“My Voice” by Sarah Burkybile

Sarah Burkybile - 'Survivor'

My journey starts a little before my diagnosis. On January 10th, 2007 my older brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. We rushed him to a hospital four hours away from our home town to be able to get the care he needed. He was in critical care for many of months and his only hope was a stem cell transplant. All the while, I had felt a lump in my right breast and was putting it to the wayside as being a cyst. I finally talked myself into seeing a doctor, after many procedures and being told many times “your way to young to have breast cancer”, I was told on June 21, 2007 I have Stage IIB Breast Cancer. I’m almost triple negative and BRAC 1 gene positive.

I knew then that after seeing what my brother had been through and was still going through at that time, I was positive I could make it through anything. I first had eight rounds of chemotherapy, bi-lateral mastectomies, Tram Flap reconstruction, hysterectomy, oophorectomy, and 34 radiation treatments.

The first day of my chemo treatment was the day my brother had his life saving procedure, a stem cell transplant. So when I started to finally gain back a normal life, I started to go back to college to get my degree in Communications is when I started to notice pain in my right shoulder. I went to my oncologist and he scheduled scans. Came back for the results, and he told me I had two lesions on my liver. He started to talk surgery and he wanted a MRI. I told him I still wanted to understand the pain in my shoulder, so he then ordered a PET scan of my shoulder. I went back to the office for the results, the liver was fine but, I have lymph node activity.

Now this is when my story gets a little crazy. I kind of had a feeling I was dealing with an oncologist who shouldn’t have been an oncologist a while back. But, this is when his true colors started to shine through. He looked at my Dad, my Mother and myself and said “I don’t know what to do”, and basically left the room. We were left to defend for ourselves. I went to get a second opinion, who then told me to do another PET scan in another 6-8 weeks. If the nodes are larger then you have a recurrence of cancer. Well I did the PET scan and sure enough the nodes where active and larger. So of course my oncologist still had know clue what to do and wasn’t going to go out of his way to help or find someone who did. So we then transferred all my care to another hospital and another oncologist over an hour away but, it worth it. I had a biopsy done to reassure the test, and on June 26, 2009 I was diagnosed with a local recurrence of breast cancer.

I started chemotherapy July 9, 2009.  During all of this I guess I can say in a morbid sense I’m still blessed. I have met the most amazing people during this time in my life, and I know that they will be a part of my life forever now. I also know what I want to do in my life, and I have such different goals as before. I think in a way I was given this challenge to survive and to be there for the unfortunate ones who can not speak out for themselves. I work hard to advocate early detection and to be poster child to tell others “you are never to young” to have breast cancer. This disease is not just your mother’s nor your grandmother’s disease any more. I also sit on the board for the HOPE 4 You BCF. We are a new organization that raises money to help pay for mammograms and other early detection programs. I have done a few speaking engagements and I’m also helping with organizing a breast cancer support group in my area.

I don’t know if this second diagnoses is harder to digest, but what I do understand is that I don’t take my days for granted. I still have good days and bad but, I try to always have a smile and be upbeat. I have had many people come to me and ask me how I do it. I tell them the goofiest thing. I truly make lemonade out of lemons. Being a survivor to me is someone who has instilled hope in someone else, giving other person an example to live by. My family and I have sacrificed a lot to live a long and healthier life. I’m a mother of a four year old, I’m a wife of six years, I’m a sister, I’m a daughter, I’m a friend, and I’m a Breast Cancer Survivor.