Four words changed my life forever: you have breast cancer.
It was June of 2021 and because I had recently turned 40, my doctor recommended I get my first mammogram. The test detected suspicious cells and I was informed a biopsy was necessary. Just a few days after that biopsy, I got the news. It was indeed breast cancer, but it was Stage 1 and treatable. Catching my cancer early meant I had options available that would save my life and I want to share my experience with you.
I recall hearing and processing the news. I think in those moments time stopped. My heart sank. I was in a state of shock and denial. An extreme sense of fear gripped every fiber of my being and those feelings stayed with me longer than I hoped they would, still sometimes resurfacing today. Despite the overwhelming emotions, I approached this the way I would handle any problem: be rational, do research, put the best medical care team in place. I did that quickly with the support of my family, and together we came up with my treatment plan.
Two options were on the table. A lumpectomy to remove the cancer, followed by radiation and chemotherapy - or - I could remove the entire breast with no further treatment. Every woman feels differently about this, but for me it was simple: I chose option two, and actually decided to remove both breasts as an added precaution.
The double mastectomy was hard, there’s no sugar coating it. There was a physical shock my body went through; a lot of tissue and skin were removed, nerves were severed, and I had two lymph nodes taken out. I had decided on reconstruction, so that was its own process, and it required a second surgery three months later. It’s important to be honest about the physical and emotional toll - it’s been over a year since these surgeries and I’m still healing.
At times it has felt like climbing a mountain, but even still, I’m so grateful.
We’ve all heard stories of women who have had a tougher time than I did, and it is the strength and courage of those women and their stories that have kept me going every day.
Looking back, part of the reason I was shocked and overwhelmed by my diagnosis was because I never believed this could happen to me. I thought I was the model of good health. I try to eat healthy, I exercise regularly, I make sure to get plenty of sleep. I’m also an active participant in my healthcare routine. I get yearly physicals and do blood work to make sure my health is in order. What was so scary about this was that there was no red flag that ever indicated I had cancer. I didn’t have the BRCA gene, there were no physical signs of breast cancer, no pain, no lump and I didn’t have a history of cancer in my family. I think it’s important to realize that sometimes there are no warning signs and that is why screening early and often is so crucial.
What I want women to know is that while a breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating, tremendous strides have been made in breast cancer research and the reality is that this isn’t a disease that kills as many women as it used to, but in order for that to be true, women have to be proactive about getting their mammograms. I often reflect and wonder what if I hadn’t scheduled my mammogram when I did? My guess is I would have found my cancer down the road, after it had a chance to grow. Not only would my treatment have been harder, but my chances of survival would have been less as well.
I have to take a moment to give thanks. Thanks to my incredible team of doctors at NYU’s Perlmutter Cancer Center for their exceptional skill, care, and compassion. Thank you to my family who helped me make hard decisions with confidence and for taking such good care of me. Thank you to my inner circle of friends who kept encouraging me and telling me things would be okay. And thank you to my colleagues at Fox who told me to think about nothing other than healing. As Fox Business celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, I’m very grateful to be a part of this team.
I never believed this could happen to me, but it did. And while I don’t want it to happen to you, I understand the reality: one in eight women will get breast cancer. The silver lining is all the research, as well as the time and dedication of the professionals who focus on breast cancer, allows us to do so much more than we ever could to treat it.
A breast cancer diagnosis isn’t pleasant but it’s something that can be overcome with early detection. We have tools available to screen for breast cancer - and to beat it. Use them. Encourage the women you love to do the same. We’re all in this together and it is only by sharing our stories, raising awareness, and supporting each other that we can continue to spread the word and save lives.
WRITTEN BYJackie DeAngelis