In October 2022, at the young age of 30, Rachel found herself facing a life-altering diagnosis. While most people her age were enjoying reaching the toddler phase of parenting, she was plunged into a world of uncertainty, fear, and guilt. Her husband, a dedicated United States Navy member, was about to embark on an extended sea duty, leaving her to navigate the turbulence of a cancer diagnosis with two young children by her side.
"I was terrified, devastated, and I felt a lot of guilt at what my kids were going to have to go through because of my diagnosis. Regardless of the fact that it isn’t my 'fault,' I still felt guilt over what they were missing, and going to have to see," she reflects.
Over the past year, she's endured a relentless regimen of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, radiation therapy, and oral chemo. Each treatment brought its own set of complications and side effects, pushing her both physically and mentally. The relentless fatigue and energy drain made parenting her young children all the more challenging, but her determination to be there for them never wavered.
"I don’t want my kids to miss out on things that they should be doing, but I know how important listening to my body and giving it the rest it needs is," she says. "The balancing act I’ve had to learn to play is hard and gets frustrating at times, but this is their childhood, so I make it work."
A Voice for Change and Awareness
As someone with a family history of breast cancer, Rachel wasted no time seeking medical attention. However, her experience shed light on a troubling misconception: the unreliability of mammograms and ultrasounds for women with dense breast tissue like hers. Her story underscores the importance of advocating for oneself in the medical realm, as she was eventually diagnosed with bilateral triple-negative breast cancer despite initially normal imaging.
She also challenges the misconception that "if it hurts, it’s not cancer." For her, the cancer aggravated her breast tissue, causing discomfort and pain. This experience has motivated her to share her story and educate others, reminding everyone that cancer does not discriminate by age.
A Support System That Shines Bright
Throughout her journey, Rachel has been surrounded by an incredible support system. Her husband and both mothers, though they lived miles away, rallied to help care for her children. Friends dropped everything to assist when needed, and the local community showered them with meals during chemotherapy.
Her husband's Naval Special Warfare Command and organizations like the Navy Seal Foundation extended their generosity, providing essential services like childcare and house cleaning. The Got Your Back Pax organization, started by her late aunt Sharon, provided her with a backpack full of helpful items for her first chemotherapy session, leaving an indelible mark on her heart.
Facing the Storm with Grace
Living with cancer, she learned that life doesn't stop. Despite the hardships of treatment, she continued to perform daily tasks, care for her children, and live a life that was, at times, seemingly normal.
Her advice to fellow chemotherapy warriors is to embrace the support that surrounds them.
"Let yourself feel whatever you feel, and listen to your mind, body, and heart. You won’t have it all together and figured out, and that’s okay. This is just a season, and yes, you’re going to have to fight like a warrior through it, but there is goodness on the other side."
A Glimpse into the Future
Looking ahead, Rachel has embraced a newfound perspective on life. She doesn't take time or mundane things for granted and finds gratitude in life's simple blessings. Her relationship with faith has deepened, and she relies on a higher power, knowing that there is a plan beyond her own.
With a heart full of hope, she envisions a future where awareness, especially among young women, empowers them to prioritize their health. By sharing her story, she's inspired countless women to take charge of their well-being.
As Rachel continues her journey, she leaves us with these words of wisdom:
"Remember God is in control here, our circumstances are no surprise to Him. There will be hard days, and there will be days you feel like you cannot move another inch, but the finish line will come, and you will have good, easy, and boring days again. This will be the fight of your life, but the reward will be worth it."
Her story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, a beacon of hope for those facing adversity, and a reminder that champions rise even in the darkest hours.