My name is Caroline Gabriel. I'm 36, a mom of two beautiful children -- Tam, 12, and Mariyo, 9 months . I’m married to my best friend, Gon. We've been together for eight years, four of which we’ve shared in a wonderful marriage. Now, my best friend is also my main caregiver, and had to leave his job to care for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
My journey started during a routine checkup in Mars 2016, and on June 28, doctors told me I had breast cancer. This date was significant because it also marked the end of my 31st week of pregnancy.
During my second appointment after my diagnosis, we knew I had a rare and aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer, which started in my milk ducts. In addition, we knew that the cancer was estrogen-receptor-positive and was feeding off my pregnancy.
At the time, I was told my best course of action was to have chemotherapy while I was still pregnant. This, doctors believed, would slow the growth of cancer so I could give my baby girl a chance to keep growing. We were hoping I could reach the normal 36 weeks of pregnancy before having her safely induced.
After 2 rounds of chemo, it was time to meet our little one, who was born on Aug. 9. I cherish the moment I finally saw my 5-pound, 14-ounce baby girl, who had the blackest hair I'd ever seen. My little girl was healthier than doctors expected and didn't need to be in a NICU. Instead, she lay cuddled in my arms.
My fast-growing cancer didn't allow time for my body to heal from Marisol’s birth, but we hoped for the best. So, a week after her delivery and my tubal ligation, I started chemo again. Luckily, treatment went as expected throughout September, though we found I was allergic to the chemo.
By October, I was physically and mentally drained. I had a severe reaction to Taxol, and this time no amount of Benadryl or steroids helped. Then I began to have seizures and spent several weeks in the hospital, missing treatments and focusing on finding what was causing the seizures. It turned out the episodes were caused by physical and psychological stress, and couldn't be controlled with medication.
I hit my breaking point. The best course of action was to start therapy and find ways to better handle my fear and anxiety.
A couple of months later, we all agreed that I should undergo a simple lumpectomy. Instead, in mid-December, a double mastectomy and a stage 3 cancer diagnosis took both my breasts. But we thought we got it all, that I was cancer-free. My hopes were high that what I'd given up for the chance to live was worth it.
But by the end of January, I was told I that I had a reoccurring case. On Feb. 14, doctors were definitive: I have stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer.
As my fight for life continues, my new struggle is managing the extreme pain, caring for my mastectomy wound, and keeping up with the daily radiation and chemo appointments.
Throughout this ordeal, I’ve learned and grown a lot. I’m a better fighter now. I’ve found my voice by sharing my struggles online with other women who are just as scared as I am. I use my platform to talk about the hard subjects of dealing with the daily side effects that follow treatment. Together, we inspire each other and remind ourselves of our never-ending internal strength. We keep each other motivated, intent on showing people what living with cancer can look like. We hope we help each other remember we aren’t alone, and help each other find out what we need to make the hard moments in daily life bearable.
As the 1-year mark approaches, I’m reflecting on how we’ve coped, on the hardships, and what cancer is taking away from me and my small family. The hardest part of this journey is the uncertainty that my stage 4 diagnosis holds for us. I remain optimistic that I'll win this fight and will see my children grow up.
However, the burden of medical expenses is overwhelming, with many of the most expensive pain medications not covered by our insurance. Our families and friends have been so supportive and loving in helping us, and they financially as they can. But it’s not enough. By sharing my story, I hope to help alleviate some of the weight we are carrying. I also hope it means that we can continue to focus on spending time together and creating long-lasting, happy memories.
After 2 weeks, I started to feel sluggish and sick, but I thought that was because I had undergone major surgery. Doctors thought I had a cold and a skin infection.
I appreciate any effort to share my story and remind you to cherish the people you love. Thank you for your time, encouragement and generosity.