My name is Lainie Rich and I am a 13-year breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed when I was 32 years old. At the time I had a four-month old and a two-year old. One night in the shower I felt a lump under my arm pit. I froze. I had never felt this before and panic started to set in. Cancer had already entered my life and changed it forever. When I was 17 my mother passed away from ovarian cancer when she was only 43 years old.
I saw my doctor in the Early Detection for Ovarian Cancer program and as soon as he felt the lump he sent me to go get an ultra sound. I could just tell by his reaction to feeling it that it wasn’t good. As soon as they saw the ultra sound they said I needed a mammogram - my first because I was too young to get one yet. Then after that - a biopsy. As I was getting prepped for the biopsy the radiologist said, “We’re concerned about this.” I think that’s all I had to hear to know what the outcome was going to be.
Waiting the next day was like sitting on pins and needles. And then I got THAT phone call - DON’T HAVE GOOD NEWS. IT’S MALIGNANT. YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER. Four days later I’m meeting the breast surgeon and she recommends I get a bilateral mastectomy - huh? I didn’t expect to hear that! I also got tested for the BRCA gene. With my history (my father’s sister also passed away from ovarian cancer at a young age, and being an Ashkenazi Jew) she believed I had an 80% chance of being positive for the gene mutation. Of course, I tested positive for the BRCA-1 mutation. This is why they treated my disease as aggressively as possible.
About a month later I had the surgery and started the process for implant reconstruction. Thank goodness it didn’t spread to my lymph nodes and that I was estrogen positive. However, due to the size of the tumor I had to have chemotherapy. All I could think about was when my mom was sick and on chemo. I was completely freaked out and scared. And to add to the massive fear and stress, I had two little boys that I didn’t want to leave motherless. So, the fight began.
Chemotherapy was truly awful, and its side effects were awful. I just had to take day-by-day. After 4 rounds of a combination of two different chemos, I was done. Then it was another surgery to remove my ovaries (again, a very aggressive treatment for the disease I had). 32 years old and into instant menopause. Finally, to finish off the treatment, it was five years of Tamoxifen followed by five years of Arimidex.
It took awhile to feel back to normal that year. Sometimes I would just stop and ask myself, “What the f —- happened to me? What did I just go through?” I started therapy and an antidepressant. It was all too overwhelming. But when my hair started growing back and I got stronger and stronger each day, I started to feel like the old Lainie. And I got a great pair of boobs! (I was flat as a pancake before all of this!)
Ever since then I feel so grateful that I am here today, healthy! Do I still get scared or nervous if I don’t feel well or I have an unusual pain? And that I have BRCA-1? Yes! It’s hard not to go there. You do your best to live your life to the fullest. If I can give any advice it’s to know your body. Do self exams. If something’s not right, go to the doctor.