By Janet Prince
In 2003, Gary and I had it all. A home on the Avenues in Cayce and the land in West Columbia where we were making plans to build our “forever” home, and our two precious daughters, Ashlan (age 5) and Genna, who was only four months old. That’s when I received the phone call that changed my life forever.
I was 39 years old when we had Genna and Ashlan was in 5K. I knew I was extremely tired but attributed that to those two factors plus keeping up with the normal household duties. But that tiredness was not caused by my normal, happy life, but from a lump found in my right breast. The night I found the lump I didn’t give it much thought because my Mother had a history of benign fibroid tumors over the years, but I did call my doctor’s office the next morning, April 16, 2003. They worked me in and my doctor confirmed it was a lump so, he sent me and Gary right away for a mammogram which led to a core needle biopsy. Thankfully they had had a cancellation that morning and could do the biopsy right then. The doctor told me they would have the results the next day and someone would call me around 4:00 p.m.
The next day, I took Ashlan to kindergarten and Genna and I went out to do some shopping. While we were out I saw the poem “What Cancer Cannot Do” in one of the stores. I thought is this a sign? No…it couldn’t be. So, I went on about my day and got home to get Genna down for a nap before going to pick up Ashlan. They had said the phone call would not come until 4:00 p.m. so I knew Gary would be home by then and I didn’t need to worry because he is my rock.
At 2:00 p.m., I was rocking Genna and the phone rang. I thought, it can’t be them calling right now…Gary’s not home yet. But it was the nurse navigator calling to give me the results of my core needle biopsy. She told me who she was, and I asked if she could hold on for just a minute, so I could put my baby down. Then I returned to the phone and she proceeded to tell me that I had Ductal Carcinoma. Not being familiar with cancer diagnosis terms, I asked her what that was. She said, “Mrs. Prince, you have breast cancer. We are scheduling you an appointment with an oncologist and a surgeon”. I asked her to wait a minute, so I could get a piece of paper to write down exactly what she was telling me. My hands were shaking, and I kept telling myself to just keep breathing. I took everything down and thanked her for calling me.
So, there it was….I had just been told I had breast cancer. I went and picked Genna up out of her crib and walked across the street to my neighbor, Paula Taylor, who was and still is a nurse at Lexington Medical Center. I knocked on her door and with tears streaming down my face I handed Paula my baby girl and went home to call Gary and my Mama. The whole time thinking, I wasn’t supposed to be alone when this call came in…they weren’t supposed to call me until 4:00! But they did and now I had to call Gary.
Everything from calling Gary and my Mother, to my best friend, is still a blur. I just know they were there in a flash to hold me up and to see me through the biggest fight of my and for my life.
My cancer was Stage 2, Triple Negative and very aggressive. I had a lumpectomy and then started my eight rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation. I was told that before my second chemo my hair would be gone. Instead of letting it fall out a little at a time with a baby in the house, I let Ashlan pretend to be a beautician and she cut my hair. Then when she finished, Gary said “you are going to want me to go ahead and shave it for sure now”. So, he did, and I cried. Not that my hair was that awesome, but it was a part of me and it took me a long time before I would look at myself in the mirror. Thankfully, I had gone to Becky’s Place and purchased a wig and a hat because I didn’t want anyone to see me without my hair. I was very self-conscious and looking back on it I didn’t need to be because my family loved me just as much without my hair as they did with my hair.
At my first treatment, I met a woman who was a retired teacher from Airport High School. I don’t remember her name, but I remember what she said to me that day. She could tell I was scared and asked me if this was my first treatment and I said yes and that I was terrified even though I had my family with me. One of the drugs they used is red and is sometimes called the “red devil”. But she told me to look at it as though it were the blood of Jesus going through my veins washing the cancer away. I have always remembered that and have shared it with others as they are beginning their cancer journey.
Looking back over the past 15 years and too many surgeries to count, I’m still here and I’m still a survivor. There are many things that cancer can do to you but there are many more things that it can’t do…. cancer has made me a stronger woman and a person that appreciates even the smallest things in life. My goal as I began my cancer journey was to see me girls grown…today, my Ashlan is 21 and has already received her B.A. in Psychology and is now working on her master’s and is getting married in just three short months. My baby, Genna, is thriving and enjoying life like every teenager. I truly believe Genna is my angel sent from God. I believe the pregnancy hormones accelerated the cancer growth and had I not gotten pregnant with Genna it could have been in my body growing and I may not have found it until it was truly too late.
I encourage you to do your monthly breast exams. If you feel anything, call your doctor right away. You can never be too cautious with your life. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month….so wear your pink to remind yourself to always take care of you!
Until next time…..
Me with Genna (top) and me with my family on my last day of chemo!