Chapter Closed: Active Cancer Treatment

One week ago I walked into the Cancer Center for my {God willing} final infusion, marking the end of any active treatment I will receive for breast cancer.

In the last 14 months I have navigated (in no particular order):
3 mammograms
3 ultrasounds
1 needle breast biopsy
1 needle lymph node biopsy
1 ABUS
64 trips to the Cancer Center
15 trips to the local hospital(s)
4 heart echos
4 rounds of chemo
4 {uncomfortable and painful} post chemo booster shots
12 infusions
21 rounds of radiation
14 appointments with my oncologist
9 appointments with my surgeon
7 appointments with my radiation oncologist
52 blood draws (honestly, probably more)
1 extensive genetics test
2 rounds of being intubated and put under anesthesia (another round coming soon)
1 port placement
1 lumpectomy
2 MRIs
1 CT scan
1 guidewire placement
2 EKGs

Quick, approximate math of this list (which undoubtedly does not capture it all) equates to about 250 hours worth of actively showing up for things necessary to fight cancer. This does not count the insane amount of hours on the phone with insurance navigating claims (159 of them since my diagnosis), questioning bills (over $300,000 worth since my diagnosis – thankfully only about 15% of that coming out of my own pocket), and the hours of mental capacity put towards thinking about fighting cancer.

…and now I am…done?!

The life and cadence I have known since April 27th of last year has officially changed as I know it. While overwhelming, I found comfort in knowing the plan and setting my sight on the next thing to check off the list.

…and now I am…done.

Before getting the green light for my final infusion to be just that — final, I had to do a double mammogram, double ultrasound and ABUS. I am here to tell you physically stepping into the very space where I did my imaging that led to the breast cancer diagnosis was a bit surreal and emotional. So I prayed in the parking lot. I prayed in the dressing room as I put on the robe. I prayed walking up to the mammogram machine. I prayed hard during the time I knew a radiologist was looking at the imaging before they took me back for the ultrasound portion. I prayed walking back to my car, and I prayed for the two weeks between that imaging and the ABUS imaging. I prayed post ABUS until I saw the results had been uploaded to my patient portal. I’ve learned not to look at those results until my care team calls to talk me through them, but this time I simply could not wait knowing so much was riding on what was found.

Right breast: No suspicious lesions noted.
Left breast: Postsurgical changes in the left breast. No suspicious lesions noted.
BI-RADS Category 1: Negative, benign.
BI-RADS Category 2: Benign Finding(s).

*Big, deep, giant sigh of relief!*

This is a picture from June 12, 2021, port placement + first round of chemo day. I had just left the hospital from having my chest port placed. What you probably cannot see in my eyes here is the intense fear I felt in this moment (plus a little lingering anesthesia). I can still take myself back to that exact moment, and I hope to never, ever feel that way again. The message on my shirt of Faith Over Fear wasn’t just a cutesy design, it was a message I needed to repeat to myself over and over and over that day and through this entire journey.

The nurse I had on that first day will forever hold the most special place in my heart. She pulled up a chair, sat down, looked at me and said, “It’s ok to be scared. This is scary.” She was my first impression of chemo treatments, and she was a constant every time I walked into that treatment space. Even if she was not on my care during any given treatment, she always made it a point to come to my section, check on me and say hello.

This past Thursday she scheduled me to be in her section. She said, “We started this together, and we will finish this together.” She knew the last infusion – while something to absolutely celebrate – had potential to bring with it a mixed bag of emotions. Let it be known, this is what an actual angel on Earth in scrubs looks like!

In case of concern, please note masks were removed for a total of about 10 second for this picture only.

Due to ongoing restrictions driven by COVID I was welcomed to the active treatment space all 16 times with the sign “NO GUESTS ALLOWED PAST THIS POINT. PLEASE STAY OUT OF TREATMENT AREA!” Never once was I allowed to have anyone sit in that space with me. Imagine my excitement when I looked up from my word search puzzle on Thursday to see Cassie — fellow breast cancer fighter extraordinaire — walking my way! Decked out in her pink wig, carrying flowers and on her way to sit with me for the final 15 or so minutes of my treatment. It was really special, and I am very thankful my nurse helped make it happen. Since Cassie is technically a patient at the Cancer Center we only slightly bent the rules (shhhhhh, don’t tell).

On days when I would feel ok after my infusion I would swing by the local coffee shop to grab a drink. I decided to stick with tradition and do the same after this last infusion. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, so sitting outside to take it all in was exactly what felt right. I walked in to order my drink and the gal behind the counter (with short, pink hair) mentioned she liked my headscarf. I smiled big, told her I’d actually just finished up my last treatment for breast cancer and that headbands are the only thing keeping these crazy locks semi under control. She squealed and exclaimed the peppiest congratulations. This was what greeted me at the end of the counter when my drink was done being prepared by the smiling barista. Yes, this sentiment exactly.

So what’s next?

More faith over fear. Lots and lots of faith over fear. This time it is a different kind of fear. It’s scary to step away from the very plan you’ve had in place to save your life. To stop the drug fighting the cancer. To not show up to the Cancer Center every three weeks.

How am I feeling?

Amazing, overwhelmed, excited, scared, joyful, unsure, grateful, uneasy, happy, exhausted!

Here’s the thing, just because active treatment is over does not mean it is fully over.

Monday I met with my surgeon. July I will have surgery to take the chest port out. August I will have another heart echo, followed by meeting with my oncologist. Blood draws to check counts.

My surgeon’s office wins hands down for the worst appointment capes, bless their hearts!

For the next three years I will step into the Cancer Center atleast once every three months. Year four and five goes to every six months. Year five and beyond back to only once a year. Imaging galore. Blood draws with every visit. Doing everything we can to keep close watch for the return of the dreaded disease (please God, no. Just no.).

Every day in-between I will fight like hell to keep the scary thoughts out of my head. I will try not to worry about any ache or pain I feel = cancer being back. Learning to love my tattered and torn body. I will pray like I have never prayed before. Gift grace to myself (and lots of grace for others, too) as I figure it all out.

But today. In this moment. As I pen these words, I sit in sincere gratitude and awe. If you would have told me in March of last year I was a month away from stepping into all of this I would have told you there was absolutely no way I could do it. No.freaking.way.

But here I am, sweetly stating: chapter closed.

Next chapter to author: Survivorship. Thank you, God!

5 thoughts on “Chapter Closed: Active Cancer Treatment

  1. Sarah your an bright cloud to anyone day I’ve prayed with you and I know he is mighty Your wording and everything about your journey is been unbelievable You are something snd such a special woman I know the rest of your journey will be wonderful Carry on❤️❤️🙏🏻🙏🏻🎉🎉🎉

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  2. Sarah, you are so brave, kind, compassionate and smart. What a cloak to have to shield you. Cancer lost. You have won and can go forward and feel your own joy and gratitude.

    With much love,

    Gezil

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  3. Sarah, we are so thankful that this chapter of your life has come to a close! You have had a great support system, felt much love and prayers, but you are the one who has done the hard work. God gave you the strength to endure all those hard conversations, appointments and treatments as you leaned on Him. We give Him thanks and praise for all He has done in your life. Now go forward and live life to the fullest as you have always done! You are a great ambassador for Christ!
    Sharon

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