A diagnosis of breast cancer was the last thing that I expected to hear when I discovered a small lump in my armpit. However, life has a way of putting stumbling blocks in your path when you least expect them.
I was diagnosed with stage II triple-negative breast cancer on March 21, 2012. Since this type of cancer is very aggressive, it was treated very aggressively. First, chemotherapy to shrink the tumor; second, surgery to remove the tumor; third, radiation to kill any lingering cells.
A round of tests, including a biopsy, an MRI and a PET scan, was performed. On April 13, a chemotherapy port (port-a-cath) was implanted under my skin to allow easy access to my bloodstream. Five days later, the area surrounding the port was inflamed, so the oncology staff decided not to use it for my first round of chemotherapy. It took eight attempts to get a viable IV line established in my arm for the infusion – which I will always remember.
My chemotherapy regimen consisted of Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide) every other week for four weeks, followed by Taxol (paclitaxel) every other week for four weeks. The day after each infusion, I was given an injection of Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) to protect my white blood cells. After my initial dose of chemotherapy, which wiped out my immune system, I became ill because, somehow, I developed viral meningitis. Since I had just begun chemotherapy, it was blamed for my symptoms and it took three trips to the emergency room before the meningitis diagnosis was made via a spinal tap. I was hospitalized for eight days.
Following my discharge, chemotherapy resumed and I was SICK, SICK, SICK all the time. My sense of taste changed. I suffered muscle aches, fevers, diarrhea, insomnia and fatigue. My fingernails and toenails turned black, as did my palms and the soles of my feet. I developed neuropathy in my hands, as well as in both feet. My skin was dry, my appetite was gone and I was a mess! The loss of my sense of taste was especially traumatic because I developed a salty taste in my mouth. Everything, even water, tasted like I had a mouth full of salt!
As expected, I lost all my hair. I do mean all my hair – from every part of my body! It was shocking, but I reminded myself that it was just hair and would grow back. It was great, however, not to have to wax my upper lip or shave my legs! A sense of humor is important and needed on this journey!
On August 8, I had my last dose of chemotherapy and later discovered that I had contracted another, but less serious, virus. I was hospitalized for six days.
On September 11, I had a mastectomy of my right breast, and a reduction and lift of my left breast. On November 21, I began the first of 25 sessions of radiation and am currently waiting for my skin to heal to have reconstruction of my right breast.
During the six months following chemotherapy, most of the negative symptoms dissipated. Some were replaced by short-lived symptoms of radiation. My hair started to grow back, though grayer and curlier. My energy level is up and I am much more health-conscience than ever.
This was my reality. If these or any other symptoms happen to you, remember what the drugs and treatments are doing for your body. Hopefully, that will help you accept their side effects and deal with them. All this is necessary to SAVE YOUR LIFE! YOU CAN BEAT CANCER!
I wish each of you positive energy in your journey to recovery.
During a professional career that spanned nearly four decades, Miriam White Williams distinguished herself as an English teacher, substance abuse and mental health specialist, adjunct college professor, educational consultant and author par excellence. She had a profound effect upon thousands of lives.
Ms. Williams was awarded over 70 local and national honors for her service to children and her community. She was twice honored by Miami-Dade County with “Miriam White Williams Day” proclamations and by the philanthropic divisions of organizations such as JC Penney and the United Way. In 1992, she was honored by the National Football League and selected to represent all 32 teams as their “Teacher of the Year.” She was praised by three U.S. senators and is lauded in the Congressional Record of the 102nd Congress of the United States of America.
Educated in the public schools of Jacksonville, Florida, Ms. Williams holds a master’s degree from the University of Florida. She is married to her college sweetheart and has two daughters and two grandchildren. She is widely traveled and accomplished in several artistic fields. Most recently, she penned a volume of poems chronicling her journey through breast cancer.
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As a part of our mission to make The Journey a powerful voice for everyone in our community, we invite each of you to consider joining the conversation and sharing your journey with comments and feedback. You don’t have to be a breast cancer survivor, you can be a caregiver, or a friend, or a concerned citizen. What we are looking for is meaningful and helpful conversations that will encourage other people as they travel along their journey. Sharing is caring and very cathartic. I sincerely urge you to take part.