Breast Cancer Grad- Emily Williams
Name: Emily Williams
Age at Enrollment: 29
Major: Triple negative breast cancer, stage 2A
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis?What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I found a big, marble-like lump on the right side of my right breast in the shower; shortly after that I noticed my skin start to ripple and pucker, and I just knew.
Courses Completed: My oncologist recommended chemotherapy first and then surgery, based on the size of my tumor. I underwent 5 months of chemo and then had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. The whole process from diagnosis to being declared NED and receiving breast implants all took place within the calendar year, with my implant exchange taking place just days shy of the new year. It’s like 2016 was a strange and disorienting dream. I did not have any radiation. After careful consideration and discussions with my surgeon, we agreed that it wasn’t necessary for me and that it would hinder my reconstruction process. Before starting chemo I harvested and froze my eggs so that I could ensure I had a chance to have kids later in life.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you get through it/them? The grief came on strong and really shocked me to my core. I remember nights just sobbing uncontrollably, and saying “I wish I could have said goodbye to my old self.” There was an immediate shift in perception and how I saw my life going and I knew everything had changed forever. It was creepy, sad and utterly out of my control. The fatigue was the 2nd hardest thing to deal with. That well of energy you are used to having inside of you is sucked dry, and just climbing up the stairs to my apartment made me weepy and exhausted.
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard. Bother your oncologist for as many prescriptions as you need for any side affects you get during treatment- that’s what they are there for. Push hard for scans you feel you need/deserve. If you get denied, ask again. I’m currently fighting to get a brain scan and a full body scan because I never got them during treatment. You are your biggest advocate!!!!!
How did your family and friends respond? With open arms. We cried together and we laughed together throughout the whole year. My mom and Godmother (who is also a BC survivor) flew down from Washington to come to appointments and surgeries with me. My boyfriend Jack and I were only together 4 months at the time of my diagnosis, but he stuck by me through it all, and his family showed me so much love and support.
Cancer showed me which friendships had to be let go, and which acquaintances were growing into friends. I don’t have to question anything because when you’re faced with a disease like this, true colors shine through.
How did/do you find joy during this experience? The vulnerability of it is surprising but brought me closer to my family and friends. I try to connect to others through mentoring and share my experience in hopes that it can ease their uncertainty, as others did for me when I was starting out.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? Cancer may have thrown a wrench in my “past” life, but it also created a new beginning- corny but true. It’s like there’s a BC (before cancer) and AC (after cancer). I’m still that person I was before, just wiser now, more carefree, and braver. I’m more willing to take risks and do things that scare me, like travel alone or speak in front of a crowd. I feel more like the real me- it’s so crazy but true.