In November of 2016, Andy performed a routine breast self-exam and found a pea-sized lump in her breast. Shortly after, she found another lump, about the size of a quarter, on the same breast. She had a mammogram and ultrasound, performed in January 2017. The radiologist decided to schedule a biopsy of the two lumps that Andy found, but they also wanted to investigate a whole quadrant of the same breast that was only visible during the scans. The next day Andy got a call from the doctor notifying her of the unexpected: breast cancer.
Andy didn’t know what to think or how to proceed. Life before cancer was carefree. Now, everything was different. Andy decided to go on short-term leave from work in preparation for her scheduled double mastectomy on March 8, 2017. Prior to surgery, Andy threw a party to say goodbye to her breasts, “Ta-ta to my tatas.“ Nearly 200 people joined the party to support Andy and celebrate with her.
Her mastectomy revealed that 11 of 13 lymph nodes removed were cancerous. “So that’s stage 3, right?” she asked her doctor. And, she confirmed the diagnosis. Two weeks later, however, she received the results of a nuclear bone scan and a CT scan of her abdomen, chest, and pelvis that revealed the cancer had metastasized to her hip and spine. “Two months to the date of diagnosis I found out that I had a terminal form of breast cancer. I tried to absorb that and realized that I wasn’t going back to work. I was going to live my life.”
Andy gets scans quarterly to monitor her cancer. She has gone through at least 10 surgeries, experienced 20 rounds of radiation, and has been on several medications since her diagnosis.
The average life expectancy of someone with her diagnosis is three years. However, Andy doesn’t let others’ stories or the projected life expectancy get in her way of living. She has a positive spirit, lots of love and support in her life, and fortunately her cancer has been mostly stable – “I take it for what it is and I appreciate every day.”
Although Andy is optimistic and feels she has plenty of time, she is also realistic about the need to think ahead and plan. She has a will and has discussed her wishes to utilize medical aid in dying if her pain and suffering becomes too unbearable – “Going out peacefully would be such a gift.” If medical aid in dying does not become an option in her home state of Pennsylvania, she intends to move to New Jersey (which is less than an hour away from her home).
Andy realizes, however, that not everyone is fortunate enough to have the ability and support necessary to move to a state that has authorized medical aid in dying. It’s important that this option become available to everyone, despite the state they reside in.
“Until you have someone in a situation that directly affects you, you may not be able to see this as a viable option, as clearly as I do. Think about it like this – If I were your own sister, daughter, or wife, how would you feel about having to watch me diminish to nothing due to a terminal disease? Medical aid in dying would offer me the option to pass away with my dignity [after being given less than six months to live], prior to facing the worst of the pain towards the end, all while surrounded by my loved ones. Would you opt to have medical aid in dying as an option to potentially avoid further suffering for your loved one and your family?”
The Philadelphia Inquirer – This Philly woman got breast cancer, then threw her breasts a goodbye party