My mother is a three-time cancer survivor, BRCA positive and the strongest, sweetest woman I know. Through my experiences with my mother, I always said I would get a double mastectomy and hysterectomy by age 35 to lessen the chances of my getting this disease – but there was a different plan out there for me. In September, during my 8 week prenatal visit, I found out I was BRCA positive. On Wednesday, March 2, (I was 32 years old and 32 weeks pregnant), I received a phone call from my doctor with the horrific news….. I had cancer. These words just echoed in my ear as my doctor tried to explain my next steps- I heard nothing but those words. I sat there, in my assistant principals office, for a long time on my own trying to process this information. I soon realized that there is no way to process it.

I then had to do the worst thing imaginable- I had to share the news with my loved ones. I called my husband and through the tears I tried to explain to him what my doctor said. At home, I sat there, on my bed, crying and screaming until my husband rushed through the doors and gave me my first safe haven, his warm embrace.

I was able to obtain appointments with doctors immediately. I had multiple doctors lined up but they all had the same hesitation- they were afraid to touch a pregnant woman so close to her due date. All the doctors kept saying, “Let’s wait till you give birth in a month, heal and start the process to fight this.” Of course, I am my mother’s daughter and knew this was not an option. I wanted to start yesterday.

At times like this, you start to believe that there really is no good left in this world. Then, people from the least likely places come to your rescue… my sister’s friend worked for a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering and she was able to land me an appointment with an oncologist. I called Sloan before this “connection” but I was told I needed to wait at least two weeks to see a dr. I was able to get an appointment in three days. Those three days seemed like an eternity. The MSKCC oncologist had also consulted with my outgoing, upbeat, charismatic and warm-hearted high risk gynecologist (who I say was my light, because she pushed all my doctors to work together) and I finally had my treatment plan!

I would first give birth by being induced and then would need to receive two steroid shots in order to help develop the baby’s lungs since he would be born prematurely. After that, I would undergo chemotherapy – since I was pregnant we were going to do neoadjuvant chemotherapy (my doctor feared that with the blood supply in my chest, they wouldn’t get good margins). While undergoing chemotherapy we would monitor the tumor and then have surgery. During this process I had a ton of support; my physical care from my doctors, my emotional care from my family and friends and my mental care from my boys (husband and babies).

I am very fortunate to have the best support system – my husband, my parents, my in laws, my siblings and friends were all there to help in every way possible! I had my mother, whom I could ask a multitude of questions about the entire process, knowing some would be too upsetting for her to respond. Although she never showed it, I know this was the most difficult thing for her to see. Throughout this process, I remembered Katerina (Kats Ribbon of Hope). We attended the same gym classes, and I remembered she went through this process a few years back. I reached out to her and she responded immediately. Just like that she became part of my support system. She shed some light to every question I had and she even knew every thought I had before I even shared it with her. She helped me see the brighter side in everything, and for this I thank her. Even though we didn’t know each other well before, this bought us closer and established a bond between us. Because in all reality, nobody understands how you are feeling unless they too went through it.

On my “not so good days” things were very difficult and it was very hard for me to allow others to take my “mommy” role at home, but when I got stronger and I slowly healed, I didn’t want to do anything else but be with my boys. They are my strength, my motivation and the love I needed to get through this.

-AF

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