A CANCER WARRIOR at the age of 34!

By Lindsay Harrell

… I get asked on a daily basis how I am able to continue working full time and the one thing I say is I must keep on keeping on.  I cannot give up!  It’s not easy but its doable!!   Don’t stress the small things…no it’s not easy losing hair but it  does grow back.  Non-Profit Company’s like The Inside Out Foundation provide wigs, accessories and cute hats for free to cancer patients!  My husband shaved my head for me because your scalp begins to hurt when your hair falls out.  He had a hard time doing it but took it like a champ and did it on the night before our wedding anniversary!”

When you found out? 09/28/2018

How old? 34 years old

How you discovered the mass?  I noticed it while changing clothes on our annual summer cruise vacation

Yours and the family’s reaction? Shocked, nervous, scared, and angry

Worst part of having cancer?  Managing side effects, having no energy, feeling like your letting everyone down when you aren’t feeling well and missing work

Where are you now with cancer?   I still have 9 more chemo treatments, then double mastectomy, 6 months of radiation, and full hysterectomy           

How can/did friends help during treatments?  They held a fundraising boob bash, sold tee shirts and bracelets, started a meal train , offered rides to chemo, gave hats and blankets,

What shocked you most?  Just how a small community can come together in ones time of need..they have been amazing!!

My Story

    I’m a 34-year-old wife and mother of two teenage sons: Hayden 15 and Kaleb 14.  One day after taking our annual summer cruise in July I noticed a small lump on my left breast under my armpit area.  I never really thought twice about it because I was healthy and young.  After a couple of months my armpit started itching and I felt a burning sensation.  My husband felt the lump and advised me to get it checked out immediately!  I showed my co-worker, a nurse, who got a second opinion from a fellow nurse and they quickly scheduled me an appointment at the clinic. 
    We discussed my last annual checkup with my OB/GYN from that previous April where I had a thorough breast exam done.  I was quickly referred to the Joe Arrington Cancer Center for a mammogram and diagnostic ultrasound.  After patiently waiting for my results a breast navigator recommended two weeks of antibiotics as it appeared to be an infective process.  However, I told them I’d be more comfortable having the mass removed and my PCP and surgeon agreed.  The surgeon removed it and was convinced it wasn’t breast cancer because of my young age and figured, if anything, it was lymphoma.  On 09/14/2018 I had a lumpectomy, and the surgeon assured my husband and mother that the 3.8cm lymph node wasn’t breast cancer. 
    Once again, we waited patiently for the pathology reports.  I went for my follow up appointment on 09/28/14 and that’s when my life would change forever!  The doctor looked me straight in the eyes to tell me I had an aggressive form of breast cancer known as Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Grade 3.  I couldn’t think clearly or form any words out of my mouth.   He left the room, and as I looked at the worry in my husband’s eyes I broke down in shock. 
    The first call I made after leaving the office was to my mother. I knew she was keeping it together over the phone for my sake but would cry once we hung up and inform the rest of the family.  My case was presented in front of the tumor board the following Tuesday 10/02/2018 and was accepted! I met with my oncologists 10/08/2018 and was told that my cancer was not only fast and aggressive, but that it was Triple Negative which does not have a targeted therapy.  
    I required a total of 6 months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and 6 months of radiation.  The type of mastectomy depended on what I wanted and the results of the genetic testing I had done.  We met with a genetics counselor and had lab work done to check for any gene mutations.  I soon after had my surgery to get my port placed and waited for chemo day!  Fear and anxiety were my biggest factors during my first chemo treatment 10/22/2018.  My nerves were getting the best of me as I watched the nurse access my port for chemo.  I remember very clearly watching the medications flow through the IV tubing all the way to my port, and all I could think was there’s no turning back now!  A flood of concerns flew through my head and I asked myself “what if I have a reaction?  Will I immediately get sick??”  I took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts and thought of my sweet boys who needed me.  I was doing this for my family, not just me. 
    As if things couldn’t possibly get worse, I was then told that I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation and I would need a double mastectomy and hysterectomy!  Unfortunately, my kids are at risk and will have to get checked when they are 18 years old for this mutation gene.  SCARY STUFF!
    Currently, as of February 2019, I’m continuing my chemo therapy and still have 9 total treatments before I can have surgery.  My friends, family & co-workers have helped me tremendously with all their love and support.