Cancer Survivor Sarah Appel’s Story
“Remember this too shall pass. It is a very long journey but a journey that will forever change you.” I couldn’t think of a better way to start Sarah’s story. These words could not be any more to the point. If you remember this, and just do one minute at a time, you will soon find your self a cancer survivor and no longer a cancer patient.
Sarah has written her journey, and I would be a fool to mess with it! Here is her story, in her words:
I am originally from Washington, IN. I currently live in Boonville, IN with my husband Jeff and our two very young daughters. I was diagnosed with Stage III Breast Cancer on May 15, 2012 at the age of 28. Our daughters were just two years old and four months old. I wanted to share my story with you. I hope one person will read my story and learn something from it. I would love to be an advocate for other young mothers going through breast cancer.
I was born on April 6, 1984 at 28 weeks gestational. I had patent ductus arteriosus and NISSEN fundoscopy surgery the first few months of my life. I was also hospitalized for four months. I had a feeding tube and was on oxygen the first two years of my life. I overcame all this and was very healthy until 2012.
My husband and I were blessed with our second daughter, Brooklyn Faith on December 21, 2011. I had my postpartum appointment on February 1, 2012 with my OBGYN (whom I love to death and highly recommend). She felt a small lump in my right breast. She asked if I noticed it and I said no. She said it may be nothing, but wanted to make sure. She sent me for an ultrasound. I had an ultrasound the next day. The radiologist there indicated it was benign breast tissue. In the following months my body was telling me something was wrong but my primary care physician couldn’t tell me what was wrong with me. I would have horrible back pain and neck pain that would wake me up at night. In April I went back to my OBGYN because the lump in my right breast had gotten bigger. She sent me for an ultrasound and mammogram. She indicated that no matter what the ultrasound and mammogram, said she wanted to refer me to see a surgeon for a biopsy. I had an ultrasound the next day, but not the mammogram because of my age. I was referred to a surgeon. The surgeon said his radiologist looked at my slides from an ultrasound that was performed in early April. They concluded it was a bunch of breast tissue and did not do a biopsy. I was told to come back in two months which would have been June 18, 2012 (Makaelyn’s third birthday). I left the office mad because I knew something was not right, but I figured they knew what they were talking about.
From April to May my body was aching all over and the mass in my right breast was getting bigger. In early May I was referred to a rheumatologist because I had body aches. I just felt awful that I just cried to the nurse. My dad took me to this appointment. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. We left that appointment and I told my dad I was not convinced I had fibromyalgia. I knew something else was wrong. The day before the appointment with the rheumatologist, I decided to call surgeon’s office to see if I could be seen sooner. The mass in my right breast kept getting bigger. I knew there was something wrong but did not connect the mass to my pains. I remember a late night a week before my appointment, I started looking up breast cancer signs and symptoms online thinking maybe I do have breast cancer, but thought surely I did not have breast cancer. I just had a baby, just turned 28 and had no history of breast cancer in my family. I was trying to comprehend my diagnosis of fibromyalgia and was very focused on trying to help the symptoms that caused this problem because that was my diagnosis, but did not know I would be told almost a week later news my family and I did not expect to hear.
May 14, 2012, was my appointment for an ultrasound and to see the surgeon after the ultrasound. I was going to go this appointment by myself but decided to text my dad’s girlfriend, Maria, to see if she wanted to go with me. Maria has been in my life for 15 years and I thought maybe she would like to go with me. I didn’t really want to go by myself. The text was failing and I decided just to give up. Somehow the text ended up going through and she called me and said she would love to meet me at the breast center for my appointment. At the breast center, the ultrasound tech performed an ultrasound on both breasts and right axillary lymph nodes. Afterwards the radiologist looked at the ultrasound. He came to the waiting room to get me and Maria. He sat me down and told me I probably had breast cancer but would not know 100% for sure without a biopsy. The radiologist biopsied my right breast and lymph nodes under my right arm and told me I could call or come in 24 hours later for the results. I also had a mammogram after the biopsy to make sure the chip the placed in my breast during the biopsy was placed right. The mammogram did not hurt one bit!! I never saw the surgeon. I decided not to call to get the results. I wanted to know in person. The next day my husband, dad and I went to the breast center, trying to be optimistic, but kept thinking the worst. We were sat down in a quiet room and the anticipation was overwhelming. The radiologist came into the room and told my husband, dad and I that I indeed had breast cancer. I had stage III breast cancer in my breast and lymph nodes. He even said based on that mammogram from the day before you could tell it was evident I had breast cancer. I finally got answers although the answers I got were devastating. We all cried, even the radiologist. My dad looked at me and told me he did not want to lose me. It took me a few minutes to get my composure, but I told him okay. I knew right then I, was in a fight for my life. I immediately thought of my job, my kids and my family. In the next few days I underwent a bone scan *I just knew they were in my bones because of the pain I was having*, a PET scan, but all this determined the cancer had not spread past my lymph nodes. I met with a different surgeon and my oncologist.
On May 24, 2012 I had a radical mastectomy on my right breast, a mastectomy on my left breast and sixteen lymph nodes removed. I stayed two nights in the hospital and went home with 3JP drains. Ten of those lymph nodes came back cancer and the tumor was 5.3 cm. My breast cancer (invasive ducal carcinoma) was considered stage three and grade three.
On June 25th, I started the first round of 8 weeks of chemotherapy. This chemotherapy is A/C. Also know as the red devil cocktail.
On July 20th, I was admitted to the hospital for six days because I had three blood clots on my heart. Once again I knew something was wrong with me because I was not feeling right. I searched for answers and did not give up until someone could tell me what was wrong with me. This was a road block in the cancer challenge I did not expect. This obstacle added another person to follow my care, a cardiologist. The blood clots are thought to be caused by the power port, but my cardiologist and oncologist are not totally convinced. I was put on Coumadin until I was done with chemotherapy. I had to get my finger pricked every week to make sure my INR levels were in range. During this time it was discovered I have something called scimitar syndrome. It is something I was born with but nobody told me about. Basically one of my veins goes to the wrong chamber of my heart.
On August 23rd I started my twelve weeks of taxol chemotherapy. It went pretty smooth. On November 9th I had my last taxol chemotherapy. A few days before this day on November 6th my brother passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. He was one of my biggest supporters and knew what it was like to go through medical trials and conquer them. We were so close not just in age (one year and three months apart) but as siblings. Many people have told me we are the closet set of siblings they have met. I miss him with all my heart and love him more than anyone could ever know. Losing him was a bigger battle than cancer ever was.
In late November my power port was removed and I was very happy to get that out. In December I started my radiation therapy for twenty-eight treatments. During this time I was not physically or mentally well: dealing with my brother’s death and my continuous obstacles to beat breast cancer was wearing me down. I ended up getting c-diff in early January 2013 and spending six days in the hospital. I lost so much weight, couldn’t eat and thought I was literally on my own death bed.
In early March 2013 I had a complete hysterectomy. I had to get my ovaries removed and decided to have everything removed. I am now taking arimidex an anti-estrogen medication. On July 15, 2013 I had expanders placed. I spent one night in the hospital and went home with two JP drains I expanded up to 350ccs. On December 16, 2013 I had my expanders removed and implants put in. I went home the same day with two JP drains.
I took arimidex for a year and recently switched to femara. On April 18th of 2014 I had my nipple reconstruction surgery done. My radiated side nipple is taking a long time to heal. I still see my oncologist every three months. I enjoy my loving husband and two little girls who are my world. I try to volunteer at our local Gilda’s Club every so often. I also am a new volunteer for the reach to recovery program at our local American cancer society.
One of my biggest supporters besides my husband is my dad, Rex. He has been there for me and my family in many times of need. He takes me to a lot of my appointments when my husband can’t get off work. See, my dad has been through a lot already in his life with his children. On May 15, 2006, my brother, who is a year older than I, underwent a heart transplant because he was born with congenital heart disease. He was hospitalized for four months and underwent traumatic medical problems. He proved so many people wrong the six and half years his new donated heart lasted. My dad was by his side every step of the way just like he is currently by my side. I know he is my rock and was my brother’s rock too!
Friends, family and complete strangers have shown unconditional support through donations, meals, encouraging words and prayers for my family and I. The day after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my best friend from high school, Nina Kelley, created this Facebook page called Peace, Love, Team Sarah to help get my story out.
I think if someone can learn something from my story, please remember this: if your body tells you something is wrong, listen to it. Do not ever give up on finding answers. I have not given up and will continue to fight until I defeat breast cancer. When times get tough, I always fall back to remembering my favorite scripture in the bible. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13.
Sarah, like so many of us, has a song that helped her through the journey.