(Breast Cancer: Invasive lobular and ductal carcinoma, Stage IIIC, ER+, PR+, Her2-)
So here’s my story: In August, 2015, I was in Paris, delighting in finding a champagne bar at the top of the Eiffel tower and blissfully celebrating my 43rd birthday with my husband, son, and daughter, who was turning 10 the same day (we share a birthday down to the minute – cosmic twins). I returned home, refreshed and ready to return to my life, the kids’ new school year, my beloved neuropsychology practice, colleagues, patients, friends and family. I had, by all measures, everything I could have ever wanted and then some.
What I actually returned to, however, was not only a whopping boat bill on the new/used boat I had just acquired that summer, but a fairly advanced breast cancer diagnosis. WTF?!! Well, for any boat owners out there it won’t surprise you that I’d prefer to talk about the cancer than the boat. Rather than return the following week, as “Dr.” Rebecca Timlin-Scalera, to the practice I’ve worked so hard to maintain and build over the past 13 years, with colleagues and patients I truly love, I was thrown head first into a world of biopsies, bad news and botched attempts at my last name, as nurses called me “Ms…how do you spell that last name?! T what? Hyphen what?” That’s too complicated. I was swiftly reduced to a medical record number and date of birth. It seemed surreal. We were suddenly not talking carpool and dinner plans for Saturday night, but facing life and death discussions, treatment options, frantically searching for the best cancer facility, and booking a double mastectomy. Pronto.
One of the most difficult days of my life was the day my husband and I found out I had cancer, followed quickly by subsequent dismal days spent having to tell my parents, siblings, friends, my small children (7 and 10) and then ultimately my colleagues and patients from whom I had to take an immediate medical leave. My life had changed forever and there was no going back. That much was clear.
I spiraled into a black hole trying to make sense of what was happening, wishing I could stop time or press rewind. Go back to my life as I knew it. But no. It stuck. Cancer had come to town and it wasn’t leaving without a fight. I couldn’t even remember what I had previously considered a “problem.” Well, that’s when I realized, there is no “cancer gang” standing behind me with knives drawn in some back alley waiting for a show down to fight this and make it go away while I curled up in the fetal position and cried. This wasn’t a Lifetime movie that I could sit back and watch play out. Although I have the best support system in the world and access to the best cancer center, at the end of the day, this is IN me, it is my fight and my choice as to how this battle will be waged. It is me vs. cancer, a fight to the finish. One of us has to go and I am certainly not ready for it to be me! Never one to back away from a challenge, the overachiever in me decided then and there to not only defeat cancer, but knock it so far out of my universe, it’d be sorry it ever knocked on my door.
I am quickly learning about the pitfalls and huge gaps in diagnostic standards for this disease, especially for women with dense breasts like myself. I am also learning about how funding and treatment resources are allocated for different stages of the disease, with metastatic breast cancer, the stage that needs it most, still lacking so much funding and support. So, as I attempt to find the humor and grace in this situation, I also plan to use my research and achievement-oriented brain to fight for needed changes for others who find themselves suddenly strapped with this unwanted club membership. So many brave, beautiful, smart women have already begun to pave this road ahead of me, and I am proud to join them now doing whatever I can to help eradicate this disease that has stolen too many mothers, daughters, wives and friends way too soon, out from under us. From what I’ve seen so far of my unfortunate cohort, breast cancer has an odd way of picking the best and the brightest amongst us, so I have no doubt we’ll get there.
Please join me on my journey and I will update information and humor, perspective and actions, as I go along. I appreciate every single ounce of support and love sent my way. Thank you so much for even taking the time and caring enough about me and this cause to read this. Thank you, and please stay tuned:)