Hello, my name is Heidi. I am married, a mother of four, a third-grade
teacher, and being a cheerleader for my family is now my main focus in life.
It was the summer of 2008, when I first detected a grape-sized lump on
my breast, but I didn’t think much of it. As a matter of fact, I
kept on with my day. I figured, I am a mom and I have more important things
to worry about. Having nursed four children, from time to time my breast
would take on a different shape or feel. During the following weeks, I
purposely ignored it, thinking to myself, “I’m 35. I am too
young to have any serious health issues.” Over the passing months,
my breasts became more irritable, with uncomfortable and increasing pain
and itchiness. In January 2009, during my gynecological visit, Dr. Dean
B. Levitan expressed concern and ordered a mammogram and biopsy. On the
day of my consultation with surgeon Dr. Russell Dounies, following my
appointment, my mother and I planned a day of fun and shopping. Instead,
I heard my doctor say, “You may have cancer.” My life stopped.
Needless to say, we didn’t go shopping.
What I can remember is the shock, disbelief, and anxiety I felt. It all
happened so rapidly. I only expected to receive a consultation, but Dr.
Dounies reviewed my x-rays, canceled his following patient appointments,
and asked his nurses to prep for a biopsy. It never crossed my mind that
I would be having a cancer-related procedure. That afternoon, my family,
including my parents, all went out to eat at a restaurant. We were not
as chatty as normal. I imagined everyone was thinking what I was thinking.
“From this point forward, everything is going to be different.”
I will say I am very happy to have had the immediate and attentive quality
of care that I did. I also gained immediate support from my family, church,
and friends. Ten days after being diagnosed, I was in the postsurgical
room in recovery after having a mastectomy. Everyone at my bedside had
on custom-made shirts that read “Team Heidi” with the image
of a crown.
I started chemotherapy in February, and had my second mastectomy in July.
I can honestly say what I struggled with most was my appearance, my image
of being a woman, a mommy, and a wife. Being bald with no breasts, it
felt like the girl in me had been taken away. 2009 was a difficult year,
but eventually my hair grew back and I regained a sense of pride that
we, Team Heidi, beat cancer. Some good did come from it all. Through shirt
sales and fundraising, Team Heidi annually contributes thousands of dollars
to local cancer-focused charities and offers five $500 scholarships per
year to high school seniors.
The Next Chapter
In 2012, I started developing back pain that was not remedied with an alignment
by my chiropractor. Determined to find a solution, my physician ordered
an MRI and bone scan. The bone scan confirmed the cause of my pain. My
breast cancer had returned and spread throughout my body. There were now
tumors in my arms, both sides of my hips, skull, and in my vertebra. This
time, I was better prepared for the road ahead. I beat cancer before and
I could beat it again. However, I quickly learned it would be a very different
experience from when I first learned I had breast cancer. Although the
first question I asked was “what are the next steps to removing
the cancer?” I was informed no cure or removal could be offered,
It was difficult to hear “I’m sorry, but your breast cancer
has spread to your liver.” Just as unbearable was the realization
that I would not finish the school year with my third graders. I will
live the rest of my life as a cancer patient, but I have the comfort of
knowing that I will not travel this road alone. Whatever may come of my
treatment, I have the pride that I created four beautiful children and
have a family, a team, which continues to love and support me. I will
spend the rest of my life making sure everyone knows they mean the world
to me. Now, every moment in life is much more precious. I have my family
to love and I enjoy each minute life gives me. Now, helping with school
work, attending sports practices and events, and listening to stories
has a greater meaning for me. I want my children to always know that I
am their biggest cheerleader and will always be. My spirit refuses to
surrender and continues on a positive course, rejoicing by continually
advocating for myself and others through various community events and
activities to bring awareness of breast cancer.
I am thankful to have a compassionate doctor like Dr. Robert Havard Jr.
at Sequoia Regional Cancer Center, who has never given up on me and continues
to be encouraging. He makes me feel at ease and assures me that I don’t
have to worry because he has the next step planned for me. I truly feel
that I have a doctor that is on the job, all the time. Also, I am thankful
for my chemotherapy nurse, Senovia Banuelos, who is wonderfully compassionate,
caring and helpful.
I hope that one day my advocacy will stand as an inspirational symbol of
my contribution to the world. And let me assure you that yours can too,
once you direct your energy toward embracing the full spectrum of your
life — acknowledging the pain, yet remaining focused on your values,
strengths, and the love you have within you and from others to heal.