With a brand-new baby and feeling as if her life was falling
into place, Fabianna Marie was diagnosed with not only an
autoimmune disease that was damaging her organs but was just handed
the diagnosis of breast cancer at age twenty-seven.
Fabianna was a new mother and a wife who felt no longer in control
of her life. Cancer had the wheel and wasn’t letting go. Fabianna Marie
was searching for a book about breast cancer that wasn’t full of medical
jargon that scared the crap out of her. She wanted a book that would
help her cope with everyday life.
The last eleven years of battling cancer have been a journey during
which she has learned how to live each day with love, laughter, and
honesty. Fabianna hopes that sharing her story can be that resource for
others she didn’t have.
|Product dimensions:||6.02(w) x 9.01(h) x 0.30(d)|
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Living with Cancer Through Love, Laughter, And Honesty
By Fabianna Marie
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Shanna Clarke Pinet
All rights reserved.
Fabianna vs. Cancer
The year 2004 was a great one for us. Dave and I had been happily married for four years, our beautiful daughter, Mackenzie, was born in April that year, and we had just purchased our first home.
It was also the year I was diagnosed with lupus. I had no idea then just how that diagnosis would turn into a landslide of appointments, surgeries, and a diagnosis of metastatic, BRCA1 positive, triple-negative, invasive breast cancer.
This will be the only chapter in which I talk about the nitty-gritty of my disease and diagnosis. I was twenty-seven when I was diagnosed, and I was searching for a book about breast cancer that wasn't full of all the medical jargon that scared the crap out of me. I wanted a book that would help me understand how I could get through everyday life. I had a one-year-old daughter, I was a wife, and I felt I was no longer in control of my life. Cancer had the wheel and wasn't letting go.
The last eleven years of battling cancer has been a journey during which I have learned how to live each day with love, laughter, and honesty. I hope my story can be that resource for others I didn't have.
I am Fabianna. Cancer is what I have, not who I am. This is my story.
During my pregnancy, I knew something was wrong. I had unexplained weight gain, swollen feet too big for my shoes, and headaches to the point of being bedridden for days at a time. Call it a mother's intuition, but the night I gave birth to my beautiful girl, I knew my body couldn't handle having another one.
Months after having Mackenzie and after numerous tests, the doctor finally diagnosed me with a condition called lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks your organs. As if adjusting to a newborn wasn't enough, I'd have to adjust to a life of health concerns. Much thought was put into our next steps in the process of health care. One option that came up was undergoing breast-reduction surgery. I had ginormous breasts (triple D), and the weight on my joints was making the pain the disease caused that much worse.
I had a consultation with a plastic surgeon a little over a year after Mackenzie was born. Meeting this doctor forever changed my life. After filling out the intake forms and having the standard breast exam, the doctor recommended I have a mammogram "to cover all our bases." Looking back now, I think he must have felt something during the exam because I felt something after all this happened.
After the mammogram, I was instructed to sit in the waiting room while they checked the films. Ten to fifteen minutes later, the nurse came out and told me I was being sent for an ultrasound. Oh yeah. Did I mention I was alone? Who wants her husband to miss a day of work for "just" a consultation? During the ultrasound, my doctor, this man I had just met, told me there was cause for concern as they were seeing something. He strongly recommended a needle biopsy.
All this happened within two hours. I felt like a pincushion, the subject of a science experiment. I was told I'd be called later that day with the results and that we'd go from there. I sat in the car and cried for fifteen minutes before pulling myself together. I realized I had to face telling my parents, who were taking care of my daughter at home.
The whole way home, I went back and forth: Do I tell them? Do I wait? Do I scare them with this news that may not even be news? I knew I had to wait to hear from the doctor before telling them anything. After my parents left the house, I sat with Mackenzie in my lap. I was frozen. I couldn't move. I couldn't stop holding her. I couldn't stop praying that this was a bad dream I'd simply wake up from. Why wasn't Dave here with me? How will I explain to him what transpired at my appointment? I was startled out of my thoughts by the phone. I carefully picked up the receiver as if it were a bomb about to go off. The analogy is priceless.
"Yes, I understand what you're saying, Doctor. I have cancer."
I hung up the phone. I wondered if that was how doctors told people they had cancer. How do people handle this? I looked at my one-year-old daughter, this beautiful soul who had so much hope in her eyes. Will I live to see her grow up? Will I make it through breast cancer? Am I strong enough? The world around me became silent. The only thing I could hear was Mackenzie breathing as she put her head on my chest and snuggled right into our spot. This little girl who was part of me was breathing as if for me. I hadn't noticed I was holding my breath. The only thing that broke the silence was when she lifted her head, looked at me, pointed to my eyes, and said, "Mommy, no cry." I wiped away the one tear running down my face. My world stood still in the silence of my thoughts.
As I put Mackenzie to bed that night, I swore to myself that this would not derail my dreams of celebrating her birthdays, seeing her graduate from high school, and of becoming a grandmother to her children. I vowed that cancer would not dictate my future. It would not define me.
I waited for Dave to get home from an extremely hard, long day at work. I wondered how he would take the news. As I closed the drapes and snuggled up on the couch, just the light of the TV illuminated the room. Silence was all I could bear. Thank God for the mute button. My thoughts were enough to preoccupy me until I heard the car door close. He was home. How do you tell your soul mate that you may not be around to share the golden years or every birthday and memory we were supposed to create together?
One look at my face and Dave knew something was wrong. I told him about my appointment and of course the results. He just stared at me. The word cancer hung in the air like a balloon. The silence seemed to last forever as he processed what I had just said. He didn't ask many questions that night. I think he was in shock. I think we both were. The TV, still on mute, shed its flickering light on Dave's worried face. I'd never seen that look before — a look of horror, worry, sadness. It was torture to watch the agony I knew he was feeling.
As Dave laid his head on my belly, all I could hear was his breathing in and out. As he took his breath, my belly would sink and so did my heart. This man, this beautiful man, was my dream come true. He was my best friend, my everything. How were we going to get through this?
The next day, a Friday, my sister and I had plans to take my grandfather to lunch. When my sister arrived at the door, she was surprised to see Dave at home and about to accompany us to lunch. I think I made up a lame excuse — he had a headache; that was why he was home. I wasn't ready to tell anyone else about my diagnosis.
After we got back from lunch, Dave and I scheduled my first appointment with my first oncologist for the following Monday. (My mentioning "my first oncologist" is intentional; I've had a lot of doctors in eleven years. More to come on that later, but for now, let's focus on that first appointment.)
"You have stage 2 A breast cancer." Those were pretty much the first words out of my oncologist's mouth. I wish I could tell you that the severity of that statement resonated with me and that I listened diligently to the explanation of what 2 A meant, but that isn't what happened. All I could focus on was A. I was going to be an A. An A cup. Two-A could have meant I was a goner, but I couldn't listen. I didn't hear him. All my brain could focus on was that letter A. Later, I discovered that the 2 A meant the cancer was growing but still contained in the breast and that the tumor was under two centimeters.
We met the team of doctors; it was a tennis match — one doctor at one end of the table, the other at the other end, and back and forth they went. We should do this, we should do that, we should do this and that. Exhaustion set in as I listened to them talk about me and my body and making decisions I knew nothing about. I wanted to shout, "Hey you assholes! I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV!" But I just sat there, watching this tennis match from hell and listening to them spouting long medical words. I was confused, overwhelmed, and aware that the doctors didn't seem to care. It was all Greek to me. I felt I was just another case study. I needed information, facts, and knowledge, but I wasn't getting any of that, at least not in a way my shell-shocked brain could comprehend. How was I supposed to make an educated decision at twenty-seven without hard facts about breast cancer? All I knew was my breasts were trying to kill me so just take them! I don't need them. In that one appointment, I went from fearing the A cup to embracing it. They were just boobs.
About an hour later, Dave and I left. I told him I hoped he'd been listening to what they said because I certainly hadn't been able to. Dave hadn't taken away much more from that meeting than I had. Dave's sticking point was that he'd have to change my drains after surgery and he was scared shitless. I thought, Me too, honey, me too.
The two weeks leading up to my surgery were surreal. I already had appointments booked for pre-op testing, I was debating how and when I'd tell my family, and I was preparing for my sister's baby shower, which was scheduled for the day before my surgery. I had always been told that when a baby is born, another soul leaves this world. When Mackenzie was born, my brother-in-law's grandfather passed away, and as I prepped for surgery and my sister's baby shower, I wondered if I would be the soul leaving the world for that baby.
I broke the news to my parents while I was preparing for the baby shower. It's funny what you remember and what you block out during life-altering experiences such as a cancer diagnosis. I vaguely remember telling my parents; they of course remember vividly. I don't remember telling my sister, and after some family conversation, it seems my parents broke the news. My sister remembers not being concerned about the diagnosis, and my parents made it seem like the surgery would fix it and all would be well. Maybe we all felt that way.
The barrage of pre-op appointments brought out a side of me I never knew I had. I had become the question lady; I needed to know what was going on and why. I had lost all control of my life, or so it felt, and knowing that they needed my weight to properly gauge how much anesthesia I'd get and my blood pressure to ensure I was healthy enough to endure the surgery offered a small semblance of regaining control.
I was very emotional the day before surgery, the baby shower. After one of my many trips to the bathroom to cry, I came out of the bathroom and saw my dad staring out the windows into the distance. I wondered if he was thinking the same thing I was. He said, "We're just going to get through right now."
After the shower, my parents came back to our house to get Mackenzie's things as they were going to watch her during my surgery. I remember holding Mackenzie, crying, putting her into the car, crying some more, and telling her I'd be fine. That feeling of having my heart torn out still brings tears to my eyes today, eleven years later.
The night before surgery is a blur. I remember taking a shower with the special wash they ask you to use and coming out of the shower to Dave asleep on the couch (shocker). I wrote a letter to my parents and one to Mackenzie. As I was writing a letter to Dave, I asked myself what the hell I was doing. Why was I writing good-bye letters to my loved ones? I closed the notebook, hid it (later to be found by my mother) and said f — that and f — cancer. I wasn't going anywhere; no need for good-byes.
The next morning, Dave and I went to the hospital. My partial mastectomy would take three or four hours. My team of oncologists and surgeons insisted this was the best route for me at age twenty-seven. They wanted to save my breasts. Damn boobs. Useless fat tissue that wanted to take my life. If the surgery was more complex than expected, if the tumor was bigger than they thought, the surgeons had my consent to do the full mastectomy. Just take 'em! They're trying to kill me anyway.
Dave was only with me for the first thirty minutes of pre-op, and then they kicked him to the curb — well, the waiting room. I was once again alone, just like that consultation and when I received my diagnosis. I asked questions again; I even asked the surgeons if they'd had a good night's sleep. I became a human doodle pad; surgeons drew circles and lines all over my upper body. I went into surgery with this overwhelming calm. It could have been the meds they were jacking into my veins, but I was calmer than I had been in weeks. Somehow, I knew it was going to be okay.
Ten hours later, as I was being wheeled out of recovery, the smell of stale, sterilized halls overwhelmed me. The two nurses wheeling my gurney were chatting about me as if I were dead. Am I dead? Is this heaven? If this is heaven, it sucks! I realized the nurses were talking about me as if I weren't there because my eyes were shut. One said, "I think we should be wheeling her back down to recovery. She looks awful. The doctor said she lost a lot of blood and that it was worse than they thought." What? Hello, ladies. I'm here, I can hear you! My eyes didn't open. My mouth didn't move. All went black again.
I woke up in my private room to the sounds of machines and feeling pain, so much pain. I looked down and realized they were gone — no more triple D breasts. I had nothing, not even an A cup. I guessed they had heeded my wishes and did a full mastectomy. Dave was sitting bedside holding my hand. Nothing feels as good as my husband's hand in mine; somehow, it makes everything better. The doctor in his white coat and really white teeth came sauntering in.
"Nice to have you back, Fabianna. That was a lot rougher than we anticipated. We're sorry we scared your family. We had to take a lot more of your breasts than we had anticipated."
"What? You mean I didn't have a full mastectomy?"
"No, we took quite a bit, but after healing, you should be about B cup. We couldn't get clean margins, so we kept taking more. But after all the reconstructing, you should heal nicely and go into chemotherapy like a champ."
Chemotherapy. The word I'd been dreading. As if losing the majority of my breasts and the resulting pain wasn't enough, now I'd have to endure chemotherapy and losing my hair. Memories of being a pageant girl and of strutting my stuff on stage raced through my mind. Will I ever strut again? Will I ever feel like a "real woman" again? Will I ever be the same Fabianna, or has cancer changed me forever?
That night, after the nurse threw Dave out of my room so I could sleep, I was in so much pain. I kept pressing the morphine button and praying to God for some relief. It's so funny when we choose to pray. At that time, at my young age, I prayed when I was in pain or trouble. Praying has now become a morning ritual. I've learned that praying is giving thanks to the universe for continuing to breathe another breath for another day. I prayed that night more than I had ever prayed before. I prayed for the pain, I prayed for my family — their worry and empathy were so evident when they came to see me out of surgery. The face I will never forget is my dad's. He stepped into the room and sat in the chair farthest from my bed, never taking his eyes off mine. The pain I saw in his eyes was worse than the pain I was feeling post-surgery. I don't know exactly what he was thinking, but I could imagine. Having a daughter of my own, I tried to put myself in his shoes. The heartrending pain was too much to think about.
Later that evening, as the nurse came to take my vitals, I was unpleasantly surprised at how rude she was. I understood it was the middle of the night, but I had to pee. I politely asked her to help me to the bathroom. She grumbled. I also asked her to wipe me because you don't realize how much you use your muscles to do everything until you can't. I couldn't move my arms.
She got me back to bed. I spent the rest of the night wondering how I was going to get through the rest of this treatment. They checked my vitals and my drains every hour. Since it was a teaching hospital, every surgical resident in the area was in my room all night long checking my dressing, removing the compression, causing me great pain, and seeing my naked breasts. All of these people were looking at my breasts or what was left of them, but I couldn't bring myself to look. I didn't until days later.
I prayed that night for the strength to endure what my life was going to be like for the next several months. I promised myself that I would begin to look at every day as a gift, and no matter what life was going to throw at me, I'd live it to the fullest. Cancer wasn't going to define me.
The next morning brought a very welcomed face. Dave's beautiful smile has always melted my heart, but I didn't realize how safe his smile and demeanor made me feel. The next few hours were filled with doctors' visits and nurses prepping us to go home. Dave was going to be my twenty-four-hour nurse — emptying my drains, helping me to the bathroom, and keeping me comfortable and drugged for the pain.
Excerpted from Fabulously Fighting by Fabianna Marie. Copyright © 2016 Shanna Clarke Pinet. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Fabianna vs. Cancer, 1,
Chapter 2 Dave vs. Cancer, 13,
Chapter 3 Us vs. Cancer, 23,
Chapter 4 Positive Thinking vs. Cancer, 29,
Chapter 5 Body Acceptance vs. Cancer, 37,
Chapter 6 The Outside World, 47,
Chapter 7 Life Support, 57,
Chapter 8 Balance vs. Cancer, 67,
Chapter 9 Parenthood vs. Cancer, 75,
Chapter 10 You Are What You Eat, 87,
Chapter 11 Where Do We Go from Here?, 95,
About the Author, 101,