I saw my new primary care doctor on January 12, 2021 hoping she would say that it looked like nothing. She didn’t. Instead, she ordered an ultrasound (I didn’t know they did those for breasts) and a mammogram (my first one). I went a few days later, totally sure it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing, but the techs and even the radiology doctor gave me no clarity.
I left with an appointment for a breast and lymph node biopsy, and I cried a long time in my car before I drove home to my family. I still thought it would come back benign. A story for another day, my breast biopsy was done by a surgeon my primary care doctor thought might be a good fit for me. The surgeon was not a good fit, and I elected to transfer care. However, she did the diagnostic breast biopsy (not the lymph node biopsy), and she needed to give the results. I asked for them over the phone, and hopeful, I took the call as a quick break from playing in our first snowy North Carolina day of the winter with my family. It was January 28th, 2021 when the surgeon said the dreaded words, “Your breast tumor is malignant”.
She wouldn’t tell me much else, as she didn’t understand or approve my transfer of care. “It’s IDC. The new surgeon will explain it all to you when you meet her”, She said. I had to wait until February 2nd for details. All I knew was that there was cancer in my breast, and it could have spread. After transferring care, with the thousand percent better surgeon by my side, I learned more information little by little. I learned I had Triple Negative IDC, then that the stage was IIB, the tumor was 3.6cm, and that although there was a suspicious lymph node in the diagnostic ultrasound, and in the breast MRI, the cancer had in fact not spread, and was indeed likely localized to my right breast.
I learned many weeks later that I do not have any genes that make cancer more likely for me. I was given a port on the right side of my upper chest, and I started my 16 rounds of chemotherapy two days later on February 26th. I received four rounds AC and 12 rounds of Taxol, and I finished chemo on July 9th, one week before my ten year wedding anniversary. Then, I was given the choice whether to have a lumpectomy with radiation to follow, or a mastectomy without.
It took me many weeks to decide, and I finally landed on bilateral mastectomy to flat because my Radiation oncologists told me he would offer post mastectomy radiation to me if I did not receive Pathology Complete Response. I had my bilateral mastectomy on August 6th, and received the news with elation on August 9th, that I had PCR. Throughout my experience with cancer this year, I have leaned heavily into my faith and trust in God, believing and feeling that regardless of my outcome He was my refuge and my hope.
I also leaned into my community and family, and all around felt held and cared for, and I’m just more deeply connected to my body, my community, and God now. I am processing my experience through writing. I have a blog erinmcdermott.wordpress.com where I share more in depth during and after Chemo.
And I’ll say lastly that I am so hopeful that I’m done with cancer, but painstakingly aware that there is no way to know or control whether or not that is true. Just figuring out how to live here, in early survivorship. I’ve loved getting to know local friends with breast cancer through the North Carolina Breast Cancer Facebook group, the TNBC Thrivers through Instagram and monthly zoom chats, the Elephants and Tea cancer survivors at their Friday happy hour, the Wildfire BC Magazine community at writing pop ups and paid workshops and through the print magazine, and other ANGEL advocates through joining an advocacy cohort training with the Tigerlily Foundation. I’m now a part of this whole world of people, thrivers before me and during, who find ways to walk through the hard things and keep going.