17 Mar Young Mother of Four Thriving after Surviving Breast Cancer
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted four kids. And for whatever reason, I wanted three boys and a girl. I was 19 when I married my husband, Trevor. I was 22 when we had our first baby and just before my 24th birthday, we had our second boy. We were the picture of an American family. My husband and I were young, we were healthy, had two crazy boys and were ready for more.
Driving home from Costco one day just before the youngest boy’s 2nd birthday, I looked at Trevor and said “Wouldn’t it be great if we had twins next? Then we could be done having babies. I’ve heard that twins aren’t twice as hard, they are just one and a half times as hard.”
And Trevor said, “Let’s do it! Let’s have twins!” And then we laughed because we had zero twins in our family and zero control of one or two babies at a time. But when people asked us about more kids we said “We want twins! A boy and a girl!”
We got pregnant quickly. My belly started to grow much faster than it had in my previous pregnancies so our doctor decided to send us in for an ultrasound sooner rather than later. On the drive to the ultrasound, Trevor looked at me and said, “I know this is crazy, but I’ve been praying it’s twins.”
I don’t remember much about the ultrasound. I don’t remember the exact moment the tech told us it was twins but I do remember being so excited and her saying “You guys are my first ultrasound with people to conceive twins naturally that didn’t cry when they received the news.”
Later on we found out that we were having a girl and a boy. The exact family we had dreamed of was happening!
When you are pregnant with twins you have A LOT of ultrasounds. Twins are complicated and don’t always grow at the same rate. Your medical team is constantly checking on the health of the babies. In the beginning of my third trimester, our doctor called us the evening after one of our routine ultrasounds. Baby A (our girl) wasn’t growing like she should. Her abdomen was in the second percentile. My doctor started saying things like “if you delivered right now,” and “our goal is to make it to 36 weeks”, and “don’t do much besides lay on the couch”.
After I calmed down from the phone call, I was getting ready to jump in the shower (the only place my entire body didn’t ache from growing two humans). Right before I got in I noticed a strange dimple in my left breast that had never been there before. Expecting nothing, I gave myself a breast exam in the shower and found a lump.
Just like I have no family history of twins, there is also no history of breast cancer. “It’s probably nothing” I tried to tell myself but I knew that it was something.
The very next morning I went in to see a Nurse Practitioner, someone I had never seen before, and although she believed it was nothing because “strange things happen to your body when you are pregnant, especially with twins” she said that if I was nervous she could send me in for an ultrasound on the lump.
The ultrasound results came back negative for breast cancer but the radiologist who read my results was unsure of what it was, possibly a cyst. We were so relieved. We could now just focus on resting so our daughter could grow and prepare for their birth. However, my OBGYN had a different gut feeling. She was uncomfortable with not knowing what my lump was and wanted to send me in for a biopsy to get some clear answers.
The whole process between finding the lump to hearing the results of the biopsy took a little over a month; all the while I am laying on the couch with my four- and two-year-old boys snuggled up against my legs watching HOURS of Netflix so our little girl could grow. Our appointment to hear the results was February 2, 2016; I was 35 weeks pregnant.
As I drove to the appointment, I remember praying and asking God for peace; peace that would reassure me I didn’t have cancer and that this little health scare would end up being nothing. I never got that peace. But what I did get was a strong sense I was going to be okay.
That sense was like a giant, safe hug right before you have to do something that scares the hell out of you. You still have to go do that scary thing but you feel a little braver. You can stand a little taller in the face of a storm. And after getting that sense, I knew I had cancer.
Trevor met me at the doctor’s office and we sat together, waiting. Our nurse coordinator, the woman who had the horrible job of delivering the news came and took us back to a private room. We sat down and tried to act like life-changing news wasn’t going to happen.
She looked at me and said, “Your results came back positive.”
I stared at her for a second. Even though I sensed that this was the truth, I still thought she was joking.
“Are you serious?” I asked her blankly.
“Yes. I am serious.”
The next week was a mixture of appointments with our new cancer care team and me sobbing all of the time. The thing about cancer is that every diagnosis and type is so different. Every body is different. Every cancer needs a different plan of attack and sometimes to find the best plan Doctors need to run tests and do research. It was kind of a “hurry up and wait” situation. My oncologist was very reassuring that the best thing that I could do was have healthy babies, heal from delivery and then we would get started on treatment, which was easier said than done. I was scared. I was depressed. I was anxious.
The twins were born ten days after my diagnosis. They were completely healthy and needed no NICU. I remember telling Trevor a few days before the twins were delivered, that I was afraid I wouldn’t be excited about having the babies because it just felt like Step One in starting treatment. But when they came and I saw their faces, it was quite the opposite. They were what kept me going in my treatment. They were the best distraction from all that was going on in my body. When I think back to our time before I started treatment I think about it fondly. Don’t get me wrong. I was depressed, crazy depressed. And having a four-year old, two-year old and newborn twins is NUTS. There were so many diapers to change, snacks to get, cries to soothe. But the twins were a light. They represented that our God does hear our prayers. We were going to be okay.
I started chemo when the twins were 6 weeks old and honestly don’t remember a lot of that season. The main side effect of the chemo drugs was extreme exhaustion. I slept a lot. And when I wasn’t sleeping I was either at doctor appointments or resting on the couch. Chemo lasted 6 months.
After chemo, I moved on to surgery, where we discovered that breast cancer wasn’t just in my breast but at some point had spread to my lymph nodes in my left armpit. I went from stage II Breast Cancer to stage III. Because my cancer was more advanced than we originally thought, I needed more surgery, including removing my ovaries, putting me (a 28 year old women) into menopause. Once I recovered from my surgeries I had 7 weeks of daily radiation.
Our family and friends rallied around us. They made a schedule so people were helping take care of the kids and me almost every day that Trevor had to work. People delivered meals, picked up our son from preschool, cried with us, changed diapers, picked up prescriptions, sent cards, sent chocolates, sent mini piñatas, you name it, they did it. Without them, we wouldn’t have made it through our year of treatment.
It was hard to accept the help. This entire process REALLY taught us that life isn’t meant to live alone. We need to support each other. When people are hurting, very rarely do they want to be left alone. They want to know they aren’t alone. They want to be seen and understood. They want someone to come alongside them and say, “I know that you are hurting and that really sucks. I wish I could take it all away but I’m here for you.”
Today I am three years a survivor. I learned that life doesn’t bounce back to where it once was. Instead, it has taken a long time to establish a new normal. My life is forever changed. Cancer is like a tree that establishes its roots into every area of your life. Even once that tree is long gone, the roots remain. And while I never want to go back I am grateful for the new perspective from experiencing cancer as a 27-year-old mom of four. Even on the hardest days, I am grateful to be here. There is always beauty amongst the ashes.
Austyn’s Inspiring Message:
Accept help when someone offers, ask for help when you need it.
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