Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Write Pink! Education Week: Wendy's Story

Reminder: For tomorrow's Bigger Picture Moment (hosted here!) we hope you'll choose to Write Pink for education!  Here are some prompts to get you thinking -- For whom will you educate yourself about breast cancer's causes, effects, and preventive methods?  What's holding you back from becoming more educated?  How can you best educate others about breast cancer?

And don't forget -- anyone who links up their Bigger Picture Moment tomorrow by Writing Pink will be entered to win some awesome prizes from our sponsors, Bamboo Luxury and Army of Women.  More details tomorrow!

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In support of Education week at Write Pink! Wendy Nielsen has graciously offered to share her story with us.  Be sure to show her the comment love, and stop by her blog to get to know her better!


This time of year is bittersweet for me. While October is national breast cancer awareness month, it also marks the anniversary of my own diagnosis. It has been two years since I was told I had stage II breast cancer.

I had given birth to my first child just ten months earlier when I found out I had a 5 cm tumor growing in my left breast. The lump was rock solid and seemed to have appeared overnight.

“How could you have not noticed a lump the size of a large marble? Don’t you perform self exams?”

I would do the occasional self-breast exam but never imagined I would actually find something. In fact, I never really knew exactly what I was looking for. Plus, I had been nursing my daughter and was starting to wean her when I first felt the lump.

A MRI, CAT, and PET scan confirmed it was indeed cancer and it had also spread to several of my lymph nodes. A lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment followed.

Oh, by the way, I was only 33 years old.

“You must have a family history.”

Nope. No female family member has been diagnosed with this disease. Additionally, I am not a carrier of the BRCA genes, which have been found to increase a woman’s chances of breast and ovarian cancer.

Breast cancer isn’t just your grandma’s disease. It accounts for 26% of all cancer in females 15-39 years of age and 39% in females 35-39 year-olds. In 2008, nearly 10,000 women under 40 years old were diagnosed with breast cancer (youngsurvival.org).

“What does stage II mean?”

Stage II means a couple different things: the tumor is no larger than 2 centimeters but has spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit (the axillary lymph nodes); cancer is between 2 and 5 centimeters (from 1 to 2 inches) and may have spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit; cancer is larger than 5 centimeters (larger than 2 inches) but has not spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit (breastcancer.org).

In my case, the tumor was between 2 and 5 cm and had spread to the nodes in the armpit. It was also considered “aggressive,” fueled by the over abundance of estrogen in my body.

It’s also important to know that breast cancer in young women is generally considered aggressive and that the survival rates tend to be lower because it’s not screened for typically in younger women (youngsurvival.org).

“What happens next?”

Recently, I had my ovaries removed because my oncologist could not suppress the amount of estrogen they were producing. While this surgery isn’t typical for all patients with breast cancer, it was important for my particular situation.

Additionally, I take a daily medication called an aromatase inhibitor that reduces the chance of recurrence in menopausal women (yes, I’m considered menopausal since having my ovaries removed).

And I live. Well, at least I try to. This isn’t exactly how I imagined my life but it is what it is and I’m trying to resume the normal life of a stay-at-home-mom.



Wendy Nielsen writes a blog about raising a toddler and staying a survivor at Like My Baby.  Her story of balancing survivorship and motherhood was recently published in the Orange County Register.

6 comments:

  1. This is such an eye-opening story. Sometimes I feel like breast cancer awareness events kind of gloss over the actual journey, moving from diagnosis to recovery in an instant; so, reading about your experiences, the specifics of what actually happened, felt really powerful.

    Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you, and--keep fighting!

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  2. This story particularly moved me; I think it's so easy to be younger and not even bother to think about breast cancer. You're young! You're invincible! Add to that the possibility of no family history and, like Wendy, you could find yourself blindsided.

    My awareness is heightened, my resolve renewed. Thanks for sharing this, Wendy.

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  3. Best wishes to you from a fellow sister in Pink. I too was diagnosed with Stage 2 bc but was on the lookout since my twin sister was diagnosed at age 33, 6 years prior to my diagnosis. I'm living with the awful hot flashes (ovaries removed too - mine was ER+ and I'm BRAC1+) but the key word is living. Loving my 4 kids and husband like I never have before. Cancer stinks - no doubt - but it has made me thankful for every new sunrise I get to see. So many do not. Thanks for sharing! My blog is under development but you can find me at www.pink-pockets.com

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  4. What an eye opener. My prayers go out to Wendy and her family

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  5. Wendy, thank you SO much for sharing your story. It was eye opening for me. We all need to be viligiant about taking care of and observing our bodies, don't we? Family history, age regardelss.

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  6. Wendy, yours is such a powerful story because it could happen to any of us. Thank you for sharing your insight and thoughts :)

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?