As many of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, we all still have a long way to go. To help support this cause, we want to share moving stories of how three inspiring women survived breast cancer and shared their experience with others.

 It was March 15, 2013, when I noticed a grape-sized lump in my left breast. I didn’t think anything of it, because of course, I just had a mammogram in November, which was normal. I have no family history of cancer, so I chalked it up to hormones. Maybe it was a bad fitting bra.
What was I thinking?! After all, I was in my 40s. Then, it doubled in size by April 1, 2013. I thought, ‘Oh no, it can’t be.’ Within a week, I had another mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy. My ‘call’ came at 8:22 a.m. on April 22, 2013.

My reaction to the news was complete silence. It was like the world stopped spinning. All I heard was my doctor muttering a bunch of statistics, and then he said, “Monique, it’s really bad. You have to get it out soon.” I hung up and called my rock, which is my husband. He said, “We will get through it. I won’t let you go that easy.”
My first doctor said I would have surgery, chemo and radiation, but something didn’t feel right. I took a deep breath and discussed it with my daughter, husband, family and close friends. Together, we did some research. We found UCSD Moores Cancer Center. 
On May 15, 2013, Dr. A. Wallace proposed my options. She explained to me that I just didn’t have breast cancer; I had triple negative breast cancer. I qualified for the iSPY-2 clinical trial and received the investigational drug. The trial required 16 weeks of chemo (12 for the trial + 4 traditional treatment) before a lumpectomy (neoadjuvant therapy), then 42 days of radiation! I told my husband that if my contribution can save future lives, I was all in! God has blessed me with the love of many friends and family!
The hardest part of this journey was telling our daughter that Mom has cancer. She tells me everyday to stay strong.
 Read more stories of hope like Monique’s by visiting thebreastcancersite.greatergood.com.
I was diagnosed on Jan. 18, 2011 with invasive ductal carcinoma. I was 43, a wife, a mother of four, and a midwifery student. I was breastfeeding my fourth child, our first son after three girls–an “oops” baby. He was just four months old when I noticed a weird lump in my right breast, up by the armpit. I was a natural-earth-mama type, hardly ever going to doctors, preferring herbal or homeopathic remedies, and my first thought was that I had a swollen lymph gland and that it would probably clear up by itself. 
It really didn’t even cross my mind that it could be cancer, and in fact I considered myself ‘immune’ to it; no family history, no risk factors, and 11 years of breastfeeding–and counting–to protect me.
After a month, I did see a doctor, still thinking it was an infection either of my lymph gland or milk duct. She didn’t think so, though, and sent me for an ultrasound. Both the doctor who read the ultrasound and the breast surgeon I saw afterward felt very sure that I had a fibroadenoma or possibly a galactocele–both benign conditions. The surgeon recommended a repeat ultrasound in a month, to see if there were any changes, and a possible future but not urgent biopsy.
I put off the ultrasound, though. It was the Christmas season, and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. Then, Elizabeth Edwards died. Her story was a bit like mine: a late pregnancy, a lump that was noticed while breastfeeding. My mother urged me to go ahead and get a
biopsy. Something told me she was right, so I scheduled it for Jan. 12.
Nothing could prepare me for the reality of getting that phone call a week later from my surgeon, five months after first feeling the lump, telling me that I had breast cancer. It was so overwhelming, I fell apart. My mother had to take my kids that day, because I didn’t want them to see me in that state. 
The absolute worst thing about the diagnosis, in those first days, was being told I had to wean my baby. It may be hard for some people to understand, but I could not see how I would be able to do that. I had never used bottles with my other babies and nursed them into toddlerhood. I considered extended breastfeeding to be the core of my mothering philosophy, the only way I could feed and comfort and care for my son. Having that ripped away from our relationship was completely devastating. I should have spent the month gradually weaning him, so that it would be done by the time I started chemotherapy, but I just couldn’t do it. So there I was, nursing him for the last time on the morning of my first chemo.
 The second worst thing about the diagnosis was having to tell my mother (she had just gone through this the year before when her sister was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer), my oldest daughter (a junior in college) and my two elementary school-aged daughters. I feel terrible that not only have they had to see me go through this, causing them much fear and stress, but they also are now at a higher risk for getting breast cancer themselves. This haunts me every day.
 I had eight rounds of chemo. After the fourth one, I had to be hospitalized for four days due to a neutropenic infection (my white blood cell count went down to zero). But other than that, I got through it as well as can be expected. The chemo did its job and shrunk the tumors quite a bit (it turns out that I had a second, smaller tumor as well). 
In July 2012, I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate tissue expander placement. I chose to do the double because I knew that I would be constantly worrying about the other breast. And I’m glad I did, because the pathology report showed some precancerous cell changes in there. This is when I found out that I was Stage IIIA, due to the size of the lump and the fact that cancer was found in a few of my lymph nodes.
 The recovery was smooth but challenging, with surgical drains to empty–yuck–and no hugging the kids for a few weeks. The expanders were extremely uncomfortable. A month after the surgery, I started radiation treatments: one per weekday for 33 days. This was the easiest part of breast cancer treatment for me. I didn’t mind going there every day, although my skin got pretty bad toward the end, quite burned and raw. I then had two months off to recover before my reconstruction surgery. 
On Dec. 14, I had a DIEP flap breast reconstruction. That’s when they take the flab from your tummy and use it to reconstruct the breasts. This was the part I was “looking forward” to, because I had quite a mummy tummy after four kids, not to mention being quite anxious to get the expanders taken out. It was a long surgery, a long recovery, and I have some pretty crazy scars to show for it. But my plastic surgeon was amazing, and the results are better than I could have imagined.
 The year 2011 was, in short, the worst year of my life. It was the year that changed just about every part of my life. But here it is, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I feel mostly good. I’m NED (no evidence of disease), and while I still frequently feel emotionally overwhelmed and terrified, other times I feel like a strong-survivor-warrior-goddess-woman who can do anything (at least during the short time periods in between the near-constant Tamoxifen-induced hot flashes).
 To share Liz’s story and to read others, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-matthews/breast-cancer-month_b_2012202.html.
For about 18 months before I was diagnosed, I felt very depressed and drained of energy. It was scary. I was 31, trying to raise my sons, and working full-time as an OB nurse, but I felt so bad. I even told a friend of mine, “I feel like I have cancer or something!” not knowing how true that would be.
I found a lump in my breast the week before my yearly physical, and when I mentioned it to my doctor he reassured me that it was probably just a clogged mammary gland, as I had just stopped breast-feeding my youngest son, Taylor.  He suggested I stay off caffeine, take Vitamin E and C supplements, and watch to see if it decreased in size.  After six or seven weeks, I told him it hadn’t decreased in size and had possibly increased.  Since I work at the hospital, and the ultrasound equipment and technician were available that day, he suggested I go have a sonogram.  
It’s a small hospital where I work, and everyone knows everyone else.  I could tell by the look on the tech’s face that something was wrong. “This isn’t a cyst,” she said, “It’s a solid mass.”  But the doctor reassured me that it was probably a fibroadenoma (a benign solid tumor) and said, “Statistically, there’s no way you have cancer!”
Coinci
dentally, I had been offered another job and was about to turn in my resignation to the hospital when I had this ultrasound taken.  I decided to wait until this “problem” was taken care of before changing jobs.  I didn’t know then what a wonderful decision this would be.
I went to see the surgeon to schedule the biopsy.  He sent me for a mammogram, and like the sonogram, the report stated “probably benign.” My biopsy was on April 7.  As soon as I woke up, I saw the surgeon standing there. I asked him, “Is everything okay?” And he said, “No, it’s not. You have cancer.” I felt like I was in a tunnel—everything was closing in on me.  This couldn’t be happening! I felt like my future had been taken away from me in that moment.
The next day, the surgeon was giving me options.  Even though I’m in the medical field, I felt so out of control!  They’re talking chemotherapy, mastectomy and radiation. I just wanted the cancer to be gone.  I wanted him to tell me what to do.  He said mastectomy, then chemotherapy.  That Friday, I had the mastectomy with TRAM reconstruction.  I saw one oncologist while I was in the hospital, but I didn’t like him. He made me feel like I was a statistic. I asked to see another, but it was a month before I could even get in to see him!  When I did see him, and he suggested chemo, I decided to get a second opinion at M.D. Anderson.  
The doctor at M.D. Anderson told me that if I had come there first, they would have done chemo first and then a lumpectomy.  I hadn’t known I had other options!  Before I left to go home, though, I felt good about the decisions I had made.  I don’t know if I would have been comfortable with a lumpectomy.  The doctor also recommended the same chemotherapy that my doctor at home did, so I went home feeling good about my treatment.
When I first got sick, the hospital where I work suggested we start a PTO (Paid Time Off) pool.  Everyone in the hospital contributed at least eight hours of their time, and after I had used up all of my time, I was able to draw from the pool.  I don’t know what we would have done without that; we probably would have had to declare bankruptcy.

I wore a fanny pack with my chemo in it home from the hospital.  I would wear this for three days, disconnect it myself, and then feel horrible for 10 days.  I still had to take care of the kids during this time.  My 6 year-old, Colton, was really good about helping with the baby, but he asked me when I went back for the next round of chemo, “Does this mean you’ll be sleeping a lot again?” He was also very sensitive about the baldness.  He didn’t want me to go to his school and would be embarrassed when we were in public and people would stare. Taylor, my 2 year-old, however, would just rub my head and laugh.
I have to admit, at the beginning I was most worried about what I would look like without my hair. It started falling out exactly two weeks after my first treatment. I twisted it up and sprayed it really well and left it like that for two days.  Then my husband and I went fishing, and I knew I was going to have to wash it. We borrowed a friend’s clippers, and I combed and combed my hair until it was very thin.  Then we buzzed it off! I was a little apprehensive, and my husband said he’d shave his head too if it would make me feel better. I said, “No way!” 
My hair is starting to come back in again, now that I’m finished with all the chemo.  Colton has even talked about cutting his hair in a short buzz, but I think one in the family is enough!  Throughout the whole ordeal, I’ve actually had many positive comments about my baldness, especially from men.  One man even said, “You’re not going to let it grow back are you?” My husband answered, “Oh, yes you are!”
Throughout it all, my family, friends and the hospital where I work have been so supportive. Many people helped with the kids, and friends went with me to appointments.  It was tough because my husband works evenings, and often I wondered if I’d survive the chemo.  Now, I feel better than I have in years.  I’m more positive, and I can begin thinking about the future again.  
This has been the most horrible experience I’ve ever had to face, and I know it’s limited me in some ways. I don’t know if I’ll have any more kids. I’m not sure if I want to take the risk of possibly not being around for the kids I have now to bring another child into the world.  My job opportunities are also limited because it will be harder for me to get health insurance now. But I have survived.  I survived the cancer, I survived the chemotherapy, and I’m better than ever!

See more of her inspirational story at http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/AmyWatts.html