BY GINA DECHAMBEAU
On October 5th, 2013 I finished in 2nd place behind an amazing beautiful lady, in the Women’s Only 5K. I had trained hard over the months leading up to the race. Unlike most races that I’ve run in the past, the group I competed in was not defined by my age. I did not compete against others in the 40-50 year old group or in the masters group like I have done in the past. I competed in a category of runners that was completely new to me and quite honesty a group that I did not want to be in. I finished 2nd place in the “Survivors Group”. Yes, this was the first race that I competed in since I was diagnosed with breast cancer on May 31st, 2013.
When I was first asked to write about my journey I felt an overwhelming sense of love. One cannot do this alone. I’m so grateful for my fabulous doctors, family, friends and co-workers that have encouraged me, loved me and gave me strength. They were my cheerleaders. They are my strength.
It took me a good two years before I felt "normal" again and not in the constant state of fear. I wanted my old self back, but I had to believe going through this I would come out stronger. I never took life for granted but I see things more precious than I did in the past. Cancer does not discriminate. I exercised regularly, I maintained a healthy weight, I didn't drink excessively, I went yearly for my mammograms and ultrasounds, I never smoked and I ate a well balanced diet. Only 5-10% of breast cancers diagnosed are genetic. I was the first in my family to have it.
On May 13th, 2013, my journey began. I had my yearly physical and told my doctor I felt a lump. It didn't frighten me because I had two biopsies previously that were benign. In the past I was told I have dense breast tissue but never understood the importance of knowing that. Having dense breast tissue has an increased risk for developing breast cancer. It can also hide the tumor. I was told when looking at my mammograms that it was like trying to find a snowman in a snow storm.
On May 24, 2013, I had my mammogram and ultrasound. My doctor told me I needed to have a biopsy and make an appointment for the following week. Within a few days, I was in the doctor's office again getting the biopsy. I was told I would get my results the next day but the tests came back inconclusive. I waited a couple more days with more tests to be done and with fear settling in. Worry can truly take over you if you allow it.
On May 31st, at the age of 45, I was called and told I had breast cancer. My worst fear was confirmed. When I received the call I was at a "Lighting Shop" looking at different light fixtures for our new house. I called my husband to gather the girls and meet me. We had our son finish out the school day. We would tell him as a family. As I left the store my mind was in a blur and I accidentally went down a one way street. I Thank God for getting me home safely that day! We then drove together to the doctor's office. I just remember telling my wonderful doctor that I wanted to be a grandmother to all my grand babies.
I was given an Alight Bag, a wonderful gathering of information filled with helpful resources regarding my diagnosis and doctors that were available to take care of me. I was extremely grateful for this because my life was surreal at that point. With my family by my side I was told that my breast cancer was invasive ductal carcinoma and that I needed a MRI. Thank goodness for advanced technology because the MRI found two more tumors in the same breast. At that point I knew in my heart that I needed to be aggressive.
We met my amazing team of doctors on June 5, 2013. We met with my oncologist, surgeon, radiologist, my nurse navigator, genetics counselor, physical therapist, and chaplain. I prayed that my cancer would be straight forward. My cancer was 100% Estrogen Receptor positive and 99% Progesterone Receptor positive.
After being told of my diagnosis I wanted to be strong and healthy before my surgery, so I continued to run. Running allowed me to feel like myself during this time of uncertainty. I also felt free….free from fear and free from cancer.
On July 16th, I had a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction with tissue expanders and sentinel node biopsy. It was a 7 hour surgery. Good news...the doctor told my family that there was no sign of cancer in my lymph nodes! My oldest daughter Carrie slept by my side that evening and kept family and friends up to date.
On July 19th, I received a call from my Surgeon. She told me my margins were clear and that I was cancer free! I still needed to meet with my oncologist to figure out a treatment plan and I had many weeks of healing to do.
Wonderful news! My Oncologist called and said that my Oncotype DX test came back at 7 which has an average rate of Distant Recurrence of 6%! With that being said I would not benefit from taking chemo. Chemotherapy would cause me more harm than good. I will need to take Tamoxifen, which is a hormone therapy pill for 10 years. Every morning when I take it I say, "We will beat this!"
Cancer is never a path one chooses to take. The word itself, cancer, specifically defined as malignant, is simply a hill some must climb. But with adversity, I have found so many blessings. Our family has become closer. My husband came to every doctors appointment and encouraged me to run on the days I felt defeated. He was my rock! My daughter, Alison, is going to school for pre-nursing because she wants to give back.
I've experienced five surgeries within 1 1/2 years. I'm an Alight Guide Mentor. I've completed two half marathons, a few 5k’s, and this year I found a new family away from home at Fleet Feet Sports. My co-workers have helped me become a stronger person. I have met many “breast friends” that I wouldn’t have otherwise through the Alight Foundation, and I'm grateful to meet and hear the stories of our amazing customers each day.
I will not let tears, cancer and fear consume me! Life is Good!