June is Cancer Survivor Month – Maura Philipps’ Story
Today marks an important day for millions upon millions of people. It’s the start of “Cancer Survivor Month”, something that is very near and dear to our heart. You see, the person writing this blog is a Cancer SURVIVOR. My name is Maura Philipps. I am not only the Social Media Marketer for SSF Insurance, but I am the wife of Keith Philipps, Partner of SSF Insurance.
I am more than a survivor, I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor. I love animals, scrapbooking, machine embroidery, computer games. I am a vegetarian, a practicer of yoga, an herbalist apprentice, and a studier of holistic nutrition. I belong to a Country Club, where I hope to one day play a round of golf with my husband. I LOVE entertaining, and I mean extravagant affairs (shhhh! Don’t tell Keith!). I am so much more than Cancer, but for the last 18 months Cancer has been all we’ve thought about.
Here is my cancer story: In July of 2012 I felt a lump on my left breast. It’s a cyst they said, we’ll check it in 6 months. January 14, 2013 I went in for my check up, fully expecting to be sent home with another appointment 6 months in the future. But my Mammogram turned into an ultrasound, which turned into the tech calling in a doctor, which turned into “it could be nothing, but let’s biopsy it RIGHT NOW anyway”. Without time to think, I did it – numb me up, stick a needle in under ultrasound and right away I felt a swoosh, that was CLEARLY the cyst popping. All done, nothing to biopsy, right? Wrong. They sent me home with a fake smile upon their faces saying they’d call me in a few days.
On January 17, 2013 at 1pm I was on my way back to my office from lunch. My phone rang, when I heard Dr. Russo’s voice I INSTANTLY knew. I heard nothing he said. I collapsed in my office and cried. How would I tell my family? My daughter was due to have our 3rd Grandson at any minute. I cried the entire way home from work.
That night Keith and I cried, held each other, and reassured one another it would be ok. It was too soon, we had just celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary and I wanted 100 more. I had an appointment the following day with the Breast surgeon, she’d go over my pathology and we would devise a plan. Of course, my daughter went into labor that night! Caleb Daniel was a VERY welcomed relief from the horror we had just been handed. I kiss him every day and thank him for showing us that life does go on and there were so many other good things on our horizon.
Within a month of my diagnosis of “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 2A, Grade 3” I also had the results of my BRCA testing. I was mutated in both genes – BRCA 1 mutation had only been seen TWICE before and BRCA 2 mutation had only been seen ELEVEN times before. This truly set the tone for what was to come. Due to a heavy history of women type cancers on my Father’s side and zero knowledge of my Mother’s side I made the very easy, yet at the same time very difficult, decision to be uber-aggressive. I wanted to LIVE, I wanted to see my grandson’s grandsons, I promised each of my daughters at birth that I would kiss them AT LEAST 1 million times and I’m sure I have not met that goal yet.
On 2/27/13 I had a bilateral mastectomy with sentinel node biopsy, port placement and immediate tissue expanders. It was a tense 10 hours for my family, but a breeze for me since I was under anesthesia. Thankfully, my Mother & Father-In-Law returned very early from their yearly wintering in Florida. We needed all the help we could get. It was a BRUTAL surgery and I had a very low tolerance to pain, and an equally as high tolerance to pain meds. Before I could even settle into my recliner at home I was being whisked back to the hospital because of a blood clot in my port and pneumonia.
Within a few weeks I was at the plastic surgeon’s office for my first “fill” – which is code for “you’ve not yet endured enough so let’s add some pressure”. Actually, it’s not. I needed to have bi-weekly fills in my tissue expander to expand my chest muscles and skin in order to eventually have implants placed. I was to do this along with the Chemotherapy that started 4 short weeks after surgery. It wasn’t long before things got REALLY complicated.
I am a “fluid maker”, a not so technical term that meant I kept producing extra serous fluid on my right side, which by the way was the non-cancerous breast. Due to chemo, blood thinners and steroids – which are all bad on their own, but even more evil together – I had a total of 10 JP drains over an 8-month period to keep the fluid from building up. I dare you to do it for one day. I hold the record for the longest time with a drain in my support group, an accolade I never yearned for.
Cancer became our full time job. Monday was labs, Tuesday was chemo, Wednesday was Neulasta, Thursday was oncologist & Friday was plastic surgeon. Every week. For 6 months. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do radiation. And thank goodness my In-Laws were able to take me. Keith HAD to get back to work after being out/working from home for 6 weeks, and my daughters each had babies.
During these 6 months I also had 2 unexpected surgeries thanks to that right side. It was eventually decided to remove that expander, let it heal and try again in a few months.
Chemo ended on August 27, 2013 – I was told I was in remission. But I needed to watch carefully, my family history and BRCA status put me high on the “most likely to get mets” list. I have since had 3 more surgeries – port removal (9/13), total hysterectomy (10/13) and new tissue expander (1/14). I anticipate at least 2 more surgeries as long as nothing else goes wrong.
Through this all, I have had the steadfast support of an amazing husband, incredible children, and wonderful extended family. I also have this tiny group of friends (we’re up over 300 now!) called the Pink Sisters. We are a private group on Facebook where ANYTHING goes. There is no greater support than that of fellow fighters & survivors.
While my story still goes on, I know there is no better way to say ‘I kicked cancer’s ass” then to live my life to the fullest. Those things that seemed so important before (work, cleaning, yard work, etc) are done after I’ve snuggled one of my grandsons, or talked to my daughter or kissed my husband.
One thing kept me going through all of it. It was a song I heard the day I was diagnosed. It’s called “Open Letter” by The Amity Affliction. I was lucky enough to recently see them in concert and hear them sing the song live. My daughter, who was with me, pretended not to notice me crying, but instead grabbed my hand and sang along with me. Those are the moments I am now living for.
SCREW YOU CANCER – you may have taken my boobs, but I’m getting better ones!
I urge you to please come back to this blog daily, there will be another survivors story every day in June.