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Mom Talk: Breast Cancer At 33

Written by Dulci Edge

Photography by Dulci Edge

Dulci Edge is an art director, stylist, and travel blogger, so as you can imagine, her site The Far & Near is filled with beautiful images of all the fabulous places she’s been—Marrakech, Kyoto, Sevilla, Corsica, and dozens more. And since her sweet son Charlie entered the picture three years ago, she’s become a pro on toddler-friendly travel. But three months ago Dulci had to abruptly cancel all her travel plans. She found a lump in her breast that turned out to be Stage 2 cancer. In today’s Mom Talk essay, the 33-year-old Bay Area resident shares her personal experience with the hope that her story will encourage other women to go in (without delay) and get themselves checked, especially if anything seems remotely wrong. 

(Editor’s Note: Dulci wrote this essay in 2019. Check out her Instagram feed for an optimistic update!)

It’s taken me nearly three months to write this, partly because some days I don’t believe any of this is really happening, and writing it all down makes it feel more real.

On Monday, June 24th, I was diagnosed with Stage 2A, Grade 3, Triple Negative, Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer. Sitting in the room with my husband, hearing the news, time stood completely still and in an instant our world was utterly shattered.

Four weeks prior, I found a lump in my breast while sitting on the sofa watching TV with my husband, Spencer. I wasn’t looking for it, my hand simply grazed my chest and I thought “that wasn’t there before.” I asked Spencer to feel it, if it felt like a lump, but he wasn’t sure. The next day, I asked a girlfriend to feel it and she agreed that it felt like…something. I was heading to New York for a week for work, but made plans to see my doctor when I returned. The truth is, I didn’t think about it much while I was away. I was busy working and seeing old friends. I wasn’t feeling sick, I wasn’t in any pain, and the lump barely crossed my mind.

Upon returning home, I called my doctor, explained I’d found a lump and they were able to see me the same day. Once my doctor confirmed it was a lump (vs. fatty tissue), she ordered a mammogram. It would be another week before they could squeeze (haha, no pun intended) me in. Again, during that time, I really didn’t think about the lump. I was busy, I was healthy, and I’d had a small lump over 10 years ago that turned out to be a benign cyst. Besides, I had no family history of breast cancer and I was young. I was doing the right thing by scheduling the necessary appointments, but at no point was I worried it might all be leading up to something serious.

When I checked in for the mammogram, the receptionist said “Wow, you’re so young! What are you doing here?” and she was right. Nearly every woman in the waiting room was twice my age. I was the youngest by a long shot. Her comment and a quick scan of the waiting room further boosted my confidence that this was nothing, maybe something to keep an eye on, but otherwise, just a waste of an afternoon. The mammogram tech asked to feel my lump, and when she did, I could sense an immediate change in her body language. “How long ago did you find this?” she asked with a concerned look on her face. When I told her it had been about 3 weeks, she seemed shocked; “This isn’t a three-week lump.” We began the exam (my first ever mammogram), and I can understand now why these appointments are so easy to put off; they’re extremely uncomfortable and painful, not to mention stressful. In many ways, the entire process feels medieval, and yet, it’s such a necessary component for women’s health.

The mammogram confirmed the presence of the lump, but not much else. A biopsy would be required. I scheduled the first available appointment and finally started to worry, just a little. Spencer was out of town for the biopsy appointment, so I went alone, which in many ways made me feel like it was less of a big deal and more just a routine appointment. During an ultrasound, they also noted some suspicious areas in the lymph nodes they wanted to biopsy, which made me nervous. I knew lymph nodes were closely linked to cancer and not an area you wanted looking “suspicious.” The biopsy process was painful. A large needle was inserted into my breast, removing cells from the lump, then again into my armpit to test cells from the lymph nodes. I was given local anesthesia, but these are sensitive areas and the swelling and bruising I experienced afterward were unpleasant and took weeks to subside. What comes after is almost worse. The waiting game. My results wouldn’t be ready until the following week. I left the breast health center feeling worried, but still hopeful there would be good news.

That weekend we flew to New York to attend a wedding in Brooklyn. We enjoyed a kid-free trip seeing old friends and I did my best to put the biopsy results out of my mind. As we started inching closer towards Monday, I was getting more and more anxious about the entire thing, just desperate to know what was happening inside my body.

I had opted to go in for my results Monday afternoon, but that morning I received a call from my doctor asking if I’d had my results appointment yet (the biopsy was conducted by a separate medical office so my doctor received the results before I did) and I could hear something ominous on the other end of the phone. I said I hadn’t, but asked for her to share with me what she knew. I’ll never forget hearing the words “You have breast cancer.” You can worry and stress all you want, but nothing prepares you for hearing something so earth shattering. I immediately hung up and called Spencer who rushed home to be with me. He was also in shock and I could hear the panic in his voice; this was a scenario neither of us had prepared for.

We made our way to the breast health center for my scheduled results appointment already knowing what we would be told. Still, I couldn’t help but wish we’d arrive to learn there had been some kind of mix-up. Instead, we were ushered into a private office where a nurse navigator sat with a grim face and an enormous packet of information. She confirmed what we already knew, going into great deal about my specific diagnosis (triple negative), stage, grade, and next steps. It was an incredible amount of information to digest, not to mention both Spencer and I were still in disbelief about the entire situation. As we sat there, holding hands, sobbing, the immensity of the situation was just beginning to sink in. There was so much to do, appointments to make, family members to tell, plans to cancel, and of course, our son to consider. It was all so overwhelming. We were in a haze. Nothing made sense, it all felt like a bad dream and we felt completely helpless. Cancer didn’t happen to young, healthy people like me. I wasn’t sick. This couldn’t be possible. We left the breast health center in tears and held each other for a long time, neither one of us fully realizing how big this was or how much our life was about to change.

The days that followed were incredibly stressful and heavy. We stopped sleeping, unable to turn our minds off, still grappling with the news. I couldn’t eat, my stomach was in tatters and I felt constantly anxious. The only thing we could do was begin to formalize a plan, and that was something I felt good about, a task we could complete. I was anxious to get the wheels in motion. Whatever was in me, I wanted it out. I wanted answers, I wanted a timeline, I wanted to start, so I could finish. Now that I knew what was inside me, it felt like the cancer was growing larger by the minute and we were in a race against the clock to beat it. We started to make appointments and mobilize a team of doctors who would help us create a treatment plan. We selected an oncologist and surgeon, we scheduled MRI’s and blood work and 24 hours later I had begun IVF treatments (I’ve detailed that process in another post!).

All in it took 2 weeks from diagnosis to my first chemotherapy session, which looking back feels like some kind of record. I’m thankful we were able to make it happen so quickly. I needed to feel like we were fighting it and fast. So, now we are nearly 3 months in and deep in this new world we never knew existed. It’s still surreal, I’m still not quite sure it’s really happening and I certainly don’t feel defined in any way by this disease or my diagnosis. I wavered on whether I wanted to share anything on my blog, but ultimately I remember how overwhelmed and helpless I felt, how scary and dark the internet was, and how so much of what I saw was negative. If anything I hope I can offer some insight to someone going through this. I’ll do my best to keep sharing what I can, the good and the bad, because I wish I had found an article like this when I was diagnosed.

For anyone reading this who may have been putting off a doctor’s appointment, I get it. I was busy too. But I’m so happy I made time to prioritize my health, because even though that first doctor’s appointment set off a string of events that really rocked my world, the alternative would be not knowing and, frankly, that’s even scarier. So, if you take anything from this, please schedule your annual, get that thing checked that’s been bothering you, get a second opinion if you don’t like the first, listen to your body and know your normal, so you know when something isn’t. Be well.

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