Faith over diagnosis: how faith helped guide a two time breast cancer thriver

I never expected to go though life being diagnosed with cancer at all. You may say “who does,” but imagine being diagnosed twice within seven years.

The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer was October 14, 2011. I was showering and found a lump in my right breast. I remember asking myself, “How will I know if I ever feel something if its normal or not?” Let me say that if you do your self-breast exams regularly, you will become very familiar with your breasts and you will just know.

I knew something was wrong — in the pit of my stomach I just knew.

I went to see my primary care physician and he ordered an ultrasound and a mammogram. The mammogram came back showing nothing, but when they did the ultrasound it showed cancer cells all throughout my right breast. The nurse came in and told me the doctor wanted to talk with me before I left. She also stated that he has never been wrong and he knew I had cancer and wanted to schedule me for a biopsy right away. I broke down in that office and immediately became angry.

I was in nursing school and needed to finish and I didn’t want to lose my hair. Of all things my biggest concern was my freaking hair. I called my boyfriend at the time and he was like we will get through this. Well, I wasn’t so sure what I was going to do or how I was going to survive this. My mind was racing 100 miles per minute. They did a biopsy and it came back cancerous. I had stage III-A aggressive invasive ductal cancer; it had also spread to my lymph nodes in my right arm. I would undergo a double mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy, and two months of radiation.

I was very angry during this process. I lost my hair and was bedridden the whole time during chemotherapy because the medication dubbed the red devil (Adriamycin/Cytoxan) was literally killing me. I ended up stopping it at four months after a consultation with my oncologist. I then had radiation every day for two months. This is the life I was dealt and it took me over two years to feel confident again. Oh and my boyfriend at the time, abandoned me and began cheating because he felt it was too much for him to handle. I then relocated to Arizona for a better life and to be closer to my daughter and her children. I decided I needed to live and not die in Wisconsin. This was because after the treatment and diagnosis, I became very depressed and isolated. I knew that I needed a change or honestly felt I wouldn’t survive.

I was also left with every side effect possible. I have lymphedema on my entire right side and wear a compression sleeve to control the swelling; as well as I have a machine I plug into daily for an hour which massages my torso and upper body. I also have neuropathy in my hands and feet which causes tingling and numbness. It's gotten to the point that it makes it difficult to get dressed or open bottles etc. I gained so much weight during treatment that when I relocated, I weighed 240 lbs. In December of 2013, I joined a gym and by the summer of 2017 I weighed 145 lbs. I was in the best shape of my life! I knew something was wrong because I started picking up weight quickly in September 2018 I went from 160 to 180 in less than two (2) months. Mind you, I exercised six days a week and was still eating fairly healthy. Nothing I did would help the weight come off. Today I’m weigh 184 and can’t wait to be able to get back in the gym.

Fast forward to November 2018 when I found a lump on the right side of my neck. I went to my primary care physician and he ordered an ultrasound of my neck area. I sat on the order for a couple weeks afraid of what they would find, if anything. I wasn’t sure I was ready. I prayed and decided no I wasn’t going to any place to do the ultrasound, so I called the Cancer Treatment Center whom had been watching me once a year to make sure I stayed in remission. I went in to talk to my oncologist and briefed her on what was going on. She decided to order an ultrasound, biopsy and CAT scan of the area to rule out everything. Plus, if it was something they would be able to jump on it right away.

A month later, I went in for the results and it was confirmed that the cancer had returned and this time was more aggressive. I was diagnosed with stage IV HER positive aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma of the nodes in my neck. For a second my world stopped. I asked them to repeat the diagnosis. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t hear anything after that. I was alone because I didn't expect to hear those words. I was told we needed to jump on treatment right away because the tumor was inoperable. I had promised myself that if the cancer ever came back I would not do chemo ever again because of my experience the first time. I do not remember the drive home but I do know I drove in silence crying and talking to God during the forty-five minute ride.

I decided I needed to tell my daughter.  The look in her face and tears she shed told me I had to at least give chemo one more try. Yet, I told her this would be it for me. This fight would be different because I had God leading me, my spiritual parents, family, friends and most of all I was a better person. I began my second round of chemo January 10, 2019 and was scheduled for six cycles. I also decided this time to shave my head right away instead of watching it fall out. I owned my baldness and didn’t even wear the wigs that were made by my stylist. I walked with my head high and in confidence. I completed my last chemo on May 1st and right now my body is healing. I also will be on a regimen of Perjeta, that I have to go to Cancer Treatment Center to have it given IV every three weeks to sustain life. The next step in this process is surgery to remove my parathyroid, heal and then move on to radiation and chemotherapy. I’m not dating now or interested. I’m just focused on healing and if it happens I’m open to it.

My nutritionist told me I needed to adopt a plant based life. I asked, “Man, can I at least have seafood?” With apprehension, he agreed. For the past few months, I have been practicing pescatarian and I honestly love it! I took all the necessary steps to adopt a healthier lifestyle. I began juicing, eating only fruits, vegetables and seafood. I do ginger, lemon and mint in my water and drink green tea daily. I also do research on healthy foods to incorporate in my eating plan.

My life has been seriously altered but I’m believing God will deliver me from this. These past five months have been hell to say the least, but I praise God and my support system for getting me through such a trying time. I believe God and never said I had cancer but that I was diagnosed. I had to hold on to God and trust Him through this and not once did I give up. I fought to live. I prayed every time I went in for treatment to not miss an assignment and God has always delivered. I know this isn’t about me but for me to encourage someone else to not give up and to witness the miracle that God is performing in my life. I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone. I get upset at the swelling of my limbs and the pain I’m constantly in but I try not to complain too much because what does that change. I pray more than complain and trust more as I tell my story to those I do not even know.

I miss getting pedicures and my nails done, but my daughter helps me keep them painted. Due to the side effects from chemo, it feels as if my nails are about to fall off they’re so sensitive and black. My skin is blotchy and instead of me hating it, I’ve owned it and I use almond oil on my skin daily. I am learning to live with the side effects and not allow them to control me. I miss the old me but I am loving the new me I am becoming because she’s better, stronger, confident, bold, loving and most importantly humble. This could have killed me when it had the chance but my God is leading me and I will not stop!

I want to empower women and men that no matter the adversity they face, they can be overcomers and successful too. We must have faith and believe that no weapon formed against us will prosper.

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Meet the Breast Cancer Baddie

Rachelle Evans is a two-time breast cancer survivor from the Milwaukee, WI area. She wants to encourage and empower others on their journey.