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Karen Foley

My husband was on business travel when I began experiencing tenderness and swelling in my left underarm. I hadn't had a physical in four years, but I felt great. My weight was under control, and I'd been a vegetarian for almost 15 years. At 51 years old, I believed I was extremely healthy. When the tenderness persisted, I did a self-exam of my left breast and clearly felt a large, hard lump. In my heart, I knew it was breast cancer, although I had no history of the disease in my family. I immediately made an appointment with my ob-gyn, who confirmed the lump. I had a mammogram the following day, but the results were "unremarkable" because my breast tissue was so dense. However, an ultrasound revealed the tumor, as well as enlarged lymph nodes in my side and under my left arm. Two days later I underwent a breast biopsy, and received the devastating confrimation that I had Stage 2 Invasive Ductile Cancer, which had spread to my lymph nodes. My husband came home, and my doctor told us it was Triple Negative breast cancer, but they had seen remarkable results with chemotherapy. I had a chemo port installed three weeks later, and began my chemo almost immediately. My treatment consisted of six rounds of chemotherapy, administered every three weeks.

The first round of chemo was a cake walk, and I thought, "I can handle this." I felt fabulous the day of chemo, and the following day. But on the next day, I suffered unrelenting nausea and vomiting, followed by two days of sheer exhaustion. When I told my oncologist how sick I had been, she shook her head and told me that was unacceptable. She prescribed a stronger anti-nausea medicine, and scheduled me for hydrating fluids the day after each chemo treatment. This additional fluid made all the difference, and although I suffered some mild queasiness and fatigue in the days after each chemo treatment, I never experienced that level of nausea I had with the first treatment. Through all of this, my husband was amazing. He cared for me, sat with me, buoyed my spirits, and kept me laughing through all of it. When my hair began to fall out, just ten days after my first treatment, he bundled me and our two teenaged daughters into the car and drove us to the barber. We sat side by side and had our heads shaved, while our girl cheered us on. He told me I was the most beautiful bald woman he had ever seen!

Over the next five months, I managed to continue working full time. My family and friends rallied around me and I found it easy to stay positive. I had so much to live for--two beautiful daughters, a husband I was crazy about, a geat career, and a second career as a romance writer for Harlequin. But by the fifth month, with no additional imaging performed, I began to have trouble sleeping. I believed my tumor was growing, although I could no longer feel it. I imagined that it had spread to my organs, and that I was going to die. I was depressed and I cried a lot. Thank goodness for my husband, who gave me a healthy dose of tough love, telling me that I was letting my imagination control me. He reminded me of all the positive things my surgeon and oncologist had said when I was first diagnosed in March 2014--I was going to survive this; the treatment was curative. I requested a mild anti-anxiety drug, and began to sleep better.

I finished my last round of chemotherapy on Aug 7, 2014. On Sep 4th, I had another ultrasound performed. The doctor came in, shaking his head as he reviewed the images. "I'm confused," he said. "Why are you here?" I told him I had breast cancer, and that my surgeon wanted to see if the tumor had shrunk. The radiologist smiled. "I'm going to tell your surgeon that there is no defined mass. In fact, there is no sign of disease." I was elated. I met with the surgeon on Sep 8, 2014, who confirmed that I had had a "remarkable response" to the chemotherapy. There was no longer any sign of the tumor. After consulting with the surgeon and the oncologist, I am scheduled for surgery on Sep 18th for a lumpectomy, and to remove the affected lymph nodes. After that, I'll have six weeks of radiation. My surgeon said this is my best course of treatment to ensure complete eradication of the cancer,

I'm ready to have this next phase of treatment behind me, and I feel blessed to have access to the best medical care available. I feel as if I've been given a second chance--I'm going to be a survivor. I'm going to embrace my life, and live each day to the fullest. I'm going to appreciate my friends and my family, and make sure they know how much I love them. I may always have the fear that my cancer will return, but I won't let that fear consume me, or prevent me from fulfilling my dreams. I wish every woman who is battling breast cancer the same support and love that I've experienced. Don't give up. Keep fighting.

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