Recovery, Recurrence, Resiliency
Written By: Missy Backus, Ms. March 2023
I always considered myself a bit of a hypochondriac, my anxiety tried to tell me I always had something terrible wrong with me. The one time I didn’t think anything was wrong with me, that’s when cancer showed up. My OB-GYN found the lump during a clinical breast exam during my annual “Well Woman Exam.” I was sent for a diagnostic mammogram that was followed by an ultrasound, which revealed what appeared as “benign” cysts - one in each breast about the same size, the one in the left I could feel, the one in the right, I could not. The left one barely showed up on mammogram due to dense breast tissue.
Since I was ‘young’ and they appeared benign, the radiologist recommended a follow up ultrasound in 6 months. At the 6-month ultrasound, the “cyst” in the left breast had grown very little and the one in the right breast was unchanged, therefore the recommendation was to follow up with another ultrasound in 3 months since there was a slight change. That next ultrasound found the left side over 3 times the original size and the right side unchanged. About a year after the original diagnostic mammogram biopsies revealed that I had ER/PR+ HER 2- breast cancer- Grade 3 in the left breast, Grade 2 in the right.
Thinking back, I wish I would’ve asked for a biopsy at 6 months, would it have changed anything? Maybe not, but the question remains. Then the whirlwind of my cancer journey began. From April 1, 2020 to January 3, 2023, I endured the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual schooling my 2 kids, a double mastectomy, 16 rounds of chemo, 30ish rounds of radiation, 5 reconstructive surgeries, 1 hospitalization for cellulitis, starting and a partridge in a pear tree.
I kept saying, “maybe things will get better when...” or maybe “I will feel better about myself when…” All of those “whens” have come and gone and I have finally realized it’s up to me and only me to make things better. I need to love myself in spite of this storm I never thought I could or would have to weather. I took a big step into making a change for myself after cancer treatment by changing jobs.
I was a Mother Baby Nurse for 15+ years before cancer treatment. I just loved my job and thought I would retire there, but it became painstakingly clear that I needed to make a move for the sake of my healing. It was very hard to be truly 100% “present” for my patients, a majority of them experiencing one of the happiest times in their lives, the birth of children. I kept thinking “how am I going to go help these women breastfeed these new babies when I am still mourning the loss of my fertility and my own breasts?” I had previously found myself concerned about the other patients who had sat in the other chairs while I was getting treatment, I also prayed for and was concerned about the ladies I had chatted with in the mornings while waiting to go into my radiation appointment as we compared notes and empathy about feeling like a crispy piece of bacon.
I was unsure if it was the right time to dive into something new, but I took a leap of faith and applied for and eventually got hired as an Infusion Nurse at the cancer center where I was treated. From start to finish, they had taken such good care of me and I thought how rewarding that must be to make someone feel loved and supported the way my nurse, doctor and the other staff had made me feel. I found my love for Nursing again. I could not have done any of this without the love and support of my husband, kids, parents and other family members, friends and co-workers. I feel guilty at times being on the receiving end of so much heartfelt generosity, kindness and compassion, but I am realizing I need to try to let go of the guilt I have for making my loved ones go through this with me. I did not choose cancer, it’s not my fault, but I CAN choose how I live after cancer! I will not live in fear, I will step out of my comfort zone and try new things and not be scared of change. I will try to love the new me that has survived all this and at the end of the day is doing the very best she can.