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Hello Franklin! - Vanessa Coleman

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The day I was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer my world was altered in ways I could never anticipate. Everything I was working on or toward—my Master’s degree, my full-time job, bringing my youngest daughter to dance and basketball, just being a good mom and wife—halted.  It felt as if the universe decided to place this obstacle at the worst possible time...but, then again, when is the right time to face the battle of your life?

It was October 1, 2014 when the radiologist discovered a mass in my right breast. My diagnosis, ironically, fell right in line with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  At 39 years old, I had breast cancer.  I discovered a small lump one evening while lying in bed. After pressure from my oldest daughter and husband, I followed up with my doctor two weeks later.  The doctor said to me “It’s probably a cyst, you are young and young women have dense breasts.” He sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound as protocol. It was my first mammogram experience since I wasn’t due for one until I turned 40. I wasn’t at all concerned, because I thought it was just a cyst and it wasn’t painful.  I was called to meet with the radiologist after sitting in the waiting room. I remember walking into a dark room that felt like an eerie art gallery with images of my breast as the main exhibit. He began reviewing the results in detail, pointing at the images on display and I thought to myself, “Wow, he is very thorough.”  Then, I heard the words “mass” and “breast surgeon” and began to panic.  He said, “I am not going to lie to you, but it could be breast cancer.” Hearing the sternness in his voice, I knew my world was going to change.

One week later, I was on the operating table undergoing a lumpectomy.  The day prior, was my first visit to the breast surgeon.  I vividly remember my husband and I meeting with her as she confirmed the mass in my right breast was in fact ‘textbook’ breast cancer.   She held my hands, stared me straight in the face and said, “You saved your life.”  I was scared and confused because like many other women diagnosed with breast cancer, I had no family history of it.

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For the next year, I had to undergo six rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, one week in the hospital for an infection, numerous visits to various doctors; gastroenterologist, oncologist, surgeons, infectious disease specialists, plus a second surgery to remove my ovaries. From October 1, 2014 and on I was in the middle of a marathon I had never trained nor signed up for. This was my new reality.  But in the midst of what felt like the universe’s biggest joke on me-- the treatments, physical and mental pain, restless nights, nausea, hair loss, leave of absence from school, and missed days of work-- came its greatest gift. I found myself forced to slow down. Something I always hated to do. I would come home, rest and give my brain and body a much needed break. I was forced to take the time to care for myself because I really had no other choice.

The real gift came in seeing those who came out to support me during the toughest times.  Family members I had let fall to the wayside were at my home cooking and helping in any way they could. Friends I hadn’t heard from in years reached out to send their best wishes and prayers. I was smiling when it hurt and laughing even when things felt grim. If it weren’t for their support, my road to the finish line would have been lined with doubt, anger and countless ‘Why Mes’. 

Here I am three years later, in remission, with a more positive outlook on life than when I was diagnosed. I finally received my Master’s degree from Rutgers University in October 2016 which lead to the job promotion that I had my sights on for quite some time. I feel grateful and stronger than ever with the knowledge that I have faced one of life’s most difficult challenges head on. I hope from this I have become a role model to my two daughters who watched me at my worst. And more importantly, I hope from sharing my experience I can provide a beacon of hope and courage for other strong women in their fight against breast cancer.

Editor's note: These stories are part of a series written by staff members of Franklin Township. The stories will explore some of the wonderful places and faces that make up the community of Franklin Township.

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