My BRIGHT Story
By Cathy Williams
My BRIGHT Story By Cathy Williams I am a 46-year-old mother, wife, sister, daughter and Registered Nurse, not always in that order. We had just moved into our new home, which my husband and I built from the ground up. My kids had started at their new school, one in Grade 2, the other in JK.
I am from a family of four girls. My mother died of leukemia at age 45. I was 10 years old. Her sister died of uterine cancer when she was in her 40s, and their fraternal grandmother and her daughter also passed away from cancer. To say I have a family history is putting it mildly.
Ten years ago, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36. My cousin’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer at 14 and her sister (a cousin) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her early 50s. It was devastating. Many times I wondered: Why? Why us?
After my sister was diagnosed, I sort of went into denial, I never had a mammogram, even though I told concerned family members that I had. I had always had fibrous breast tissue, especially around my period, and I was very good about doing breast self-exams.
On March 21, 2014, I was having a shower, getting ready for work. I felt it. It wasn’t anything major but it was just a change in one particular area on my breast. I think I knew right then.
I went to work and spoke to one of the surgeons, who arranged an exam and confirmed what I had suspected, although he found two other lumps. So much for knowing my own boobs!
I was booked for a mammogram and ultrasound shortly after. I was working that day and thought I would just pop down on my lunch break for my tests. But after they took multiple mammogram pictures and sent me to ultrasound where my surgeon was waiting for me, I knew I was not going to be finishing my shift.
They took multiple biopsies that day. I was alone and in shock. The tech and the radiologist were so quiet it was eerie. But they were also very sweet, as they knew this was where my journey was starting. When I came out of the exam room, my charge nurse was waiting. She knew something was up when I did not return right away. She said, “No one should be alone going through this.” I loved her for that. I have no memory of driving home.
My husband has always been very cool-headed and I am a notorious catastrophist (probably a made-up word!). He has been my rock and he had to grow in many ways too from that day on. I fell in love with him all over again.
We saw my surgeon about seven days later and he confirmed it was invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). My husband and I went for a drink or three.
I had I a radical mastectomy a few weeks later. My sister from Calgary flew in and my other sisters were by my side. One of the hardest parts was getting dressed at the hospital with my sister and seeing myself in the mirror for the first time. It was like a part of me had been blown away in some horrible accident. That was the first time – but not the last – that I broke down and cried.
It was stage one, grade three, triple positive. Needless to say, they sent me for genetic testing. Ten years earlier, my sister was tested, but because no one else had cancer at the time, there was nothing to compare her results to. Now there was – me and my first cousin, who was diagnosed only a few months before me. We three were tested and our results showed we all had a similar mutation on our BRCA 1 gene. Many people have mutations on their genes and it doesn’t mean they are going to get cancer. This mutation in particular was not looked at as being deleterious, a fancy word for bad.
So, back to square one. Based on our significant family history, it was recommended that I have my other breast removed. I strongly agreed. But before that happened, I started on my chemo journey.
I would like to give a shout-out to my surgeon(s), geneticist and oncologist. You know who you are. They are amazing people who have to give people generally tough news on a daily basis and they do it with grace and compassion.
Back to chemo – eight rounds of ACT every two weeks. I remember the nurse at the info session told us our hair would fall out approximately 14 days after our first chemo. Well, 14 days after my first chemo and on the day of my second chemo, the same day as my daughter’s Junior Kindergarten meet-and-greet evening, my hair decided to start falling out…..seriously!
That morning, I brushed my hair, no problem. That evening, I went to straighten up before we headed to the school and, OMG, it was falling out with the slightest effort. Thank goodness for hair spray. I unloaded a whole can on my hair bun and prayed for no wind. That night, we put the kids to bed and my husband and I shaved my head. Talk about bonding – over clippers and Sauvignon Blanc!
That summer was a blur of chemo, appointments, more surgeries (ovaries and right breast) and loads of breakdowns in the shower.
I was, however, blessed (and I don’t use that word lightly) with an amazing sitter and family and my sister nurses who supported me and my little family. And we made it! We could not have done it without you ALL.
My wounds have since healed, but my life and the way I live it has changed forever.
I listen better. Well, as best I can with chemo brain – and yes, it is real!
I snuggle longer.
I don’t sweat the small stuff.
I eat better.
I still enjoy wine.
I cherish my friendships more.
I am much more conscious of not over stressing myself and I am grateful every day I am here.
Our geneticists are still doing tests on my family. This is a field that changes all the time and we feel that if we can learn something about our DNA that will help the next generation, it is our responsibility to leave no stone unturned.
Last year, we entered our team. the Tuff Titties, in the BRIGHT RUN and we had such an amazing experience. We can’t wait to start fundraising again for this year. I was so moved by the positive energy and strength of all those involved in this project – the volunteers, organizers, doctors, nurses, families and, of course, the Fighters! My kids are so excited to be involved in this positive part of mommy’s cancer journey. They are already asking who they can invite and how they can raise money.
Lil is five and Danny is eight. I remember telling the kids that I was going to have to take this “bounty-hunter medication” that was going to make my hair fall out. I didn’t want to say cancer because I thought it might scare them. They understood that I had an operation but not really why.
The first day I went to school to pick them up, I had on my head scarf and a hat. I felt my disguise was pretty darned good. But almost right away, one of my son’s classmates walked up to him and said, “Your mom has cancer.” So much for my great disguise!
We got into the car and Danny said, “Mommy that girl in my class said you have cancer but I told her that it was just a bounty-hunter medicine you were on.” Mother of the Year award? No, lol.
So there in the parking lot, I turned off the car and came clean. My son had loads of questions. He was very inquisitive and wanted to know if I was going to lose my leg like Terry Fox. When I explained it all, he was calm and seemed to appreciate my frankness. My daughter just listened and said she loved me.
When we pulled in the driveway at home, he hoped out, unbuckled his sister from her car seat, helped her out, then asked me for the house keys. I asked, “Why, what’s up? “Well,” he said. “Now that you’re going to be sick for a while, I guess I’m going to have to do everything around here!” I could have hugged all the air out of that kid! We had a good laugh that day. They were amazing throughout our journey and they still are.
This is my sister’s mantra, which she lets me use too:
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
– Winston Churchill