“The motivation to begin this photography project is deeply personal. In 2014, my mother lost her battle to Stage IV colon cancer that metastasized to her ovaries, cervix, and brain. She died three months after she was diagnosed. Watching a loved one suffer while battling cancer or other illnesses is not easy. Every day I am inspired by the strength and courage I see from those who are fighting for their lives on many fronts.
This photography project is a way to honor and capture the beauty of every person fighting to be healthy, strong, and at peace with who they are. My goal for Braving Life Photography is to create images and an experience that celebrates their life, courage, and bravery.” -Yvette
Life is ironic. This text was taken directly from the home page of a new photography project I launched in September of 2016. I had one session under my belt with a close friend of our family. I was excited to announce my latest adventure in photography. You can read more about her at http://bravinglifephotography.com/2016/09/14/amanda/.
A week before this shoot, my wife noticed a small lump. I made an appointment to have it checked out and figured it was just another new cyst. My boobs love growing cysts. For twenty years I have been vigilant about screening and doing everything right where my breast health was concerned.
In March of 2016 I had my annual visit which included a mammogram and ultrasound. According to the report, a benign cyst at 12 o clock, medical speak, was a calcification. Nothing to worry about. Within a day of this unusually painful mammogram a giant lump appeared. Since the report was clear I chalked it up to another cyst. It literally popped up overnight.
This cyst would shrink and expand intermittently like the many others I have because of my dense breast tissue. Nothing new. When the new tiny lump was noticed I jumped on it. I visited my primary care provider and got an appointment for a mammogram. On September 26 I had the mammogram. Usually they order both. Not this time.
It took a week to get the letter that I needed a follow up ultrasound, which I knew was needed the day I was there. The wording on the order was not clear so I had to wait another few days before the doctor would send the ultrasound order via mail. I finally had the ultrasound October 17, three full weeks after the first mammogram. Four days later I received a call that a biopsy was necessary. Something was not right.
On October 25 the biopsy was performed. Ouch. Three days later I got the call. It was October 28. I was told that the larger cyst, which popped up the day after my screening in March was, in fact, a 3 centimeter, Stage 2, Grade 2, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. My worst fear came true. I have breast cancer. The tiny little bump was in fact just another pesky cyst.
My wife is usually the one with the words and so I asked what that moment felt like for her.
“Everything stopped. The breath left my chest and my head dropped. Cancer. Tears ran down my cheeks and on to the floor. A simultaneous wave of sadness, fear, anger, and disbelief hit every ounce of my body as I stood in the middle of my living room unable to move. Hundreds of questions and nothing at all consumed my mind. I wanted to wake up and stop the bad dream but the pain in my chest let me know I was very much awake.”
It was almost two weeks before we knew anything definite. Sitting with the news was tough. Our days were spent waiting for a second test result trying not to freak out, doing regular things, and trying to wrap our brains around the news. It is hard to prepare for the unknown. Knowing a cancer was growing in my breast while I folded laundry and edited photos was a strange feeling.
Meeting with the Breast Cancer Care Coordinator made it real. Appointments with an oncologist, surgeon, and radiation specialist were made. A delay with getting a second test result postponed being told what the treatment plan would be.
Even when we met with the oncologist we did not know the result. Blood was drawn for genetic testing because of my less than stellar family history with cancer. Yet another variable to include in the treatment math.
This “knowing something has to happen but not knowing what” situation was awful. No, not awful, torturous. Later that same day, the HER2 test result finally came back. It was negative. I would not need chemo prior to surgery. A brief moment of relief. The meeting with the surgeon was the next day.
The surgeon showed me my scans. She described what I was looking at on the screen as trying to find a polar bear in a snow storm. This was the first time I had ever seen what my bra has been lugging around all these years. I was told that the size of the tumor meant that it had definitely been there for at least a year. I felt angry and terrified. I had been so careful to stay on top of things, yet it still was not enough to catch this earlier.
Options were discussed. A double mastectomy was the best decision. If the genetic testing showed the BRAC1 or BRAC 2 mutation my ovaries will have to be removed. An MRI was ordered to make sure my other breast wasn’t hiding something. At this point, I don’t trust either of them. The doctor said her first open date for surgery was November 30th. Wait, that soon? Hold on, that far? This is really happening. SO much information to absorb.
Adding to the pile, we left the office and drove to South Florida to see my mother in law who went into Hospice the day before. She is dying. From cancer. It was quite possibly the last time we will see her. It was a very difficult visit. Dawn and I found it extremely hard to compartmentalize the emotions. We sat in the car staring at each other, unable to wrap our brains around how the hell this was all happening at once. I wish I could write something funny or even smarmy here but all I can think of it THIS IS BULLSHIT and CANCER SUCKS.
As I continue to blog throughout my journey, I hope to be able to share more of the personal stuff, but for now it is easier to just share the facts because the emotions are too overwhelming. Opening up and sharing my story with the world is not easy. Those who know me know I prefer being behind the camera. I hope by turning the camera on myself I will be able to help someone else by giving an inside look to how cancer affects not only the patient, but their family as well. Stay tuned.