October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Carmen Robles: I am a survivor

Carmen Robles

October 2015 four months after completing the Insight 2 Health Fitness Challenge (I2HFC) Round 5, my first round of the 10-week fitness boot camp, I was facing a breast cancer diagnosis.

The I2HFC prepared me for the challenge of my life, breast cancer. In a blink of an eye, everything changed for me. It seemed only fitting I share journal excerpts from my upcoming book to be released March 2019, documenting my story of survival; my story of transformation.

Finding the lump in my breast was not discovered in the traditional sense. It was not found in a mammogram or by self-examination. It came in a dream.

For most of my adult life I’ve had a recurring dream. It’s always the same. I am in Puerto Rico trying to get to my tio’s (uncle’s) house but I can never find my way. I’m usually frazzled, confused, scared. In these dreams I’ve either lost his phone number or I’m not able to find a phone (pre-cellular dreaming). Or I can see his tall structure standing out among the crowds but I’m not able to push my way through and eventually lose sight of him. Or I’ll be driving to his house and am detoured, losing my way.

Every dream has the same theme. I can never get to him. I wake up exhausted and must call Puerto Rico to hear his voice. When I tell him and his wife my titi (aunt) Carmen, they laugh, shower me with love and prayers (well, my titi anyway) and assure me I’m always in their hearts and I am never lost.

On the night of July 28, 2015 I had “the dream,” only this time my titi appeared by my side holding my right hand with her left, as a mother would hold her child’s hand; giving my dreaming-self a sense of peace, tranquility, comfort.

With my hand still in hers, she placed my finger tips on the right side of my breast and moved them in a circular motion pattern. I suddenly awoke with my fingertips moving round and round my right breast, feeling it. The bump. It was 4:44 a.m.

At 8 a.m. I called the American Cancer Society and was referred to the Virginia Piper Cancer Center/United Hospital, St. Paul. By 2 p.m. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a fast, fast, fast series of events that unfolded after that. A biopsy three days later, on July 31, a lumpectomy on Aug. 10, a second surgery on Aug. 15, confirmed diagnoses on Aug. 28, insertion of port, Sept. 17, start of chemo, Sept 22, start of radiation Feb. 17, 2016; cancer free April 2016.

Notes from my journal

“Exactly eight weeks after discovering a lump on my right breast I will start the recommended aggressive treatment plan for infiltrating ductal carcinoma invasive stage IIIA grade 2. Twenty weeks of chemotherapy. Followed by 30 sessions of radiation. Topped off with hormone meds for five years.

Biopsy: I left the clinic cut up and bruised. Ice pack over the wound. A titanium chip, more like an “X” marking the spot for the surgeon’s impending incision to remove the tumor. The wound is on the right side of my breast and has grown into a great big black and blue bruise within 24 hours. I am viewing it as my ‘scar of courage.” My badge of awareness, memories of feeling the lump and the shear panic that raced throughout my body. Yet thankful for the ability to immediately feel the difference in my breast, recognize something was wrong and take quick action. I am feeling melancholy, though. My right breast hurts. Two Tylenols should take care of the ache on the now black and purple bruise cradling the cut. Three loud snips … snip, snip, snip! That’s what I remember most of the biopsy procedure. A little slice and dice, snap and crack. First a warning of the impending snip of the clamp, I think the sound was scarier than the actual cut into my skin, then the clack/snip! I hear that sound in my sleep now! snip, snap, clack! Three times, three tests.

Lumpectomy Aug. 18: Three days after surgery the last of the bandage strips over the incision finally fell off. The more than 5” long cut on my right side isn’t a straight line, it’s a bit choppy. My surgeon had to cut into the same incision twice, maybe that’s why it looks so raggedy. It is so weird thinking about someone slicing into my breast, like slicing into a side of a beef shank or pork loin I would imagine. The cut travels from under my arm pit and stops right smack in the middle of the breast with a “knot” at either end.

The flesh around the wound is getting tough. The body is an amazing machine. I marvel at its healing mechanisms but can’t help but think about those baby cancer cells. Growing moving along my lymph nodes, the freeway to my organs. Baby cancer cells cruising at top speed, making its way to the first organ it can latch itself onto. I am ready for treatment anxious to get it started so I can wake up from this nightmare already!

Gotta laugh every time I raise my right arm the floppy flesh gets tuck to the adhesive left behind by the bandage strips. More to follow …

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