Finding the silver linings in my breast cancer diagnosis


by Guest Contributor

May 3, 2024

When I came to Dallas a few years ago, I was looking for a fresh start. I moved with my two golden retriever dogs, joined a boxing gym and got back into creating art as a therapeutic outlet. I poured my emotions into my painting and drawing, and it became even more meaningful when my journey took a surprising turn—a breast cancer diagnosis.

I was the first person on either side of my family to be diagnosed with breast cancer. It was shocking, and it didn’t feel real for a long time. Even after starting treatment, I remember talking to the assistant at my doctor’s office about some insurance paperwork, and the word “cancer” was still so stunning to me.

The power of persistence and early detection

My diagnosis started with a follow-up for a benign cyst in my left breast. A couple of years earlier, the cyst had been tested and came back clear. But it kept coming back. It was growing and was sometimes painful.

I mentioned these symptoms to my new gynecologist in September, and she agreed to order imaging tests. But I didn’t receive a call to schedule the appointment. Then, one of my dogs passed away, and the holidays happened, so it was January before I called to check in. If I hadn’t followed up, my cancer might not have been caught as soon as it was.

At my appointment, I had a mammogram, and the tech asked me to stay for a minute in case they needed additional images. I didn’t think anything of it, but after she took more images, the doctor came in. That’s when I started to think something was odd. He showed me what looked like a little solar system in my breast—tiny bright specks—and said I needed to get a biopsy as soon as possible.

After my biopsy, the initial pathology report listed lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), which is a common form of pre-cancer. But some of the notes in the report seemed to indicate the possibility of something more. I made an appointment with my surgical oncologist to review the results.

She was so caring, and it was one of those silver linings and blessings that I was able to have her as a doctor. After listening to my questions, she agreed that we needed more information and sent my results to another lab.

That second report led to my official diagnosis—pleomorphic lobular carcinoma in situ (PLCIS)—a rare type of breast cancer. My surgical oncologist took my case to be reviewed by a board of specialists to create a treatment plan.

I had surgery at Baylor University Medical Center to remove the cancer, including a second area that was found during the procedure. Then, about a month later, I had radiation treatments every day for three and a half weeks. Because the cancer hadn’t spread, I didn’t need chemotherapy. I felt lucky to have caught it so early.

Finding beauty in unexpected places

Initially, I had only told my mom, siblings and daughter about my breast cancer. But about a week after my diagnosis, one of my co-workers seemed to be having a hard time. When I called her about it, she started sobbing and told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer the day before. Then, two months later, our boss was diagnosed with breast cancer, too.

We only had five people on our small team at work, and three of us had breast cancer. It’s one of the beautiful and ugly parts of this story. They both had more aggressive types of cancer, and it was hard to watch them go through treatment. But at the same time, we all supported each other, and that was beautiful.

When I was at the Sammons Cancer Center early in my treatment, I also noticed an art therapy room. That studio became an escape for me. I not only met amazing people who were cancer survivors, but I discovered a little more about myself and the art techniques I was already intuitively using.

I had started a painting of Tupac when I lost my first golden retriever, and sadly, my second golden passed away four days before my diagnosis, and I continued working on the painting throughout my cancer treatment. It was never about finishing the painting but about the ongoing process—letting myself listen to his music, paint and escape for a few hours.

Over the past couple of years, I had been discovering who I was again. The time I spent with art helped me consider establishing myself more formally as an artist. And connecting with others through that art has been a blessing.

Sharing my breast cancer journey with others

Today, along with my two teammates, we are all three cancer-free! I am continuing medication plus routine imaging and meeting with my Baylor Scott & White oncologists every six months to check on my health. And for the first time ever, I recently debuted and sold my artwork at an art festival in Deep Ellum. The response from people was amazing. I never could have imagined the way that other people would respond to the art that flowed out of me during this time.

An 11-year-old girl wearing a Tupac shirt stopped at my tent, and I could see the light in her face when I was talking to her and showing her my art, including the Tupac painting.

Her mom said it was the most engaged her daughter had been all day, and it was such a beautiful moment.

I’m also sharing my experience through social media and online to encourage both men and women to go in for their health screenings. If the thought even crosses your mind that maybe you should get checked—whether it’s breast, prostate or colon cancer symptoms—be your own advocate and get it checked out.

If the result is clear, then you have that peace of mind and satisfaction. If it’s not clear, like me, it could save your life. I’m a living testament to the value of early detection.

Concerned about symptoms or want to learn more about your breast health? Connect with an OBGYN today.

This story was contributed by Jamie Ayres, breast cancer survivor.

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