Voices of Impact – Julie Zaveral
“It’s hard to make room for cancer in your life, and it’s an adjustment, but just try to remember that it is not a death sentence, and that you can live a long and full life with metastatic breast cancer.”
“In addition to investing more than $80 million in metastatic research since 2006, Komen also provides educational materials, conference support and Affiliate-funded grants across the nation.”
In 2004, I woke up in the middle of the night with a strange sensation in my breast. As I tried to identify what it could be, I felt a lump in one breast, but not the other. I made an appointment with my primary care physician. On the day of the appointment, my fiancé, Alex, and I also found out that we had won a lottery to have our wedding at Evergreen Lake House. I was so ecstatic. I told my fiancé, “Today is such a great day! I’m sure it’s nothing. It doesn’t seem to be there anymore and I don’t need to go to the doctor.” Alex wasn’t so sure. He insisted that I go. He pledged, “I’ll go with you – we’ll go together. We’ll get it checked out.”
At first, doctors didn’t think there was anything for me to worry about, due to my age – I was 30 at the time – but they sent me for a mammogram with ultrasound, just in case. I was focused on my nuptials, telling myself, “I’m fine. Life is good! I’m getting married!” The mammogram didn’t show anything, but the nurse proceeded with the ultrasound because it was already scheduled. Neither the nurse nor I thought there was anything to worry about, so the nurse was talking and engaging with me. Then, all of a sudden, her hands started shaking and she went into “super nurse” mode stating that sometimes the radiologist liked to come in and discuss the results. Within seconds of the nurse leaving, the radiologist entered and his first words were, “We’ll do everything we can to save you.” I was in shock.
I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. The lymph node testing revealed that the cancer had spread to three of the nine lymph nodes removed. I enrolled in a clinical trial that gave a combination of chemotherapy drugs because, “I thought it would be more chemo and might help the next person (diagnosed with breast cancer). You never know, it could be the next best thing.” By the end of the treatment, I had received eight cycles of two different kinds of chemotherapy, and I took Tamoxifen for five years.
When I found a second lump approximately one year after my Tamoxifen regimen was over, doctors soon found that the cancer had returned and spread. I underwent an oopherectomy and now have monthly treatments which have been very effective in managing my cancer. I am not currently on a clinical trial, but if my cancer starts to progress on the current regimen I will be ready to try a new treatment.
I’d participated in the Komen Race for the Cure even before I was diagnosed, which I feel made me aware of breast cancer. However, during my treatment of my first diagnosis I read one of Nancy Brinker’s books which gave me so much hope and inspired me to begin volunteering at the Denver Affiliate after I finished treatment. Soon after, I was hired on as the Director of Finance and Operations and was later employed by Komen Headquarters.
I also volunteered to attend the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Metastatic Breast Cancer Roundtable in January of 2012. I was newly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and I remember I walked in that day a little nervous because it was very new for me and I wasn’t sure that could add much value. I didn’t even know if I could talk about it. I left that day feeling like I was going to live forever.
I was inspired to see the strength and determination of the women at the Roundtable and to hear their stories, ideas and plans. Komen is committed to supporting those, like me, who are living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC); it’s so good to know that they are working to improve the lives of women with MBC. In addition to investing more than $80 million in metastatic research since 2006, Komen also provides educational materials, conference support and Affiliate-funded grants across the nation.
While my journey hasn’t been easy, it has also been a love story. Alex and I got married September 16, 2006; he has been by my side every step of the way. When we found out about my recurrence, Alex wrote me a letter and told me, among other things, “We are in this together and I’m going to be by your side.” He is amazing!
Alex and I have been blessed to be surrounded by very generous and supportive families who have been on the journey with us. My parents, my brother and his family continuously fly into town at the hardest times or to help us with treatment option decisions when we are at a crossroad. They give us so much strength and courage.
It’s hard to make room for cancer in your life, and it’s an adjustment, but just try to remember that it is not a death sentence, and that you can live a long and full life with metastatic breast cancer. Let others be there for you and seek out a support system that works for YOU! Because of the support of Alex and my family, I feel like I can get through anything. I plan on living at least until I’m 83 so Alex and I can celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary together.
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About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.