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Sara’s Story

Since I have been asked to blog this journey (if you will), I decided this could be a start.
Oddly enough, I have always wanted to natter on about my daily life, my quirky insights to things, my life as a mother, my sick sense of humor- but I just figured I never really had an interesting reason to do so- then BAM! My golden ticket- a cancer diagnosis in my fifth month of pregnancy. Yep. That should do it. Pretty damn interesting indeed. So here I am. I'm 35. A lethal combo of a dreamer and hard core realist. Married to my absolute best friend for only a year, I have two beautiful daughters who are the pearls from the oyster that was my first marriage, and my third daughter is due in March. She will end up being the little pearl of the oyster that is her mom's cancer. Boy, if you are a child of mine, you are almost a shoe in for your own novel. I hope they pay attention in English class.
So. Deep breath. Get your number two pencils sharpened, and choose your answers wisely. Turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this... Whatever.
Here we go.








On the second day of November, 2012, I married my best friend. My daughters did too. I fact, our family married that day. The four of us. James took my girls under wing as if they had always been his.

We embarked on a lot of adventures together, bought a brand new home, made it ours, spent most of the summer on Lake Michigan, in his childhood home town of Ludington, Mi, fixing up what we would call our little lake house. My kids made memories in the same house that he did as a a boy. I literally started to savor every bit of my life, with all 5 senses. It was hard to believe that I finally felt like I had found my nirvana. Literally. I quit my job, and became the stay at home wife and mom- and loved it. I still do. The sweetest part of that summer was on a hot evening in July, when alone at the lake house, I discovered I was pregnant. I'll never forget it. I had to call James right away- I couldn't keep the surprise. I really didn't think we would have a baby of our own. We had been trying, but just figured my two girls would be it. Much to our delight, God had other plans. Summer quickly turned from green to shades of yellow and orange, and fall was upon us. Katey started 5th grade, at a new school, I coached her cheerleading team, and Cece started preschool. Both girls were flourishing. James and I were too, as we were so excited with each pregnancy milestone we reached. In late October, we found out that we were being blessed with another little girl. I couldn't believe it. I cannot say there has ever been a happier time in my life. It seemed like the planets finally had aligned, and after surviving what had seemed like my own personal hell, of heartbreak, divorce & disappointment, I was finally seeing my own silver lining. But for some reason, I felt cautious. I didn't let myself dive in completely- because a little voice kept saying- "just wait"...

James and I married on a Friday. Everything about that day was delicious. All of it. We had cupcakes at our reception, from a little bakery downtown. Our wedding cake was just for us, and from the first ceremonial slice cut, we shared & savored it to the last crumb... I'm not kidding. We honeymooned in Chicago, and you can bet that cake came along with us. Chocolate & white layers with raspberry buttercream frosting in the middle & buttercream on the outside. Divinity.
Naturally, a year later, my husband decided to bring home a replica of that cake on the morning of our first anniversary. It tasted even sweeter the second time, as we sliced into it, not wearing a tux & a wedding dress with glasses of champagne - but being in sweatpants & pajamas with coffee. It was our breakfast. One year. Time had wings. That weekend, we spent at home together. Just us. We support rival college football teams, (he Michigan & I Michigan State), and the two headed off in a much anticipated game that afternoon. We watched the game, ordered Chinese take out, and just spent the time together. We donated the altar flowers at church that Sunday, and served coffee at the luncheon following the service. We wanted to be no place else, other than where it had all started a year prior... Little did we know, that after that Sunday, our lives would never be the same...

Several months prior...

Back in April, we decided to start thinking about a baby of our own. I visited my OB at that time, to see what our options were. Because my cycles were irregular, I was put on metformin, a drug typically for diabetics, to help with my fertility. About 4 weeks into it, I noticed a lump in my left breast. I brought it to the attention of the OB office. An NP examined me, and determined it was nothing. Dense breast tissue at most. Breast cancer was not even on my radar at that time. A second appointment with a nurse midwife, checking on the fertility process, I asked about it again, and was reassured it was likely hormonal. A few months passed. The lump grew. I found out I was pregnant, & at my OB intake, I asked about it again. This time it was still "nothing" but an ultrasound of my breast & a breast surgeon consult was ordered. "Just to put my mind at ease". I went ahead & had the ultrasound done. A week later, I received a letter, stating that it was nothing. Just dense breast tissue- NO ABNORMALITIES. I did what anyone else would have done. I didn't schedule the referral appointment with the breast surgeon. Why in the hell would I? I just got an "all clear" from the radiologist. At that point, I figured mastitis after the baby arrived was my biggest worry. Cancer? Pffffttt.

During the next few months, the fatigue I experienced was overwhelming. I attributed it to being 34, raising 2 very active girls, and being pregnant. Then I started waking up at night. The pain in my left breast was excruciating. It felt like something was growing like ivy around the nerve endings in my chest wall, shoulder & down my arm. James would get up & make me heat packs to try to soothe it. I called my OB again, and was told that they would reinstate the referral to the breast surgeon. Two weeks later, we had our 20 week comprehensive exam for baby. Ultrasound looked great, and we found out we were having a girl. Toward the end of the appointment, I asked my OB to examine my breast again, and reminded her that we still had not been contacted about the breast surgeon consult. Again, she examined my breast & showed no concern, figuring I would "just produce more milk on that side" By this time, the lump was a mass, and was nearly the size of a ping pong ball. I left that day, again feeling lulled that nothing was wrong.

I finally called the breast surgeon & got the appointment set up. November 7th.
The morning of the consult, I showered, and as I was washing under my left arm, I found 2 more masses. I called James into the bathroom and had him feel. We both kind of looked at each other. Shit. We both knew something wasn't right. At that point, standing there, dripping wet, it hit me. What had hit me I don't know, but it didn't feel ok.

We proceeded to the appointment. Waited. Wondered. Finally we met the doctor, who said based in the ultrasound from August, he really didn't see anything wrong- yet he would perform a breast exam anyway. I took everything off, from the waist up, put on what looked like a giant bib that opened from the front, and we waited. (Looking back, my biggest fear that day for my baby was a mammogram -ha!)
The doctor and his nurse came in, and he started palpating my breast. He stopped. He excused himself, and left the room. He brought in with him, a resident, and asked if I minded if he had a look too. I thought to myself, "Why not. Grab a few beers & let's party". My stomach started to knot. They both felt me, and the doctor said to the resident "I want you to tell me how this was missed".
Long story short, he telephoned another surgeon/breast radiologist, and instructed us to go across town immediately for a biopsy. That's when I started shitting bricks, the lump formed in my throat, and that agonizing feeling of looming heartbreak that I knew all too well, tapped me on the shoulder. Again.

We walked into the office across town, and right away, we were taken into a room, where again I removed my clothes from the waist up. The radiologist came in and asked me for the short version of my history- then proceeded with the ultrasound. He kept pausing. Measuring. Looking. Measuring. Finally I said. "I want you to tell me exactly what you are seeing right now". He said "well, the good news is, is that there are good options for chemo in pregnancy". I looked at James & I think then and there we both knew. We proceeded with the exam, including 9 biopsies of my breast & nearby lymph nodes. Then we left. We went home. We held each other. We cried. We prayed. And we waited.

At 2:05 the next afternoon, I called to get the results of my pathology report. I was home alone, with Cece, my youngest daughter. I grabbed a scrap piece of paper and a pen, and as she sat next to me, thumbing through a picture book, I wrote what the doctor was telling me. It was like I was taking report on a patient at work. Not writing my own prognosis down. In blue ink, on that yellow piece of scrap paper, without crying, I remember writing...
-2 tumors. Grade 3.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
-positive metastatic cells
-positive lymph nodes.
-CANCER

I hung up the phone. I think I said "fuck" in my head about 50 times, then I asked Cecelia if she wanted a snack.

My OB promptly called me and said she was shocked at the diagnosis. "How??" I thought.

I texted James, and told him that he needed to see about getting the night off work.

I called my parents. And when my dad answered, it was the first time I had to say out loud, "it's cancer" tears choked out my words, and he asked me to repeat myself. I did, and he passed my mom the phone. Immediately, they said they would be here, and by God, if 48 hours didn't pass, they were at my door. All the way from Florida, after only being there two days into their snowbird trip, they were here for me. That's how my family is.

James came home for the night. He knew before he even saw me. He walked in the door, and when his eyes met mine, I could see the tears welled up, about to spill down his cheeks. He said 4 words..."it's cancer, isn't it?" I nodded & we hugged the tightest hug. I finally felt safe, for the first time that day, in his arms-yet I couldn't cry. I felt in that moment, he needed MY strength. By that time, Katey had come home from school on the bus. I looked at James & said "get in the shower, now". From the other side of the bathroom door, the shower ran. He wept. I sat on our bed, with a blank stare- feeling like I was in a nightmare.

My dear friend brought is dinner that night. Some of the best pizza I've ever had. We spread a blanket in front if the fireplace and ate as a little family. The girls had no clue. James and I just kept looking at each other, heartbroken. My cousin came for the weekend. I made a few phone calls. The blur that life with cancer is began...
This will be our story.

Latest Journal Update

PTSD: Pushing Through Struggles Daily

It is hard for me to fathom what life was like 20 months ago. Like a building being shook to the ground, broken of its footings and mortar, I feel like the house my soul existed in before, changed forever. On June thirtieth, it will be one year since I was declared "in remission". Brick by brick, I've been rebuilding my house, though some days I feel as though I've been given only sticks or straw, and that damn wolf is always around the corner. 

A lot of trust has been taken from me. I have learned just how much one smile can hide, and how much weight shoulders can hold. I have learned just how much I can push. I've not yet made it through a day, where I don't think about my proverbial house being blown in, or where I don't grieve the one that stood before it. Cancer brings the voice of that wolf to your door every day, and if you allow it, the hot breath of the words it utters in your mind scorch your hope. If you allow it, it can be a dark place- where there is so little oxygen, what little flame you have left is stifled. Once you have faced death, this  dark place is one you must escape every day, and you must appear grateful and victorious doing it. 

Being a survivor doesn't just mean you have "beat" cancer, like you have defeated a giant, it means that you get up every single day, no matter what tools you're given, and you keep building. It means you forgive yourself, when you're too tired to try. It means that you admit when you are afraid, but carefully balance that fear, so as not to be consumed by it. Every single morning, I fear that wolf will come. Every day I live, I fear dying. I fear it, not because of the possibility of it, but because I have already faced it. It's like walking the edge of a cliff, every day, after you've slipped from the edge of it, and fallen- caught by the collar, by a limb breaking your fall. Those who have not come close to the edge tell you not to worry, not knowing how breathless it makes you feel.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real. It stems from battle, and let me tell you, I've been through one. And I fight it, every day. I've lost friends. I'm losing friends. And the only weapons I posess to even fight fairly are faith and hope. As this one year approaches, I'm experiencing feelings I didn't expect to feel. Coming through the other side of this brings consolations that some days, I don't want. Certain smells, sounds, tastes... They can literally make my ears ring, to where I leave the moment I'm in, and am taken back. Tonight, I was changing Addy's diaper, and I could hear the opening credits of Wheel of Fortune from the TV in the living room. The wolf at the door. I remember, coming home from chemo, and counting my contractions through Wheel of Fortune, praying they'd stop before Jeopardy. I would time them, salty tears on my face, internally talking with my baby, telling her to stay put, apologizing for what I was doing to her, knowing full well, if I did not get that treatment, we could both die.  Hearing the television took me back, and before I knew it, those sweet little feet that kicked me from the inside were wiggling out of that diaper as I came back to reality. It's almost like shell shock. 

Life certainly goes on, and every bit is worth savoring. I'm grateful that I am here. The next time you see a survivor, or family of a survivor, understand, it is so much more than meets the eye. 

So here I am, almost one year out. I'll be alright, and I AM alright, just be patient with me. I'm a work in progress. As for the wolf, I do not intend on letting him in. And I'll rebuild. Brick by brick. 


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Comments

3 Comments

Phyllis Graber
By Meg's mom.
Sara, you are one of the strongest women I have had the honoring of befriending. Keep fighting! Fight for your family, yourself and for those who fought the good fight but lost anyway. You have won the battle but the war is ongoing. It takes strength, courage and spirit to win the battle and I have complete faith that you will continue to win. While you are the one battling, please know that there are many prayer warriors lifting you up in prayer each day. We stand with you in this war and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Lauren Hubert Smoke
By Lauren Smoke — last edited
This is amazing. I'm still going through treatment and have a ways to go before I'm hopefully declared "in remission." But this is how I feel every day. So glad you shared this and that our paths crossed. :)
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Michelle Lang-Schock
By Michelle Lang-Schock
That was beautiful and right on point. I'm not sure if this helps you BUT your words helped me and spoke exactly what I've been feeling for that last year and a half. I have come to realize people don't understand what we are NOW going through, all they see to them is that we beat the monster and it's all good. For me.... After Charli was born I began to relive what I went through... During the "fight" I only thought about winning and coming out with my healthy little co-warrior, not what was actually going on. I told myself it was the flu so not to be to emotional. After I survived THEN I thought about it. So what I'm saying to you... I totally understand and am right there with you! Love you for your courage and inspiration!
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