Julie Smith//Survivor of Breast Cancer//Fighter of Multiple Myeloma//Wife to Lindsay//Mother to 2 Sons and one grandaughter // Gardener//Dog lover
I had breast cancer 5 years ago , May of 2018. I discovered the lump on a Saturday afternoon. The interesting thing, the surgeon nor the oncologist, could feel the lump if I was sitting up or lying on my back. I had to be leaning over. Which is just kind of a lesson to spread the word to check your self in other positions other than just standing up in the shower or lying down in the bed.
The chemo I had for that was a very rigorous chemo and the reason they could justify putting me through it was because it was considered a cure. I was on chemo, June through October, and then in November , t wo weeks after my last chemo treatment , I had a double mastectomy . A nd then a year later, reconstruction surgery. I was not a candidate for implants because of the radiation I’d had.
At the time, I thought that was the most horrible thing I could go through and then 3 years later, I was in for a regular follow up check up with my oncologist. Blood work showed that my hemoglobin, which had never really rebounded after the chemo, had dropped dramatically in 3 mo nths. I had a bone marrow biopsy and that revealed multiple myeloma. It had been long enough after breast cancer that at those 3 – month checkups I didn’t get antsy about them. So, it really took me by surprise.
Immunotherapy worked initially but stoppe d working within 2 months. Because that indicated an aggressive disease, I went directly to a chemo treatment that required my being in the hospital for 5 days to receive the 6 chemo drugs continually. Unfortunately , 2 days before Christmas , I learned th at the chemo had not worked. I was then referred to L evine Cancer Institute In Charlotte to see a my eloma specialist . The specialist immediately knew the drug I needed to receive for the specific type I had . I responded immediately and my counts began t o drop slowly, and when I reached the lowest level it appeared I would reach, I then qualified for a stem cell transplant . I had this done at Levine in Charlotte . It was rough. There were many trips back and forth for tests to confirm I was healthy enoug h to withstand the transplant, then I was in the hospital for almost 3 weeks following the transplant, and after I was released I had to stay in Charlotte for another 2 weeks. I learned shortly thereafter that it didn’t work. I had a very minimal partial response , so that was another low point. I went back onto the drug that I had been on before the stem cell transplant as a maintenance drug and that is what I am on right now.
There is no history of breast cancer or myeloma in my family; not my 2 siste rs, neither of my parents, none of the grandparents.
My advice would be to learn to accept help from your family and friends. That was one of the hardest things I had to do. The other is to do your own research and reading. Looking for respected medic al journal articles of whatever you’re going through and even if you can only understand 10% of what they’re talking about, you’ll still start understanding what your doctor is telling you. You’ve got to learn to start reading about it yourself and to ask for a second opinion. There were times right after the myeloma diagnosis that I did not. It is a rare cancer, and I should have asked for referral to a specialist.
There is no cure for myeloma. I cannot have any more stem cells harvested. The chemo I was given as the first step of the stem cell transplant, is very powerful and means I can’t ever have stem cells collected again. If I have a stem cell transplant, it ’s with donor cells and that’s a completely different ballgame.
The hardest thing about all of it was having to tell my sons. I hated that they were going to have to watch me go through this. I think in general I’m a positive person. I’m a realist. I don’t believe in sugar coating things. I believe it is what it is, and I will tell myself I am so lucky because I have a wonderful husband who has stood by me. I have 2 sons and they are both married to wonderful young women, and I am just so glad that they’re healthy. And my dogs, I love my dogs. Before cancer happened to me , I loved fostering dogs, and it still hurts to follow things on Facebook and see all of these dogs and I just wish that I was able to do that again. I don’t have the energy and s trength for fostering.
Several years ago, I took the class and became a Master Gardener. And my husband Lindsay took the Master Naturalist classes with me a couple of years later. The first class was the day after my last radiation treatment for breas t cancer. Having Lindsay with me as a support enabled me to do it.
Having that background helps me appreciate so many wonderful things about the Cancer Survivor’s Park. T he landscape layout and all the native plants really sing to my heart. I have a r eal appreciation for plants and native plants, and they’ve done a beautiful job including native plants. I can appreciate the very intentional layout where there are curves, and you are in a different area. And the benches are placed strategically to enc ourage resting as well as people – watching!
Just remember, there are blessings everywhere and you might not even see them coming.
And finally and most importantly, try to find humor wherever you can.
Story by Amy Doser
Photo by Sliced Tomato Productions