Some mornings I wake up thinking or maybe its me pretending to be just a normal person, but then I put my fingers through my hair and it all flashes back like a bad nightmare. I remember that the reason I have little hair is because I recently had to fight for my life and the fight is something that I’ll always have to do.

It was a day before my thirty-seventh birthday 2022 and everyone in my house was fast asleep. I got up went to the bathroom and before climbing in bed I reached over to grab some chapstick and rubbed against my right breast, by pure accident.  Little did I know that my life changed in that moment. I felt a lump. The lump was hard almost like a small bb from a bb gun, but I told myself that it was nothing and went to sleep. I waited a few days and decided I should probably tell my boyfriend, who happens to be a radiologist. He then discovered several lumps. I decided not to freak out because I was young and had no family history, but I made an appointment at my Ob’s office. They got me in relatively quickly and did an exam. The NP’s words were “you have pretty lumpy breasts so it’s probably nothing, but we will order a mammogram and ultrasound just to be safe.” As I awaited these tests I had several talks with my boyfriend without any worry; that if anything it was just a cyst. I went in for my exams without much anxiety and without answers. The exams came back inconclusive, so an MRI had to be ordered. I started worrying a little just because I wasn’t sure why I needed further tests if I just had lumpy breasts, but then again, I reasoned it as that. So, I went for the MRI. A breast MRI is one of the most uncomfortable things I had done at this point in my life. I was not ready to be face down for an extended period of time, but I got it done. Those results stated I needed a biopsy so of course I went ahead and got that scheduled. Up until the night I received a call from the breast surgeon I remember saying there’s no way I have cancer; I have no family history and I’m too young. The last time I said that was the night before my surgeon called. That call is one that I’ll never forget. I had really bad service at that time so the first time I answered I couldn’t hear her; I didn’t know the number and I was working so I just hung up. The second time I answered rudely and had her on speaker phone. There was a day off of school and I was working from home, so my son was standing right outside my bedroom door; at this time, he was 14. All I remember the surgeon saying is “Its cancer, but treatable.” Everything in the entire world changed for me that very moment. I was upset about how I found out, how my son found out at the same time, how I doubted I could ever have cancer, how I didn’t educate myself more of the possibilities. I just kept thinking, “How? And now what?”

Life got very real after that. I was in the process of changing jobs, luckily my new boss was understanding as I am a mental health therapist and was going to need some of my own time to process my new diagnosis. My father (well at the time the man I thought was my father), died one week after my diagnosis and as the only child I had to settle all of his affairs. I then found out that I tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene, but again HOW? I had no family history. So, I decided to do an ancestry test in the middle of chemo and all the pain associated with this new diagnosis. I found out that my biological father was a man I never knew and that carried the BRCA 1 gene. I also found out that ovarian and breast cancer run heavily in my biological father’s side of the family. Again, I was left with the question HOW? I felt like everything I knew about myself was wrong and I wasn’t sure what to do. The only thing I could do was FIGHT. I fought my diagnosis by showing up for chemo every week despite the reactions, the low blood counts, and the negative feelings. I fought for my kids and my family. I decided that I could fight back by spreading awareness because anyone can get breast cancer, it doesn’t matter how old you are or if you think you have family history or not. I spent so much time doubting I had cancer I never thought about the possibility that I had it and what it meant. What it meant was that I had chemo for the next 8 months, then a double mastectomy, and then thirty rounds of radiation. It also means that my children have a fifty percent chance of developing the BRCA gene. I also am at an increased risk for melanoma of the skin and eyes, pancreatic cancer, and ovarian cancer. I have more surgeries scheduled including an exchange surgery for my breasts as well as an eventual hysterectomy and constant monitoring every three months. So even though the “hard” part of chemo is done I have constant reminders whether it’s my hair or the yellowing of my nails that my life is far from normal. My new normal has been hard to find, but it’s a day at a time. I am thankful that despite the hard days I got up and fought everyday for my kids. I never lost track of my reasons. Cancer is tough but I believe that I am tougher because of my support system. I am thankful to have a care/medical team that constantly makes sure I am doing what I need to be doing so that I can continue to outlive cancer. I’ve decided that 2024 is my year of travel and my time to give back whatever I can to those in the community that need extra support emotionally. So here’s to living and enjoying instead of just surviving.


Nicholle Chadwick