At 12:05 p.m. on January 20, 2017, as millions gathered to witness the swearing in of President Donald Trump, my precious husband and I stood face-to-face alone in my classroom where he courageously delivered the heartbreaking news.
“The doctor called, they found something…he said they found a cancer.”
In that moment, time stood still as shock flooded my body and life as I knew it would never be the same.
More Than a Year Earlier
On a September morning in 2015, I felt a hard BB gun pellet-sized cyst on the outside of my right breast. However, I comforted myself because it hurt to touch, and I had heard that would not happen if it was serious.
Later that afternoon, as I sat on the crinkled paper-covered examination table, my OB/GYN physician reassured us I had fibrocystic breast—there was no need to worry.
Thirteen months later, after multiple doctor visits, six mammograms, four ultrasounds, three additional painful cysts and intensified throbbing breast, the diagnosis remained the same.
In December of 2016, my husband prompted one more visit before the year ended (for insurance purposes). After an extremely thorough and painful exam, the diagnosis was again confirmed to be fibrocystic breast.
Then, later that night, the new symptom that changed everything began; my breast began to bleed.
The Real Diagnosis
My OB/GYN physician, as well as the referred surgeon, both firmly believed I had an intraductal papilloma, which is a small benign tumor in the milk duct.
In January 2017, a biopsy was performed on the bleeding milk duct. The surgeon also removed all of the existing cysts.
We then waited a two-week eternity until diagnosis day came on Jan. 20, 2017.
Immediately, we went to the surgeon’s office where we learned I had invasive and non-invasive ductal carcinoma. Four days later, I underwent surgery for a double mastectomy and lymph node removal.
The Treatment Plan
On Valentine’s Day 2017, my husband and I met with the oncologist and learned my cancer was stage 1, 99 percent estrogen receptive, her-2 negative ductal carcinoma.
The bad news was that every one of the painful cysts had been diagnosed as cancer, including ones found hidden in the breast tissue.
The good news was that even though my cancer had been slowly brewing, not one of the 13 lymph nodes had signs of cancer.
Because the treatment plan was questionable, we opted to have a genomic test, called an Oncotype DX, done on the tumor itself. This would allow us to further understand the possibilities of the cancer returning in the future.
The score came back as a 26, in the gray intermediate. It was then decided to undergo chemo treatments as well as take hormonal therapy.
A Changed Life
I may have been sick, lost all my hair, gained too much weight and went endless days in intense pain (symptom of the chemo drug), but I know I fought it with all I had!
When I was told I had cancer, I immediately chose to have a positive and conquering attitude.
I was a 46-year-old wife and mother of two teen-aged boys when I was diagnosed. I had so much to live for and I believe that made the difference in the journey.
My perspective on life is different now—I humbly thank God for that. I know that He wants me to encourage others with that same positive outlook.
So, I encourage you to have self-awareness, trust your intuition, be your own advocate, and most importantly, stay positive even when it seems impossible.
-- Susan Oswalt, Breast Cancer Survivor
Susan Oswalt is a wife, mother of two boys and a teacher from Lanett, Ala.