“In September of 2008, I was three years into grief over losing my husband. I admit, I did not take care of myself. I noticed a lump in my lower chest near the rib cage but chose to ignore it for months. I went to the doctor for a sinus infection and mentioned the lump to my primary care provider. He felt the lump and thought it was just a swollen lymph node due to the sinus infection. I had been with my PCP since I was 12 years old, so he knew me well.
While I was getting ready to leave the PCP office, my doctor said “I scheduled you a mammogram, just to make sure.”
I was 39 years old and couldn’t figure out why a mammogram was necessary at my age, but I agreed to go on his request. The mammogram was set up for the following Tuesday. Again, I had no fear since I was young, had no history of breast cancer in my family, and the lump was not directly located on my breast. To me, this was just an inconvenience. The morning of the mammogram I almost canceled … but went begrudgingly.
By that afternoon, I was asked to come back for an ultrasound. When I got back to imaging, I questioned if everything was OK. I was told that process is normal at the time, but received a call the next morning that I would need to have a biopsy. I went in the next Thursday for the biopsy and on Monday morning, I received the call that I had breast cancer.
I remember the call. I remember the words. However, when she asked me if I had any questions, I just asked for her name again. I was told I would hear from my PCP to get set up with an oncologist. I called all of my sisters … which was hard. I am the baby of four girls, and I had already struggled with my husband’s congestive heart failure and death. I had lost so much, and now this. We all cried, and in my mind I thought, “do I need to prepare to die?”
I went home and wrote out both my obituary and my final wishes. I did not know anyone with breast cancer, so for me this was bad.
I was set up with an oncologist who supported me through five years of treatment. I was stage 4 and informed of the chances of survival. He answered my concerns and supported all the questions my sisters had as well.
Looking back, I realized cancer saved my life. It led me to a career at Lake Norman OBGYN where I introduce myself to anyone, and everyone, who has a lump. I know that fear. I understand that fear. But, more importantly, not every lump is cancer and not every cancer is terminal.
Was treatment hard? Somedays. It is not like the shows and movies. I did lose my hair. I actually shaved it so I had control over losing it. I left exhausted somedays, and somedays it took a look in the rearview mirror to remember that I actually had cancer. There were a lot of great days, and some days that my bed was my refuge.
Life is scary. I realize that as bad as I thought I would die at that time, God gave me a journey and life story that I am proud to share. Cancer was hard, but it is not the worst thing I have been through. My journey, through family death and cancer, brought me life and sure made me a stronger woman.
Frankie Finegan is the office manager at Lake Norman OBGYN.