My name is Nancy. A mother, wife, and breast cancer survivor. I am a licensed registered nurse and the owner of Toriabel Aesthetics—where I provide medical and cosmetic tattoo services.
Back in October 2021 I felt a painful lump in my right axilla. I immediately contacted my GYN who ordered a right axillary ultrasound. Ironically, I was also due for a repeat 6-month mammogram that was coming up due, as surveillance was being done for a suspicious mass in the right breast. Following the findings of the axillary ultrasound an immediate biopsy was ordered.
The test resulted as suspicious for malignancy, so a biopsy was done on 11/15/21 which then revealed triple negative breast cancer—the most aggressive form of breast cancer—stage 3C metastatic poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma, with associated lymphovascular invasion.
Despite being a nurse, I knew nothing about triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Nor do I have any family history.
When the oncologist uttered the words “it’s cancer” it felt as if I stopped breathing for a moment, then immediately my mind went to my kids, they just could not escape my thoughts even as the doctor was explaining the treatment course to me.
The road ahead would require approximately six months of chemotherapy, mastectomy, and radiation therapy. I immediately went into survival mode, pushing and fighting for every single test or medical appointment that needed to be, or could be, done! I became my own advocate overnight – was on the phone with doctor’s offices when necessary, radiology facilities, my insurance company; did it all. But I must add that I was lucky enough to know and understand the field of medical administration and insurance which made navigating a very hard journey a little easier. I always pushed my doctors to disclose not just the positive outcome but the negative ones as well – I firmly believe that being fully educated on your prognosis can be a catalyst to surviving what’s ahead!
In June 2022 I underwent a mastectomy and lymph nodes dissection. Despite the physical changes that resulted from the surgery I don’t harbor any feelings of resentment about my body. This is surprising to me given that I’ve always been very feminine and I work in the beauty industry. I call my scars and dysmorphia “my battle scars”, that to me, empowers me more than anything else!
The lesson I took from having cancer is that the love of family – and for family – is ever more vital to my own survival. And that includes my extended family of blood-related relatives and friends alike.
The message that I would like to share with other young women facing TNBC is that we cannot change the past, that the present is surely an uphill battle, but, NO MATTER WHAT, we shall not give up! Take every treatment opportunity that is presented to you and push your body to its limit to survive. The body is resilient…mine has shown me that it can handle so much more than I could ever imagine, and still recalibrate to allow me to live many more new chapters.
Besides being a licensed registered nurse, I am also a paramedical and cosmetic tattoo artist. I’ve always believed in giving back. A few years ago, I created the “Beauty On Purpose” project, which provides PMU services at no charge to cancer survivors suffering from chemo-induced alopecia. I also provide paramedical tattoo services, namely Areola and Nipple repigmentation for breast cancer survivors following their breast reconstruction journey. More information can be found at www.toriableaesthetics.com