By Tricia Collins //
On January 7, 2010, my 44th birthday, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer; 80 percent of all breast cancer being this form. As I tell my story, I will share how my faith was an integral part in getting to my current state of remission. I had a normal mammogram just months prior and was shocked to learn that in a six-month span, I had developed a stage 3 cancer. It was pain under my right arm that led me to see a doctor. However, I had noticed a knot prior to this pain that I mistook for a clogged milk duct.
After several doctor’s visits and more mammograms, I found myself slightly sedated and having a biopsy. Prior to the procedure, the radiologist had told me the lump looked very suspicious, but it was during the procedure that his statements really began to hit home. Less than 24 hours later, my husband and I received the awful news. After much discussion, we sought a second opinion. After more mammograms, a breast MRI and another biopsy, we received confirmation that my lymph nodes also were involved.
Although both diagnoses were the same, treatment options were presented. The decisions were nerve-racking. We had three young children at the time, and I wanted to choose the option that would give me the most time with them. Ultimately, we chose to begin chemotherapy quickly, hoping to shrink the tumor before surgery. I had another procedure to place a port that would make it easier to receive chemo. Just a few days after having the port placed, I began my chemotherapy, which was a mixture of three different types of chemotherapy. It was not long after my first treatment that I realized vomiting and losing my hair were the least of my worries. While on chemo, I developed a fever of unknown origin, thrush, mouth sores, sties, peeling skin, neuropathy of my fingers and toes, and had blood transfusions, and several of my toenails fell off. My life became one appointment after another.
It was during this time that I rediscovered the rosary. The rosary is a form of contemplative prayer that centers on the events of Christ’s life. I found that as I prayed and meditated on the life of Jesus, my breathing began to slow and I experienced a peace I have never experienced before. Philipians 4:6-7 (NASB) says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As I meditated, I realized my pain and discomfort were nothing compared to the pain and suffering Jesus endured.
On Monday, April 5, 2010 (the day after Easter), I had my first mastectomy. The painful recovery of this surgery was the worst pain I had endured. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I was given a First Class Relic of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos from my daughter’s teacher. We discovered that the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos was on Josephine St. in New Orleans. Not far from my doctor’s office. My husband and I began making regular trips to ask for intercessory prayer. Our prayers were answered! Not long after my surgery, we received news that the chemotherapy had eradicated all visible cancer cells.
One of the things I noticed during my ordeal was that there was an outpouring of support early on in my diagnosis and treatment, but this evaporated over time. It became clear that while outward signs of my illness were present, people were supportive. However, as my hair grew back, people were unaware of my ongoing struggle in my recovery. My treatment did not end with that mastectomy as most people would assume. I endured radiation and several more surgeries until the reconstruction was complete. Because of the involvement of my lymph nodes and the invasiveness of the surgeries, I needed extensive occupational therapy in order to regain function of my right arm. It was only those intimately involved in my treatment who were aware of my continued suffering.
It was my faith and the faith of others that helped me cope with the suffering. I know that God was with me through it all, and my illness brought me closer to God.