One Cancer Survivor Finds More Support than Any Bra Could Give
Published: Monday, July 9, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 15:07
Two weeks after 23-year-old Sam Parker found out she was pregnant with her first child, she noticed a lump during her monthly BSE that would turn out to be a five-centimeter tumor and Stage 3A breast cancer.
Parker, like most women her age, wouldn’t have normally been administering monthly self-exams, except a year prior her mother tested positive for the genetic mutation BRAC1 that significantly increases one’s chances of developing breast cancer and, more commonly in women Parker’s age, ovarian cancer.
It’s been about a year and a half since Parker became cancer-free. Her son, who was born healthy and unaffected by the chemotherapy, is “a normal 2-and-a-half-year-old, crazy kid,” and the now-26-year-old medical student coordinator at St. Joseph’s Hospital is pregnant with her second child due in August. Although she took a break from school after her diagnosis, she graduated in December 2010 with a bachelor’s in psychology and has plans to enroll in ASU’s nursing program.
On what happened to coincidentally be the third anniversary of her diagnosis, she told College Times her survival story.
College Times: Any kind of cancer at any age is emotionally, physically, financially taxing, but at 23 what kind of unique struggles, other than your pregnancy, does one face?
Sam Parker: I was really, really lucky. I have an incredible husband and although we’ve only been married for two years he was amazing and stuck around when a lot of guys wouldn’t have at that age. And then there were my parents who live close. I think a lot of people who go through it don’t have a support system. I’m part of an online support group, […] called the Pink Links, and [the Facebook wall posts are] split down the middle. People post on there about how great their husbands and families are, and then you have these scumbags who leave these women because they’re bald or they don’t have breasts anymore or they (the men) can’t take the stress of the treatment. The treatment puts a lot of stress on the family. If anything, I think it put more stress on my family than it did on me because they had to watch me go through it and they felt helpless. I don’t think it’s unique to have a good support system, but if you do have one you’re lucky because not everyone does. I think it makes a huge difference in how you deal with it. Going through something like that, I think 70 percent of it is medical care but the other 30 percent of muscling through the crap is your mental state and the people around you.
Did you lose your breast?
Yeah, I did. I had one mastectomy when I was pregnant, and then last March I chose to have my other breast removed because I didn’t want to worry about it anymore. […] And I haven’t had reconstruction surgery yet, because, honestly, it’s kind of nice not having to wear a bra in the summer. And, with the prosthetic breasts, if I feel like having great big boobs one day to make my shirt look really great I can. And if I feel like not toting around as much weight, I can put smaller ones on. [laughs]
Is your life different than you imagined it would be at this point, before the pregnancy and cancer?
Actually, it is. I have a great job. I work at St. Joseph’s hospital. I have a great family. I’ve always wanted two kids. Everything is just how I always wanted it to be, so that didn’t change. I think my outlook on a lot of things changed because I appreciate my friends and family more than I ever had. I appreciate little things now, like my mom and I going to get our nails done together every two weeks. I know that sounds stupid, but I think, you know, I could have died if I was a normal 23-year-old and wasn’t feeling up my own chest every month. I really could have died. It was very aggressive and very fast growing and that is something that’s always in the back of my mind and is something that changes you, thinking about your own mortality when you’re that young.
Yeah, at a time when we all think we’re invincible.
Exactly. I was 23. I was on top of the world. […] My plans never really changed. I still live life the way I wanted to.
Do you know what the odds were?
I don’t because I never asked. I didn’t want to know. When I was going through chemo, I refused to read the side effects and I wouldn’t let my oncologist tell me about them because I didn’t want to imagine them. You know, if they tell you you’re going to be horribly sick and vomiting and in bed for a week I didn’t want that to be already in my brain so I able to keep working 40 hours a week for the most part all throughout chemo. […] I let [the medical staff] tell my mom and my husband about the side effects so they could watch for anything that was super dangerous.
Do you participate in the Komen for the Cure 5Ks or 3-day walks?
I’ve never done the three-day ones, but I’ve done all of the little 5K walks around town with my mom and best friend. My best friend is female and she shaved her head with me when I was bald. When my hair started falling out, I didn’t want to watch it fall out so I had my dad shave my head. And so my dad shaved his head, my husband shaved his head, my neighbors shaved their heads and then here comes my best friend, Ana, with her hair down past her bra strap and she shaved her head. She was hoping her hair’d come back straight. [laughs] Mine came back curly after being straight.
Is there anything you want people our age to hear about breast cancer?
You have to know your own body. You’re the only one who’s going to know if there’s a change. […] If something changes, not even in your breast, in any part of your body, you’re the first to know because you live in it every single day.
To register for the 20th Annual Susan G. Komen Phoenix Race for the Cure, slated for October 14, 2012, visit KomenPhoenix.org