This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re looking at the women behind the ribbon. Join the conversation around finding a new normal, after diagnosis, on Breast Cancer Healthline — a free app for people living with breast cancer.DOWNLOAD APP HERE
My name is Philecia. I’m 31 years old and fighting stage 4 breast cancer.
Before my diagnosis, I was working at a hospital in administration and doing modeling on the side. I rode on the back of vintage Harleys built by my incredibly supportive boyfriend, Brent. I hiked the Grand Canyon and brought a puppy home to love. I floated on the river in Parker, Arizona. I was a CrossFitter. I was constantly on the go.
After my diagnosis, everything changed. I’ve learned that part of living with breast cancer is adjusting to a “new normal.” Which sometimes isn’t so normal.
My diagnosis is a rough story to tell…
I first found my lump in April 2017 at the movies while adjusting my breast in a sports bra.
Shortly after, I had it checked at a free clinic, because I didn’t qualify for insurance with my then employer or the government. They said it was benign — totally fine — and to come back if it bothered me.
By November, the lump was getting big enough that it bothered me. I decided to get it looked at after the holidays.
In January, I fell while snowboarding. The lump was aggravated for two weeks. I finally made an appointment. Doctors did another ultrasound, which quickly turned into urgent follow-up appointments for something they had already told me was “nothing.”
Next was a mammogram, which turned into an urgent biopsy. Well, actually six painful, awful biopsies. Those turned into a positive test for ductal carcinoma in situ. Then, chest pressure started that resulted in a PET scan and a trip to the ER for the ultimate news:
It had spread to my sternum, lungs, and lymph nodes.
Everything happened so quickly. Brent and I were shocked. I was always so healthy — tired sometimes, but we’re such active people. Nothing could’ve prepared us for this.
As I started treatment, things got worse before they got better. My first oncologist spent a few minutes with me during each appointment —most of the time telling me to make a list of questions for next time.
She also didn’t discuss fertility with me at all. I was shown a video before my first round of chemo that talked about potential side effects — including impact on fertility. When I asked my doctor about it, she said she was focused on saving my life and that fertility wasn’t an option for me.
We moved forward with the first round of chemo and it almost killed me. The experience was traumatic and awful. I wasn’t happy with my doctor, and I share this part of my story because getting a second opinion is so important — I want others to know that.
I decided to find a new doctor and get a second take on fertility. After researching, I ended up with an amazing oncologist, Dr. Merry Tetef, who helped me formulate a much better chemo plan. I also started on holistic care that consisted of vitamin infusions and therapy to remove bad metals and toxins while also monitoring my full blood panel and overall health.
Dr. Tetef also supported my desire to try and preserve my fertility, so I now have 10 healthy eggs frozen and waiting for me!
My everyday life has changed drastically from the day I got my diagnosis. And as hard as it’s been physically and emotionally, it hasn’t all changed for the worse.
Before cancer, I had done modeling for a wheel company for six years. They finally brought me on full time as an account manager for a new product line that came out the same week I got my diagnosis.
I waited until the final diagnosis and treatment plan for stage 4 to tell them. I was fearful and felt so guilty, but they welcomed me with open arms. For me, that was huge. I felt supported, plus I now have new insurance and connections to the best doctors in Southern California.
I worked in the office until chemo started, and then they offered me the chance to work remotely. So now during my chemo days, for three to four days a week, I work off my laptop, hooked up to infusion machines that pump all different types of fluids, depending on what day it is.
My nights are spent either doing “normal life” things or dealing with hot flashes, pain, headaches, and anxiety. Every day and night is different.
Some days, I have great energy. I feel like I can conquer the world. Other days, I could lay on the couch and not move for nine hours and it wouldn’t make me feel any better. No amount of rest helps on those days.
My new normal also involves chemo brain, an entirely different monster I’m now dealing with. I blank out during conversations. It takes me 5 to 10 seconds to remember things. I lost my car in the Target parking lot!
I have three-week breaks between chemo sessions, so right when I’m feeling my best, I get knocked down again.
But this too shall pass.
Modeling is changing for me. I’m still doing what I love, but I have limitations — and a new look. I can work shows if I have enough advance notice and lots of preparation (lots of fluids and sleep at night).
I haven’t done a photo shoot yet, but that’s coming soon. I’m excited but nervous. I’ve never modeled without hair before!
So, what’s my new normal? Work is good but requires more planning because my energy is never reliable. My personal life is good and bad. Some friends have been let go because they simply don’t understand. The judgment in some parts of my life is hard to deal with, but I just keep pushing and concentrating on the positive.
My relationship is stronger than ever. My partner and I still have our struggles, but he’s been there every second of every day as much as he can, by my side through it all. He embraced my new look, rubs my fuzzy bald head, and now he gets to date any hair color he likes on any particular day!
Brent never once ran away. He never told me he couldn’t do it. And every day he helps me laugh and look at the bright side. He pushes me to do more, be more active. I couldn’t do this without him.
I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “normal” after a breast cancer diagnosis. But I’ve found a new way to live, work, be strong, and as much as possible, be happy.