Staying Positive: Amanda’s Story
“Last year at this time I was bald. Cancer is all about attitude. Everybody at the Cancer Support Community is so upbeat.” ~ Amanda B.
The moment she accidently felt the lump—the size of a grape—in her breast is fixed in her mind. For how could a 28-year-old who’d had a clean gyno exam just six months before have a lump in her breast?
“My daughter Madalyn was three, and was having a hard time adjusting to her new room in a new house. So, I was sitting with her until she fell asleep. That’s when I felt it,” recalls Amanda, now 34. She was stunned.
The next day, she had an ultrasound which confirmed a mass, and then met with a breast surgeon who performed a biopsy. Since he was unclear whether it was cancer or a fibroid tumor, he said, “If you don’t hear from me, we’ll meet at the hospital Tuesday to remove the fibroid.”
Two days later he called, and as Amanda reached for the phone that her daughter had answered, she thought fearfully, “He said he’d call only if it were cancer.”
And it was.
“I couldn’t speak. I got a pit in my stomach. I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘I have cancer,’ and then I wondered how I would get through the next few days until Tuesday.”
She made it, but when she walked into the surgeon’s office, her horror increased, for he abruptly and bluntly said, “I’m going to ruin your life for the next six months.” She didn’t want to hear such a brutal analysis, and every time she asked a question, he seemed to roll his eyes. Then he thrust a book at her, filled with photos of old women’s breasts. “You can look like this,” he said.
She almost punched him as she thought, “This man’s not touching me.” She wanted a doctor to say to her gently, “We’ll get through this together.” She wanted a compassionate traveler on this journey.
Promptly, she found another breast surgeon who offered her the support she wanted, answered the questions she posed, and gave her the kindly advice she sought.
She followed her lumpectomy with eight rounds of chemo every two weeks that made her sick to her stomach and caused her hair to fall out. But her family was there for her. Her daughter Madalyn was there. Her boyfriend Mark was there. “He was a trooper,” she says.
Six weeks of radiation, which exhausted her, followed. But still she worked part time; she needed both the pay check and the insurance coverage. It was rough, but she made it.
And then for five years, every six months, she saw her surgeon, her oncologist, and her radiologist. Finally, the magical five-year mark approached. But on that Sunday night, two days before she was to see her surgeon for the last time, she woke up with excruciating pain in her side. She went to the emergency room, had an ultrasound, and was told she had a kidney stone. She was given a pain killer and instructed to drink water.
She kept her visit with the breast surgeon who discharged her; she was in remission now. But the pain in her side didn’t lessen, and she didn’t pass a kidney stone. Five days later she returned to the E.R., in agonizing pain, and underwent a CT scan.
The results were in. She didn’t have a kidney stone, after all, said the ER doctor. She had tumors.
More tests, more pain, more fear. And then the news: the breast cancer had metastasized. A tumor that wrapped around her spine crushed her vertebrae so forcefully that she had a hairline fracture. Another tumor took up three quarters of her liver. Tumors in her pancreas and in her bones. They were inoperable.
Amanda’s Daughter’s Story
Madalyn was three when her 28-year-old mother, Amanda, received a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Even at three, Madalyn knew there was something going on, says her mom. In an effort to try to explain it, Amanda bought a couple of books, including Sammy’s Mommy Has Cancer, to read to her daughter. But Madalyn worried about her mother. She would sit on her mom’s bed when she was too ill to leave it. And she didn’t want to leave the house, except perhaps to go to her grandmother’s.
“My daughter became my caregiver,” says Amanda. “She’d get me stuff and play nurse. I feel bad that I took some of her childhood away. Even now, she’s in the caregiver role: when I sneeze, for instance, she gets a worried look on her face.”
But the years passed, and by the time Madalyn was eight, her mother was discharged by her breast surgeon with a clean bill of health.
But, it turned out, that wasn’t the end of the story. For the cancer returned, metastasizing into Amanda’s spine, her liver, her pancreas, and her bones. And now Madalyn, at eight, knew more. “I sent her to a counselor to help her through this, but she wouldn’t talk, so the counselor didn’t know if she was being helpful,” says Amanda.
“I brought her here to Kid Support. We both benefited. She saw she wasn’t the only kid with a bald mom. She could talk to other kids. In fact, she totally connected with other kids. And I could talk to other moms and dads and find out how they handled things,” she continues.
Amanda stands to her full 5’9” height. “I don’t think my daughter would be where she is today if not for that Kid Support Group,” she smiles.
“The oncologist gave me the horrible news. He looked at me, and said, ‘This is tough.’ By now, I couldn’t even sit up; I was in so much pain.”
And the next day, she began both radiation and chemotherapy—again sickening her horribly, causing her to lose weight, upending her family’s calm.
“But good came from my cancer,” Amanda continues. “On the first day of chemo, in October 2010, I was going to the Little Pink Dress Party, as part of the Get in Touch Foundation, and Mark proposed to me. We’d been together for eight years.”
By February, 2011, chemo and radiation were finished.
“It’s all about attitude,” she continues. “If you get into a negative frame, you are doomed. I needed to show cancer who was boss. When I started to lose my hair, I shaved my own head. I didn’t want cancer to think it owned my hair.
“When I received my first diagnosis, at the suggestion of my doctor, I joined a breast cancer support group. But the women were so negative that I felt worse, and decided that maybe support groups weren’t for me. But a week later, I saw a calendar for the Cancer Support Community, which mentioned the Look Good, Feel Better program. I decided to try it. I came here; it’s such a homey feel. One woman persuaded me to come to the breast cancer support group. I came reluctantly, and it was so much fun.”
And, with program director Jen Sinclair, she established the only Young Adult Group in the area, where as she said, “We can be younger and not tunneled into the things that older people do.”
And then she talked about her fiancé, Mark, brushing back thick red-blond hair. “We have been in the darkest hole. Cancer strengthened our relationship and made me want to marry this guy.” And on May 26, she will.