Breast cancer was not part of my plan. I am blessed with a husband and stepson whom I love and adore, and they love me. Before my diagnosis, we’d just bought property in the Texas Hill Country, were designing a house and looking forward to a new chapter in our lives. I was the girl who did everything right: I exercised six days a week, was a perfect size eight, ate healthy foods and drank in moderation, but I got breast cancer. I am also the poster girl for listening to your “little voice.”
Christmas Eve, 2003, I found a lump in my breast. After the New Year, I had a mammogram. Doctors said it was a benign fibro cyst. No need to worry. For the next six months, I examined it in the shower, at my desk, lying down, bending over. I was obsessed with it. Six months later, I had another mammogram, and was told the same thing. It’s benign. My little voice said otherwise, so I told the doctor I didn’t care what the mammogram said. I wanted it out. Three days later, I had a lumpectomy. As my doctor told me and my husband, “When I saw it, I told my colleagues in the operating room, ‘I told her it was benign.’ Then I cut out the fibro cystic lump, and there it was. Hiding underneath.” Had I waited until the breast cancer grew beyond the bounds of the benign cyst so a mammogram could detect it, I would be dead.
Since then, I’ve had 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemo. During this time, my “little voice” has repeatedly served me well. Four years after my diagnosis, I asked my oncologist if I should take the BRCA test to see if I carried the breast cancer gene. Because I have no family history of breast cancer, he said no, but I ignored him and had the test run anyway. I am BRCA2 positive, which means there was an 84% chance of breast cancer recurring in my “good” breast. A month later, I had a prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction. Because I had a total hysterectomy 10 years earlier, I can cross ovarian cancer off my worry list, but in addition to breast cancer recurrence, I must watch out for pancreatic cancer and melanoma. In the last six years, I’ve become well versed in lumpectomies, mastectomies, DIEP Flap reconstruction, tissue expanders, silicone gel implants, nipple reconstruction, chemo ports, plus surgery to repair a wandering implant that dropped midway between where it should have been and my navel.
In addition to my personal journey as a breast cancer survivor, my father died of cancer when I was 12, and my late husband died of cancer when I was 37. My experiences made me realize cancer affects the whole family, and those families were in need of support. Because I know what cancer families need, in November, 2009, I started BreastCancerSisterhood.com, one of the few survivorship resources for every member of the breast cancer family.
As I look back on my journey, I believe God opened a door that had my name on it. I’m humbled and honored to have touched so many lives. If I could give patients and families one thing, it would be the knowledge that if they can go through breast cancer, they can do anything.
My name is Brenda Coffee and I am a seven-year breast cancer survivor.