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A Breast Cancer Journey

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Angie Essenpreis’ breast cancer journey began in October 2015. While at the gym one afternoon, she was lifting weights and noticed pain in her left breast. She found a small lump and thought it was just a cyst because she had no family history of breast cancer. She finished her workout and went back to her normal daily routine. Since she was due for her yearly mammogram in November, she pushed it to the back of her mind. 

 
  Angie was determined to not
let cancer destroy her life
and to find joy in every moment.

Days passed…and she just didn't want to deal with the situation. “Denial is a very comfortable place to live,” Angie said. “After all, my oldest daughter had just gotten engaged and my youngest daughter had just been accepted into nursing school. I was too busy to think it might be cancer!”

Finally, at the urging of her daughters, Angie had a mammogram at The Medical Center. The radiologist told her they needed additional views and an ultrasound. Angie worried things were bad, and that was confirmed when the doctor explained to her that a biopsy was needed. Two days later, Angie received the phone call that would change her life forever. She had aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. The wind was knocked out of her sails. Would she live to see her oldest daughter get married?  Would she ever become a grandmother? Would she see her youngest graduate nursing school? How would she tell her family? “We had just lost my mother to Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma barely over a year earlier,” Angie said. Her family couldn't take another loss.

Angie felt alone and scared. However, she gathered herself together and switched gears, determined to fight. Her best friend made appointments with the oncologist, the surgeon and the plastic surgeon. But during those appointments, Angie says she honestly did not hear one word any of the doctors said. “Thank God my friend was thorough,” Angie said. “She took detailed notes, scheduled my surgery for a total mastectomy, and asked all the questions that I couldn't. She ‘lit the fire’ for me. Now the inferno was all up to me. The fight was on!”

In December, she had a left total mastectomy with a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which indicated that her lymph nodes were negative. The holidays came and she was determined to celebrate happily with family and friends while preparing for the next step. Angie was going to have chemotherapy even though her nodes were negative. Because there were no long-term maintenance medications for her type of breast cancer, Angie said “prayer would be my maintenance medication.” 

In January 2016, Angie began her first of eight bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments at The Medical Center Cancer Treatment Center. She was told she would begin to lose all her hair after just two treatments. “I decided to take the one and only thing I had control over into my own hands,” she said. “After leaving my second chemo appointment, I made an appointment and had my head shaved. It gave me power over a disease that can make you feel so powerless.” Those 16 weeks would be one of the hardest trials of her life. But she refused to allow cancer to define her, destroy her or her family, or destroy her faith. On May 2, with the love and support of her daughters and friends, she completed all eight treatments.

Angie sees her oncologist every five months and will continue over the next 10 years. The side effects of chemo will remain with her for the rest of her life. “The fear of recurrence is still very much alive in my thoughts,” Angie said. “But I refuse to allow that fear to drive me. I have vowed to use my experience to help and support others who are facing cancer.”

This December, Angie will celebrate being cancer-free for two years. “I am forever thankful for the multitude of friends and co-workers who stood by me when I couldn't stand by myself,” Angie said.  “I am most grateful that the Lord gave me amazingly wonderful daughters and son-in-law. Because cancer wasn't just my disease, it was ‘our’ disease.”