It was Wednesday, August 9, 2017 when I got the call.
My name is Misty Jacusis, I am a Lead Report Writer at Schellman & Company, and I have beaten breast cancer. It is difficult to share this story for public consumption, but if it makes a difference in someone else’s life, then that in itself makes it worth telling.
All women know the rules—to check your own body consistently and to report anything abnormal to your doctor. I first noticed an unusual lump in my left breast in late 2015. It felt different—painful—and so I mentioned it to my physician. Given my age, my lack of family history with breast cancer, and the fact that nothing showed up in my last mammogram, she insisted it was just a cyst. But different symptoms soon followed-- random fatigue, headaches, lower backache and food sensitivity—and as they grew more pronounced over the next year and a half, I insisted my doctor prescribe a diagnostic mammogram and she reluctantly agreed.
I had the screening Thursday August 3rd, 2017, followed by a biopsy a few days later, and soon after that, on August 9, 2017, it was confirmed cancer. At work when the doctor rang me, I was stunned and numb, with only the wherewithal to walk into my boss’s office to tell him and ask for leave to go home and process. While I laid on my bed dazed, confused, and scared, my life passed over me like a big wave. There was a moment when my world stopped spinning and I thought, “I have a daughter, am I going to be here for her? How am I going to take care of her?” Telling my daughter was actually the most upsetting part, as she had all the emotional responses that I thought I should be having but was not, my mind seemingly trapped in a state of shock and disbelief. With my loved ones, I rationalized it and made morbid jokes, telling my family, “oh, it’s just a lump in the road.” Despite the abnormality of this kind of devastation, my reaction was typical for me--compartmentalize and avoid, that is the only way to cope. Anything not to deal with my feelings. And there were a lot of feelings.
There is never a good time to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but in my case, the timing could not have been worse. As a British expat myself, my family all live in England, and my closest friends happen to live out of state. At the time of the call, I was going through some devastating blows in my personal life and a disastrous bathroom remodel that went terribly wrong. I was already physically, mentally, emotionally, and even financially spent—now my own body had betrayed me too. I was weak and did not feel like I had anything left to give to what was coming next.
My official diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) Breast Cancer, and my doctor was optimistic. They had caught it early, and so began the endless tests, physical exams, and appointments that bled into each other and exhausted me. My initial prognosis really was great—my doctors recommended I just needed a lumpectomy followed by radiation. But then they tested the genomics of the tumor, which revealed that I had a highly aggressive cancer, which meant my treatment plan would change to five months of chemotherapy followed by radiation.
"There were days where I did not know if or feel like I was going to make it. But I found having a positive attitude and a sense of humor helped me pushed through it--I found strength in fighting for my daughter."
Everyone reacts differently to chemo. For a lucky some, it is a breeze, but for me, it was incredibly rough. I lost 30 pounds, a quarter of my body weight and found myself in a fully committed relationship with the toilet, given the amount of time we spent with each other with me bent over sick and helpless as the treatment took its revenge. Before, the running joke in my family had been, “Misty won’t do it unless it involves a death waiver,” and that had been true—but now, I’d gone from a highly active lifestyle, an avid runner, and adrenaline junkie to finding myself winded after walking 10 feet. There were days where I did not know if or feel like I was going to make it. But I found having a positive attitude and a sense of humor helped me pushed through it--I found strength in fighting for my daughter. With my nerves frayed and body giving out, I learned to be present, focus on each individual moment, and that is how I won the fight of—and for—my life.
I finished treatments on April 26, 2018. I am in remission, and while the disease is gone, my experience lingers, and likely will for the rest of my life. Other survivors can attest to the fact that something like this, changes you, and I am no exception. During those periods spent on the floor of my bathroom, all I could manage was pushing myself through the next second, hoping that the next would be better than the last. And all those terrible moments made me really appreciate the good ones that came in between, good moments that are blessedly coming more frequently now that I am healthy and through the darkest period of my life.
In a way, you appreciate the darker moments too, because when you go through things like this, you also learn things about yourself. Now I know that, as much control as I may have over my own emotions, no matter how much I think I can control everything in my life, I really cannot. Sometimes, you have got to swallow your pride and ask for help when you need it, and I know now that there are good people in this world who will answer that call. I am lucky to count my employers among that group, because they really are an amazing company that truly care for their employees, and my coworkers are some of the best. Upon my news, Chris Schellman himself was incredibly accommodating and supportive--not only did everyone set me up so I could work from home, but I was also given a bonus to help cover my medical bills, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
I am also honored to have met some truly amazing women while on my journey, and they will forever hold a very special place in my heart. In particular, I am grateful to have met Edna, a dear elderly lady who was going through treatment alone. Going through cancer treatments can be extremely isolating for anyone, and every call or text you get from someone checking in makes a huge difference. Speaking from personal experience, it is more appreciated than you will ever know, and you really do become someone’s hero through those seemingly small acts of kindness. No one should ever have to endure such strife alone, and so when I met Edna, I began visiting on her bad days, I took her shopping, and offered her support and friendship. We remain friends, and she truly is a beautiful soul.
"Be your own health advocate because no one else can do that for you."
If there is anything to take away from reading my story, please remember that breast cancer doesn’t care what you are going through or how old you are—it doesn’t care about your race, sex, fitness level or how healthy your lifestyle is. It does not discriminate. So, check yourself regularly, familiarize yourself with your normal, and if something does not feel right, get it checked out immediately. Be your own health advocate because no one else can do that for you. But even aside from all that, don’t wait for a dark experience to come turn your life upside down to appreciate the small things, to let the people in your life know that you see and value them, because every good and happy moment spent is much more precious than you might think.
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