think about it much anymore until it began to hurt and cause me discomfort. Right then I knew that it was something that I needed to address. When I was finally able to get my mammogram, my aunt went to my appointment with me. Considering the circumstances, I was actually pretty calm. It wasn't until after the mammogram was done and the doctor wanted to do a biopsy that same day that my anxiety level skyrocketed. When my biopsy was complete I talked with the doctor and asked her what she thought the results might be, which officially I wouldn't get back for 2 days. She told me that she couldn't give me an official diagnosis until the results came back from the lab but in her 15 years of experience she was pretty sure it was cancer. I didn't cry or have any overly emotional reaction, at least not right then. On February 25th 2016, 2 weeks before my 36th birthday, I was officially diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It was said to be invasive because it had spread outside of my breast and to my lymph nodes. I kept a brave face all day but cried myself to sleep that night. After the initial shock of it all, my mind was only focused on doing whatever needed to be done to get rid of this uninvited beast that had invaded my life. I was determined to do it with a positive attitude and with a smile on my face.

Things moved very quickly after my diagnosis. It seemed like I was going to so many different appointments back to back. The week of my birthday, which was March 14th, I had a doctor's appointment or some sort of related appointment every day that week. I had my chemo port placed on March 17th and began my 8 rounds of chemotherapy on March 24th. Every other Thursday for 16 weeks I had an appointment with my Oncologist, Dr. Christopher Thompson who was absolutely wonderful. I'd have my lab work done and then I'd have to report to the infusion room for my dose of poison. I was extremely blessed to have handled the chemo as well as I did. I didn't have a lot of the side effects that a lot of people going through treatment have. I experienced mostly a lot of fatigue, weakness, bone and muscle pain, and anxiety. I started losing my hair about 2 weeks after my first treatment. It started falling out in clumps and after a few days of waking up with hair all over my pillows, I Just shaved it all off. Even though I knew to expect it, it was still a little traumatic experiencing it. I lost all the hair on my body eventually including my eyebrows and eyelashes. Thankfully one of my best friends is an amazing makeup artist and hairstylist and she made me a custom wig and helped me with keeping my makeup right. With everything I was going through, I didn't want it to show. I did my best to remain fabulous through my fight. One of the hardest things for me to get past was my pride. I've always had a hard time asking others for help. But the hardest part was really needing help. I was really struggling financially because I wasn't working and it was stressful having the medical expenses piling up on top of my regular bills that I was already struggling to pay. Those close to me that really knew my struggle didn't let me go without anything and if they found out I was in need of something and hadn't let them know, which I did often, they were upset with me. If it wasn't for the support of those few loving friends and family who were there for me every step of the way, I believe my fight would have been a lot harder to deal with. The beast slowed me down quite a bit but I was determined to be unstoppable.  After I completed all my chemotherapy I had my surgery. I chose to just have the lump removed from my breast rather than a mastectomy. On August 1st 2016 my surgeon preformed a successful lumpectomy and also removed 19 of my lymph nodes. My surgeon, Dr. Brian Boggs, did an excellent job and I healed well. Seven weeks of daily radiation was to follow. Reporting for radiation everyday was even harder for me than getting pumped full of the poison. After about my fourth week of radiation treatment, they started to really drain me. My skin was burned, peeling, irritated, and it was pretty painful. I still have remaining burns and scares on my skin from the radiation. It was a little hard to deal with at first being that I take a lot of photos and the burns are a little hard to hide but I realized that I am blessed to still be here and the scares are a reminder that I'm a survivor. I'm working on falling in love with my body all over again because it has changed a lot. You never know how strong you really are until you don't have any other choice. As hard as it was to go through all of the treatments I did it without any complaining or negativity. I kept a smile on my face even when I felt like breaking down.

I fought fabulously for the sake of my daughter. I didn't want to scare her or have her worried about me. She lost her grandma to cancer just a few years before my diagnosis and I knew that she would worry that I'd have the same fate. I kept my sickness from her as long as I could and we continued with most of our usual activities as if there was nothing wrong with me. I think a lot of times she forgot that I was even sick because I rarely showed it. The blessing of my great medical team at Mercy Hospital and an awesome support system of friends and family helped me with handling everything as well as I did. I'm so thankful to be done with all of my treatment and the recovery road that I'm on. I didn't let having cancer stop me from doing anything that I did before I had the disease. I still have five years of hormone therapy that I have to take in a daily form of an estrogen blocker to help reduce the risk of my cancer returning. My biggest fear is that this beast will return, as I've seen happen to so many women who have fought this disease. I think I'll always have that fear and anxiety of the unknown and not knowing what could possibly be next.

This journey has been one that has changed me forever. I've always known that life is short and you never know what the Lord's plan is for you but when you have to fight against a disease that's known for taking so many lives, it truly changes your outlook. Problems that I once thought were astronomical now seem unimportant. I'm more appreciative and thankful for the simple things that I took for granted before. I've learned that every day that we are fortunate enough to see is a blessing and shouldn't be taken for granted. I believe that attitude and frame of mind shape your world. I pride myself on getting through life's obstacles with grace because happiness is empowering and sexy. I shared my journey through social media with positivity and a smile hoping that someone somewhere, would possibly find hope and strength.  

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