I hear her name and I think of words like BRAVE, STRONG, A FIGHTER, A MOTHER, A WIFE, A SURVIVOR… And those are exactly what she is. I am in awe of her strength to say the least. I’ve never met someone so determined and with such a positive attitude in the face of adversity. Wait until you hear her story…
She started training with me in prep for her big 4-0, and little did we know that she would get some news along the way that would cause a slight bump in the road, but NOTHING that would slow this amazing woman down!
I got a call from Brande one afternoon in early November… I was driving back from Belle Meade and her message said to call her back. I immediately called, and she said, Megan – I have breast cancer. I started crying. I HATE cancer, and have lost a few people close to me, and to hear that sweet Brande was going to have to deal with this disease broke my heart. That being said – she made it seem like it was just one more thing she had to deal with and conquer. Typical Brande. 🙂 Cancer – NBD. See why she ROCKS?
Brande is a beautiful, thoughtful spirit with a heart made of gold plated steel, I think. She is one of the most thoughtful and amazing people I’ve ever met, but her strength is second to none…
Brande had a lot of opportunities to back out, use excuses like chemo and cancer (she calls them the “c words”) to get out of workouts, and I’m sure many other things, but she never, and I mean NEVER once used that excuse for me. I even gave her an “out” saying that if she needed to cancel last minute – she wouldn’t be charged, and I gave her 4 free sessions for each of her chemo treatments. There was never one excuse, one complaint AND all of her freebies were quickly used up!
As you read below – you’ll see how she continued coming to her sessions a few days after chemo, was back in the saddle 3 weeks after a double mastectomy, and what I thought was hilarious – was I would text her after surgery or during her chemo, and I would immediately hear back from her! 2 hours after a double mastectomy – she was texting – all good, I’m fine!! And most people complain about a headache or allergies…
We can all learn something from Brande, as I did along the way… A positive attitude will get you FAR. You rarely see this lady without a smile on. (As you’ll see below her chemo picture – and she’s STILL smiling!) Complaining and the “woe is me” attitude does nothing for you. I firmly believe that her attitude, strength, determination and her want to stay active and “normal” throughout her treatments – are what helped her recover so quickly. Brande, thank you for being a pillar of strength and an inspiration to me and to so many. Thank you for your heart, your willingness to fight and work hard and never give up! You truly are the epitome of the word strength.
Here are some of questions that I asked Brande about her experience and journey dealing with breast cancer…
-When did you find out about your diagnosis? What was your reaction?
I discovered the lump myself over Halloween weekend in 2014. I quickly visited my OB/GYN and had a mammogram at Centennial Imaging. On November 12th, upon reading my mammogram, a radiologist and Dr. Ben Furman repeatedly expressed their concern over the findings. I still remember looking at the clock in the imaging center as I walked by thinking “It’s 2:12pm on November 12th and I have breast cancer.” That was before anyone uttered the words. The looks on their faces and the amount of times “concerned” was used in a sentence was enough to alarm anyone. In a few short days, we biopsied the mass and the following week the doctor finally said Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. My immediate instinct was a double mastectomy-there was no question. I did not want to deal with this again.
-What was your plan of action/treatment?
On December 11th, I was scheduled for surgery-a double mastectomy-29 days after my diagnosis. It was the holidays and with 2 small children, I was determined not to miss an activity. Within 3 weeks, I was back to work and doing as much as I could.
Once pathology came back in December, it was determined that I had a 2 cm mass (the size of a small grape) that was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my left breast. The size of the mass and my age determined that I should now see a Medical Oncologist. So in January, we met with Dr. Nancy Peacock at TN Oncology. She confirmed what Dr. Furman had suggested-4 rounds of chemo (taxotere and cytoxin), 3 weeks apart followed by Tamoxifen for 5-10 years.
I also got gene tested for BRCA- and thankfully that came up negative.
-What was the hardest thing about the whole process/treatment?
- The fear of the unknown. My blood pressure was through the roof before my first infusion and surgery. In my mind, chemo is a terrible experience in a depressing room followed by nausea and not being able to do anything. None of this was true for me. They provided plenty of nausea medicines. The nurses at the hospitals and infusion centers were amazing.
- Losing the hair. I cried over my long red strawberry blonde hair more than my diagnosis. After my surgery, I could cover up the mastectomy but when you lose your hair, it screams to everyone, “I have cancer; I am pitiful; feel sorry for me”. I used Penguin Ice Caps and Ashley Smith (love her!) to save as much hair as I could during the process. No one can make you understand how you feel when hair starts coming out in massive amounts. On day 15, just as predicted, hair starting falling out. Within a week, my sweet husband finally cut it short and I got out the sassy wig that my friends and oldest daughter had help me pick out at Brentwood Wig Shoppe. We named her “Stella” – it helped the kids make light of the situation. In the meantime, as I tried to hold on to my hair, the whole team at Elan Germantown were instrumental in cutting my hair to my chin, picking a wig with me, and giving the wig a trim to fit my face. Thanks to Jacki, Adam and Kayce!
- Mourning the loss of losing a body part. There was no question in my mind about what to do when I was diagnosed. But I discounted the feminine factor of my 39 year old, 2 kid droopy breasts. Even after my reconstruction is almost complete, I am still very aware of my body and the fact that it does not look the same at all-clothes fit different, body movements change, etc.
-What part did fitness play in your treatment and recovery?
I had started training with Megan with my 40th birthday in mind. Little did I know that God was preparing me to be able to keep going during surgery and chemo. Dr. Peacock told me to do as “much as you feel like” in between treatments. I was determined for my life and my family’s life to change as little as possible. Working out made the biggest difference! I would do a chemo treatment on Thursday, workout on Friday, feel tired on Saturday, nap until 1ish on Sunday then go to Barre3 for a good sweat. I continued to go to Barry’s Bootcamp, Shed, and Barre3 as well as train with Megan 2 times a week.
I am a firm believer that while my workout regime did not get me to my Smokin’ Hot body I was looking for by June 7th, it did help me keep going. I went to California with my children on Spring Break, I went to the Jason Aldean concert with my friends in February, I also attended the Kenny Chesney concert in March on the day of my last treatment, I went on a girls beach vacation–all while doing chemo.
-What advice would you give to women either dealing with breast cancer or how to prevent?
First, listen to your body. As soon as I found the mass on the weekend, I went to the doctor that Monday. If you have a history in your family, push for a mammogram. If they find a suspicious spot to watch, push for an ultrasound.
Second, listen to others if they notice something. I had melanoma 5 years ago. My wonderful aesthetician, Beth Morrell at Elan found it. When she said go to a dermatologist, I did.
Finally, use the network of breast cancer survivors and patients out there. Unfortunately there is way too many of us. But without that support system, you have a much harder road ahead if you are diagnosed. I still keep in touch with women I have never met face to face. We check on each other via text, share side effects, ask what to do.
-How has going through all of this changed you? What are the positive things you’ve learned from this?
My personality is to control all things- in December, after much pressure from 2 wonderful friends, I had to let go. A signup genius was created to bring food around the clock. People picked up my children and had them for play dates everyday making sure they were fed, bathed and had homework done. I have become much more humble from this experience. I was amazed at friends, friends of friends, family members, and people I did not know that came to help no matter what.
Another thing I learned was that more than half the battle was in my attitude. You have to stay positive through the process. I made every doctor finish our appointments with something good to say. You have to share what you learned from the process. I met lots of women that were further into their journey and doing 6, 8 or more rounds of chemo or having to do many more surgeries than I was.
I also learned what a deep love I have for my children and husband. While you know this, you do not really know how special they are until something like this is placed in front of you. I am now 40 years old, and have been married for 17 years, dating for 6 before we were married. We were in our groove before my diagnosis. Now, we tell each other exactly how important the other is each day.
-What’s your plan from here on out to stay cancer free?
I am currently reading the Pink Ribbon Diet. I am terrible at eating regimes, but would like to try to focus on my diet as much as I can.
Continue to workout and stay strong!
I’ll finish this blog with some of Brande’s favorite cards that she received during treatment that stayed on her mirror. Now, THIS is a positive attitude!!