With all of the articles I have written and interviews I have conducted, it has been difficult to hold back tears. To hear so many women who have fought so hard for their lives brings me sadness for the suffering they have endured, yet also fills me with hope that with belief in one’s self, and a little support, anything is possible.
There is no story that is closer to my heart then that of Terrie High. I met Terrie in 2008 through a friend. I was told by my friend that Terrie was being “introduced to our circle.” I didn’t like that. We had a close circle of girls and there was no need for more; then I met her. The second she walked in, she filled the room with light, a sense of peace almost. She was quiet, yet genuine, and after only minutes of speaking with her, I knew I liked her. It was that instant fondness that made her diagnosis of breast cancer that much harder to hear.
It was August 6, 2009, the day after Terrie’s 39th birthday when she went for her annual mammogram and exam with her breast surgeon. She had been seeing the breast surgeon and getting regular mammograms for several years. This was due to the fact that Terrie lost her mother to breast cancer. She was only 3 years old, and her mother 35. Years later, Terrie’s grandmother developed the disease as well. Terrie made the decision to be cautious. She was certain to get her exams, even when her insurance refused to pay. It was lucky that she did, because this exam would go very differently than past ones. “After seeing something that hadn’t been present on the prior year’s mammogram, my doctor wanted to do a biopsy,” she said. “The next week I was back at her office for a core needle biopsy of 2 lumps that were found in my right breast. Four days later I got the call that I had been dreading all of my adult life, ‘Teresa, I hate to tell you, but you have breast cancer’.” While Terrie was happy to know she had a support system waiting for her at home, she also knew this meant she would have to break the bad news to her husband, two children, her father and stepmother as well as friends.
Both of Terrie’s tumors were cancerous, and both different types. She was diagnosed at stage 2A. She underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. She began chemotherapy in October.
“I was given a cocktail of Adrimycin and Cytoxan, or AC as it’s called. Adrimycin is nicknamed “Red Devil”. If you’ve ever taken it, you know why!” she says.“I had four treatments of AC every 3 weeks. Almost 2 weeks from the first treatment, my hair started to come out. I held onto it about a week longer, and then had a head shaving party in my bathroom with James (husband), Ryley and JT (sons). Let me tell you, there is nothing funnier to a 4 year old boy than shaving mommy’s hair! Mommy, on the other hand, wasn’t laughing.”
I recall seeing Terrie shortly after her “head shaving party”. A few of us stopped by to see her, hang out and have pizza and watch a movie. She met me at the door, her smile said strength, but in her eyes the pain was obvious. She was high in spirits, especially for what she was going through, but her exhaustion and fear were still present. After Terrie’s AC treatments came the Taxol. She received weekly infusions for 12 weeks. She also endured countless visits to the plastic surgeon to have her implants gradually inflated with saline. While for most this may seem like a walk in the park, it actually caused Terrie a great deal of pain. April of 2010 was Terrie’s last chemo treatment. She was relieved to be done with the chemo, and excited at the thought of having her hair back! Her relief was short lived however, since Terrie still had to endure a year’s worth of Herceptin treatments which were administered every 3 weeks. In June of 2010 Terrie went under to have her reconstruction on her breasts completed. With the breast tissue expanders removed and implants finally in, the tiring pain and pressure she had been enduring for seven months was finally over.
On April 7, 2011 Terrie was given her last treatment of Herceptin. “I had tears in my eyes when I walked out of the office that day. Tears of joy for finally being finished with all of the scary, toxic medicines my body had to endure and also some of sadness. Sadness for knowing there would be many other young women and men that would be taking my place in the treatment room. I drew strength from the patients there. The stories I heard I could relate to in one way or another. The laughter that filled the treatment area was contagious.”
I am happy to report that today, two years after her diagnosis, Terrie is healthy and happy. She credits her husband James and her two boys, Ryley and JT, for giving her the inspiration and strength to keep going. Terrie is still in the process of completing her nipple reconstruction but aside from that claims, “I feel like life is back to normal, if there is such a thing!”
For more information on breast cancer, visit http://www.breastcancer.org/