We Are Living Hope - Charity Holdman

Diagnosed: Age 36
Now: Age 38

In May 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36.

The previous February, I noticed that an area on my right breast just did not feel right. It was very tender to the touch. When I told my husband, he asked me to get it checked out.

Charity HoldmanSo what did I do? I turned to the Internet! After a lot of “research”, I decided that it was probably a cyst, so I eliminated caffeine and waited. In April, that same spot was still bothering me! I remember rolling over in bed one night and it felt like someone poked me in that spot, which caused pain. And that’s what caused me to call my doctor.

Tests, tests and more tests

I called the next day, and I saw Cindy Besson, MD, on Monday morning. She examined me, and scheduled me for a mammogram and a sonogram. The results prompted Dr. Besson to refer me to a surgeon.

I chose Frank Chase, MD, who had performed my gall bladder surgery the previous year. At this point, I still did not know for a fact that I had cancer, but I was beginning to think that the chances were pretty good. They wouldn't send me to a surgeon for nothing!

Dr. Chase examined me and sent me over to the hospital for another sonogram. The technician was incredibly thorough, and what I thought was going to be a 15 minute visit turned into two hours! She began to take more and more pictures, and then called in a radiologist. He showed me the area of concern, which was the exact area that had been bothering me! He said that I should have it biopsied and would let Dr. Chase know.

That next week, I saw Dr. Chase. Not only did he concur that I needed a biopsy, he wanted to do it that day! He first did the Fine Needle Aspiration and then several punches for a Core Needle biopsy. I was told to go home, relax, and come back in a week.

Getting the news

I returned for my appointment, and I could see Dr. Chase pacing in the hall outside. It was very tense for myself and my husband as we waited for the results. Dr. Chase came in with a fax page and sat down beside me. I looked over at the page he placed on the desk, scanning for any word that would confirm one way or another, as I could not wait for him to say it.

Then I saw it — invasive ductal carcinoma. I screamed inside! I just sat, listened, and held my husband's hand as Dr. Chase explained everything to me. Tears came briefly, and then a flood of questions. Do I need a lumpectomy? Mastectomy? Double mastectomy? Reconstruction? Chemotherapy? Radiation? What about my kids? How would they react? My mind was going a mile a minute trying to take everything in.

I chose to have a lumpectomy, which is where only the tumor is removed, along with an area surrounding the tumor, called margins. I knew that this meant I would have radiation, but probably not chemo.

Carolyn Cook: The “angel’ that kept me going

June 18 was the date set for the lumpectomy. There were several procedures that needed to take place before surgery, and several of those procedures were very uncomfortable. I would not have made it through that if it weren't for Carolyn Cook, the Breast Health Nurse Navigator. She was my angel that held my hand and stayed with me the whole time.

During my surgery, Dr. Chase saw that there was more cancer than we all thought, so he ended the procedure. He asked us to return in a week, after a new pathology report came in. Some good news did come out of this, though! During the surgery, Dr. Chase performed a lymph node biopsy, which came back negative. Thank you, God — it was not in my lymph nodes!

The next week I returned to find out the results of my new path report. It showed that not only did I have IDC, which is invasive, but I had DCIS and LCIS, which are two types of in situ (not yet invasive) cancers. Based on this, I was told it was not a matter of “if”, but “when” it would recur. I chose to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.

A successful surgery, a wonderful staff

On July 10, 2012, I had the surgery. Dr. Chase and Dean Page, MD, were awesome, as well as the wonderful nurses that cared for me during my time at Aiken Regional! Once I recovered, I saw Sitki Ergul, MD, at the Cancer Care Institute. He recommended four treatments of chemotherapy to be given three weeks apart. Chemo is never easy, but Dr. Ergul and his nurses and staff were incredible and made sure I had everything I needed to make it through. I had my first treatment on August 8 and my last on October 11. The last treatment was the most difficult, but it was the LAST!

I am now on daily medication and see Dr. Ergul every three months, but I am ALIVE! I could not have done it without some awesome family and friends that helped with my kids, supported my husband, provided food, visits, notes of encouragement, and most importantly, PRAYED for my family during this journey.

My advice to new patients

My advice to ALL women (and men) is to know your body! Pay attention to things that are different, and, even if you think you are too young for something to happen to you, get it checked out! Statistics say that only 5% of all breast cancer cases are in women under the age of 40. It should not have happened to me, but it did. Surround yourself with positive people and an awesome medical team. If you know your body, hopefully anything wrong can be caught early and taken care of.

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