EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series detailing the diagnosis, treatment and recovery related to breast cancer locally. The second article will appear on Saturday, Oct. 19. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
On a rainy and overcast Friday morning, Amy Adams goes to one of her final radiation treatments. After hearing the words "It's cancer" in March, Adams and her family have been on a journey that their family history says wasn't meant for them.
Because of it, they've grown stronger and closer than ever.
"You know, nobody in our family has ever had breast cancer," said Amanda Stevens, Adams' second-oldest daughter. "My mom, at 49, is getting diagnosed with triple-negative ductal carcinoma stage two, it was a whirlwind."
Thinking that negatives were a good thing, Adams said that she felt hopeful. As it turned out, a triple-negative diagnosis is considered to be more aggressive and have a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org.
"We thought the negative was great, and then my doctor said, 'oh, no.' Every time I would think, 'oh yeah, great, my feet would be swept out from under me," said Adams. "I would just think, 'what else can you throw at me?' "
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After the diagnosis, Adams went in for a lumpectomy, where the doctors were going to remove the cancerous tumor and try to save her breast. Stevens said that before the surgery, her mom had to sign a paper that said if the cancer was too large, would she be okay with a mastectomy.
"We were like, 'Take 'em both,' so she signed," said Stevens.
The surgery was supposed to last 45 minutes. At the two-hour mark, Stevens and her family paced the waiting room floor, wondering what was happening. At two and a half hours, the doctor came out and her family swarmed him like vultures. They found out that they had to do a total mastectomy. Two weeks after her surgery, Adams began chemotherapy.
After having her chemo port, which is under her skin, put in, Adams said that pain was worse than having her breast removed.
"Everybody thinks that it's a bunch of tubes sticking out of you, it's not. You can't even tell it's there," she said. "That was worse than having my breast taken off, that hurts majorly -- but now, it doesn't hurt at all."
Chemo for Adams was awful. She said it was horrible and that there is nothing worse than going through it.
"They say it's like having the flu, and I've never had the flu. I feel for anybody that's ever had it. So I go through that, and I'm thinking four or five treatments, and I'll be done -- because I thought they got everything," said Adams. "But I had to do eight rounds of it."
During chemo, Adams felt overly tired. After she would get home, she would sleep for three days straight.
"It was weird; mom was super active. I have never been to my mom's house, and she'd be sitting on the couch. She's outside, fooling with her pool, in her plants, she's out running errands with my little brother," she said. "But through all this, you go in and mom, she's drained, and it was just weird. It was our new normal that we had to go through. Looking back, it was a living nightmare, but now we're at the end, and we're like, wow, it could have been worse."
Having the support system of her husband, Shawn, her eldest daughter, Brittany Haynes, her son, Kaleb, her mother, Shirley Schmidt, and so many other family members and friends that Adams said came out of the woodwork to support her has been the bright spot in this fight.
"When I came into chemo, you're only supposed to have one person back there with you. I would have a room full of people," said Adams. "My support system is amazing. People came out of the woodwork asking, 'What can I do? Can I come to your house?' and I mean, at that moment, you're appreciative of it, but you don't want to see anybody cause you just don't feel good."
For Stevens, supporting her mom has been a rollercoaster of emotions.
"It has been emotional, it has been hard, but she supported us when we were weak, so we supported her when she was weak," she said. "My whole life, she has taken care of me, and the roles were reversed."
The hardest thing for Stevens was seeing her mom upset and the fact that during chemo, she and her siblings could not touch their mom, except with gloves.
"She's made of stone, and she doesn't get upset, and she doesn't get emotional. She doesn't like people to see her sick," said Stevens. "We are lovey, we touch, and for 48 hours after a chemo treatment, we couldn't be around her, we couldn't touch her without gloves, we couldn't sit on the couch where she sat, we couldn't use the same bathroom."
Chemotherapy took 16 weeks and was exhausting for Adams.
"I hope that I don't ever have to do that again. I tell my husband, 'they're just going to put a pink toe tag on me,' and I'd just say 'I'm done.' Because there were days with chemo that you didn't even want to get out of bed, you don't care," she said. "You don't eat; you can't drink, you're nauseated. You're sick, heartburn and everything takes like metal. I'm just now getting my taste back; you know everything tastes like baking soda, no matter what you eat."
After chemotherapy, Adams had to do 33 rounds of radiation treatment. She only has two more left and will finish her treatment next week.
Radiation treatment is a series of beams of light that go in and kill the cells around where the tumor was, and it's supposed to kill whatever the chemo didn't, said Adams.
"That's why you think, 'why am I so tired?' Well, your body is reproducing all the cells back," she said. "After radiation, I go back to normal. The doctors said they wouldn't do any kind of PET scan on me; it's just if I have any other complications."
Adams thinks about the old saying, "Why me?" and responds, "Why not me? I don't want anybody else that I know to go through it. You don't know how strong you are until you have to do this. Nobody wants to be this strong."
Having gone through diagnosis, mastectomy, chemo and finishing radiation soon, Adams wants people to be proactive with their health.
"My doctors always told me I had a spot that they were watching. You trust your doctors if they say, 'we're just watching it,' but go ahead right then and get it taken care of because this might have been going on for years," she said. "Take care of your health, think of you first, put yourself first and put your health first.