Having lost my mother to breast cancer in 1991 I was no stranger to the disease. I started having yearly mammograms in my late twenties and also did self exams (albeit not monthly) hence I was not worried when I found a lump through a breast self-exam in June 2001.
My doctor urged me to get the lump checked out despite my mammogram 6 months earlier that had come back ‘all clear’. The mammogram led to an ultrasound that led to a biopsy and finally to my hearing those dreaded 4 words “You have breast cancer”. I was 35 years old and otherwise the epitome of great health i.e. the right weight, eating the right foods (with the exception of chocolate 🙂), exercising regularly. What had gone wrong???
The first week of diagnosis was a blur and all I remember is staying awake through the nights thinking ‘wow is this how I’m going to die, who will take care of my 3 year old son”. Then one day whilst looking at my son I decided to snap out of it. I had every intention of being at his graduation and his wedding!! The fight was on!!!
After a zillion doctor interviews, nights spent on the internet, speaking to other survivors, I chose to have a lumpectomy (the thought of losing a breast at age 35 was too scary), after surgery the pathology came back showing I had two additional cancerous tumors (in the lymph nodes) that were larger than the one I had felt. My final diagnosis was Stage 2B Grade 3 (Stages are 0 – 4 with 4 being the worst. Grades are 1 – 3 with 3 being the worst).
With such advanced cancer the doctors told me chemotherapy was a must. I did 24 weeks (8 cycles every 3 weeks) of the most aggressive chemotherapy drugs that were used at the time. Yes .. I was nauseous, weak and ……my hair fell out. However, I got me 7 wigs and had one for each day of the week!! Chemo was very difficult, I was admitted to hospital 3 times during my course of chemo treatments. During one of my stays in hospital my room mate died. When you are admitted to hospital during chemo you stay in a special cancer ward and typically that ward is filled with much older people. I was always the youngest.
Undergoing treatment in America with no family close by was tough. Despite my close friends working every weekday, they really rallied round taking it in turns to bring food and coming to stay with me on my chemo days. I’d be weak and nauseous for 2wks after chemo then have a week of respite before it started all again. However, not all days were bad and I was able to attend two of my close friends weddings. One I was even a bridesmaid. The doctors worked with me so I was able to fly to North Carolina for the wedding (I did have to wear a mask on the plane) and one little boy told his mom I was Michael Jackson!
After Chemo came radiation… Compared to chemo it was a walk in the park. It was mainly the inconvenience of going to hospital every day for 12 weeks to get zapped to kill any errant cancer cells. I did get tired easily but tired of being home I went back to work and actually took a long lunch drove to the hospital had my radiation and was back at my desk working 2 hours later! Radiation ended March 2002. 9 long months after the day I found the lump.
I celebrated with a trip to London (Apr 2002) and Nigeria (Jun 2002) to visit family and friends.
During my treatment I had plenty of time to reflect on my life and realized that life can be snatched away from us any time and vowed to live by two mantras:
1. Live each day as if it may be your last (one day you’ll be right)
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
In Dec 2005 I proved all the doctors wrong by giving birth to my daughter. Despite being told that I would not be able to have any more children due to the aggressive chemotherapy I beat the odds and had Simisola, who I refer to as my miracle baby.
After my daughter I realized that there IS life after cancer and miracles do happen: I decided to follow my dream of owning my own skin care line and skin spa. In June 2008 I launched the Solachi brand of skin care products (www.solachi.com).
Oh No! Not Again’ ~ Life was good, I was done with cancer but alas cancer was not done with me.
In late March 2009 I found a lump despite my Feb 17 2009 mammogram coming back ‘all clear’… hmmm I was beginning to get a sense of deja vu. After seeing the doctors on April 23 (my wedding anniversary), I once again after an ultrasound and biopsy received a call on May 1 with the dreaded words “You have breast cancer”. NOT AGAIN! I felt there was no way I could do this again. But what choice did I have but to fight when I have two young children.
This time around I did not have the option of a lumpectomy the doctors said the left breast had to be removed since it was the same breast where I had the initial cancer. I was then told that I needed to decide what to do with the right breast. An MRI had shown the right breast to be cancer free so I struggled with removing a perfectly healthy breast. However I was told that chances of a 3rd recurrence were high. After a lot of thought I chose to remove it and be done with mammograms! My next fear was if the cancer had spread a CET/PT scan showed no sign of cancer anywhere else, what a relief.
Surgery was slated for June 1 2009 I had opted for a dbl mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Reconstruction would be a unique method called the DIEP flap. It’s when they take belly fat from your abdomen and use it to make the breasts. Finally something to smile about in all this ….. the thought of a flat tummy took my mind off the impending 10-12 hour surgery. My surgery ended up taking 16 hours due to a slight complication, but ultimately it was successful.
I was in intensive care for several days and it was ROUGH. I came home after a week in hospital with several tubes sticking out of me. I was bedridden for weeks and it took me a month to stand up straight. However, 3 months later I was back to riding my bike I wouldn’t say normal because after that kind of surgery ‘old normal’ is past and a ‘new normal’ exists!
There was more ‘not so good’ news after surgery i.e. a diagnosis that this cancer is Triple Negative (cannot be treated with hormonal therapies and hence considered the worst kind to have) and I would have to undergo chemo again! And the big shocker – they found earl stage cancer in the right breast! Yes the one that had come back all clear after the MRI. I thanked God I had chosen to remove it. Otherwise in another couple of years I would have been back in this situation again.
Most women feel that a breast cancer diagnosis is the end of the world but its not. The key to beating breast cancer is early detection, which means doing monthly breast self-exams and not relying simply on mammograms or living in denial that it can’t happen to you.
Hopefully you will never be diagnosed with this disease but if it happens the quality of life can still be great…. It will definitely be different but that does not mean it will be bad. People see me and cannot believe what I’ve been through. Life is what you make it – there are several people living with disabilities yet they smile and soldier on….
I look on the bright side… boobs that will never sag…. 🙂 it’s about seeing the good in everything and that’s what keeps me going…
I share my story to inspire women to commit to monthly breast self-exams and give hope to those that have either been diagnosed or know someone that has been diagnosed.
Trust me… This two-time breast cancer survivor plans to be around for a very long time ;-).
Below is the framed plaque I gave to my ‘Circle of Friends’ in 2002 after I had finished all my treatments