My name is Gina. I live in Texas with my husband, two fur babies Maggie and Bo as well as one very sociable fish. I enjoy writing, cooking, reading, exploring new places and basically anything involving creativity.
I am also living with metastatic breast cancer.
I remember hearing my grandparents and other relatives speak sadly about others with cancer. Occasionally, during Sunday’s church sermon, the congregation would be asked to pray for someone with cancer. Although I did not fully understand what cancer was, I knew it was something very bad. As children, we hear these things but they seem to bounce off because we are not yet equipped to fully understand.
The day cancer came calling on my family was when Grandaddy was told he had advanced stage lung cancer, given a few months and advised to get his affairs in order. My parents didn’t tell us everything, just that he had cancer and was very sick. I recognized that word and I was scared. We had a close relationship, probably because I was a tomboy who loved fishing and helping him in the garden. Despite my lack of ‘girliness’ he still called me Miss America.
He had worked on pipelines all over the world and had smoked as far back as I could remember. Initially, it had been left arm and back pain that prompted him to see a doctor. At first, he remained at home but after a few weeks, he was admitted to the hospital. My parents had been divorced a few years so it was my Mama that took us to visit him. We entered his room and for a brief moment, I thought we were in the wrong room – where was my Grandaddy. Feelings of guilt and shame engulfed me – I hadn’t recognized him without his glasses. He managed to speak to us in a dry, weak voice. We stayed awhile, telling him about school and him going through motions of eating an imaginary sausage, saying how delicious it was. Even though he was physically present, cognitively he was absent. A few days later, he was gone.
Years later, I would hear the “C” word again. It was right around my 40th birthday and this time it was me that was given the news. There was no panic or rivers of tears. All I knew was that fighting cancer had just become my full-time job. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with (ER+ PR- HER2-), Grade 2 infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC) which was followed by chemotherapy, radiation and a lumpectomy including removal of lymph nodes.
I made diet and lifestyle changes because I was determined to beat this disease. At first, it was easy to follow the strict goals I had set for myself but after a couple of years of having tests show no sign of disease, I started allowing myself occasional indulgences. We are all aware that once the ball starts rolling downhill it’s hard to stop it. I traveled a bit, attended to business as usual, met and married my best friend and relocated to West Texas. This meant finding a new medical team which I did. A little over ten years had passed with no sign of disease. Then, in 2016, I was experiencing shortness of breath on minimal exertion, an almost constant dry, painful cough and difficulty swallowing. I found a physician and made an appointment. After a bone scan, CT of chest and CT of abdomen the results revealed areas of concern on my hip bones, spine, lungs and liver in addition to pleural fluid on both lungs. I must say that this particular physician’s manner was hardly encouraging. While explaining my results to me he basically appeared amazed that I had walked into the hospital. He recommended thoracentesis to drain the pleural fluid, however, my husband and I were so uncomfortable with him that it was decided to seek care elsewhere.
After tedious and exhaustive research I debated on travelling back to the Houston where I’d been treated initially in 2006. Fortunately, a friend of a friend referred us to a great team in Dallas who have taken care of my every need. After reviewing my records and test results, we scheduled thoracentesis and hip bone biopsy. When I returned for my follow-up visit she informed me that my cancer had metastasized to my hip, lungs, and spine. It was determined to be non-aggressive at this point.
It is now February 2020 and we have relocated to Houston. My Daddy passed away this year making it necessary to be closer to family. I am still on my first line of treatment (Ibrance/Letrozole), have had countless scans, biopsies of bone, lung, and liver, thoracentesis to drain pleural fluid and radiation for a liver lesion. At the present time I am transitioning to a new oncology group which saddens me. Finding a new team that can fill my team’s shoes will be nothing short of a miracle but fingers crossed that it will happen.
I eat a clean diet and do my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. My days are spent feeling great, doing the things I love including spending time with my husband, painting, photography, writing, cooking, gardening and reading. I have a small but awesome support system which is so important. Goals for the future include traveling more, writing to inspire others and perhaps even write a book. The best advice I can give is to stay positive, make plans, hold onto dreams, live a healthy lifestyle, find beauty in the smallest of things and create a life you love.
I promise to wrap this up quick.
I began writing as a form of therapy and have continued due to my hyperactive mind. I am constantly thinking, am an information enthusiast, and read a lot of things on a wide range of topics. Gotta have input.
I think about cancer, not in a bad-worried kind of way but in a curious-inquisitive kind of way. Random, persistent questions pop into my head and requiring me to look for answers. Unfortunately, not all questions have answers but as I find things that peak my curiosity, it only seems right to share them.