Tina Wilson, is an analyst for the 340B Inventory Compliance and Accounting team. And as of this year, she is also a breast cancer survivor.
Wilson was diagnosed in February with Stage 0 breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is an early, noninvasive breast cancer that can spread if left undetected.
April is National Minority Health Month, a time to build awareness around the disproportionate impact that diseases can have on minority populations in the U.S. Read as Wilson shares a peek into her diary revealing her thoughts and experiences throughout her cancer journey to help spread awareness around early detection, treatment and education of breast cancer.
February 2021: Discovery
Last fall, I noticed something unusual on my left breast. The thought that I could have cancer never crossed my mind, but I knew I had to get it checked out ASAP. My first appointment was in October, then another in early November. Next was an ultrasound in December, an MRI in January and a biopsy in February, which brings me to where I am today. I’m sitting on an exam table at the women's breast cancer center in Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, Ill., waiting to see my doctor to hear the results of my biopsy. I remain grateful for the many prayers from family and friends.
“You have Stage 0 breast cancer,” she tells me. I had no idea what that was and had never even heard of it.
I learn that I have two treatment options, and neither of them sound good to me. Because of the location of the mass, she recommends a full mastectomy with reconstruction. There are two types of reconstruction, but I don't really understand what this means so now I have to wait for another appointment with the plastic surgeon who will handle the second part of the surgery.
There's a lot that I don't understand, but I remain hopefully optimistic.
Tina Wilson at her doctor's office the day of her diagnosis
February 21, 2021
I had to make some tough decisions today. I decided not to share my diagnosis with everyone in my family. When you tell people you have cancer, they automatically assume it means death, without listening to all the details. I know they mean well, but hearing stories about friends or family who passed away from cancer isn’t what I want to hear right now. I am determined that I am going to live, so I don't want to talk about it too much, except to prepare myself for the process. I am intentionally choosing to remain positive about even though I don't fully understand the process from beginning to end. I’ll just have to take it day by day.
March 1, 2021
I'm learning that telling others about my diagnosis is not the issue, it's my attitude when I tell them. An optimistic and faith-filled mindset is very much necessary. I choose to fill my ears with words of faith and optimism every day because this affects my mood. In my mind, I visualize all the positive outcomes. Surgery goes well. Recovery goes well.
Although I didn't see cancer coming, I quiet my heart and choose to be thankful for each day. I don't really know how long this mass has been in my body, but the blessing is that it hasn't grown and it hasn't spread to other areas of my body. It's noninvasive, and the diagnosis that the doctor gave me is Stage 0, not Stage 1, 2, 3 or 4. I have a lot to be thankful for, so I choose to express gratitude instead of sadness because this situation could have been very different.
March 1, 2021
It's been a little over a week since I received my diagnosis, and my eyes have been open to a new world I never thought I would be a part of. I'm learning that telling others has been the heaviest load to carry this past week. I have no frame of reference for the surgery or recovery period, so I pray for peace and guidance as I persevere through it.
Do I really want to see before and after pictures prior to meeting with the plastic surgeon? What is the true scope of the recovery period? What is the survival rate? All these questions are rolling through my mind, and I don't have answers. That’s the most stressful part.
March 9, 2021
After a few weeks of trying to make an appointment and preparing for surgery, I realize I’m not the only one going through this process. My family and others who care about me are part of this journey, too. I can't leave them out.
My mind is swirling with thoughts of all the things that need to take place prior to my surgery. In the back of my mind, I'm hoping that when the doctor goes to remove it, there won't be anything there. That would be a miracle.
March 17, 2021: Night before surgery
I'm not really feeling anxious, but I also don't know exactly what to expect. I know I will be going under anesthesia and most likely won't remember anything. I'm thankful for my close friend who’s with me during this time, and has provided so much support. I have determined within my heart that I am not going to stress out about what needs to take place tomorrow, and I will go to bed early since I have to get up at 4 a.m. I'm not too happy about not being able to eat, but I distract myself with all the tasks I have to do the night before surgery: take a shower with special antiseptic soap, sleep on clean sheets (even though I just changed my sheets yesterday), sleep in freshly-laundered pajamas and not put on any lotion or deodorant. It’s a lot.
March 18, 2021: Surgery day
I didn't sleep much last night. My mind was wired and my eyes popped open around 3 a.m. I took my last presurgical shower and drank my clear fluid as instructed by the nurses. I got dressed in some comfortable clothes and waited for my friend to pick me up.
We arrive at the hospital at 6 a.m. exactly. I check in and am immediately taken to a pre-op room. My room seems like it has a revolving door – so many doctors and nurses coming in and out asking me the same questions: “Please state your name and your date of birth.” As my doctors explain the surgical process, they mark my chest with surgical pens where the incisions will be. I'm hooked up to an IV, and they're giving me all kinds of medications and anesthesia.
There's a lot going on in this short window of time, and I'm glad that I'll be completely under for the remainder of the process because it's a little bit too much. The last thing I remember prior to the surgery was the nurse rolling me out of the pre op room down the hallway. Then I was out.
As I was vaguely coming out of the effects of the anesthesia, I remember thinking to myself that this ride to the surgery room is so long! I asked the nurse if we’d made it to the operating room yet, and one of them replied, “Sweetheart, you’re in post-op.”
I was completely out for two and half hours, and when I woke up I could barely move or walk. My mind was very hazy and cloudy, but the nurses were doing their job wonderfully as they helped me do everything, from sitting up straight in the bed to taking sips of water (I was extremely thirsty!). I could feel the anesthesia gradually wearing off and my surroundings became a bit more familiar. I was happy to see my friend walk in the room, smiling and holding flowers. I think I smiled, but I don't really remember.
My doctor came in to check on me, and I was so grateful that my eyes were filled with tears. My surgery had been successful.
Flowers and messages of support Tina received throughout her cancer journey.
April 6, 2021: Home
I reflect on the past six months and am extremely grateful for where I am today. Two months ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer. From my first doctor’s appointment in October until my surgery in March, the mass in my breast stayed in the same place. It did not spread. I had a full mastectomy on the left side – something I'll have to deal with for the rest of my life.
Today, I am cancer-free and my recovery is going very well. I’ve always been the kind of person who follows the directions of doctors. I trust that what they're telling me is for my benefit. I've been resting a lot and allowing my body to recover.
It's been three weeks since my surgery and my strength is coming back. I still can't extend my left arm straight up and I can't lift anything over five pounds on my left side, but I'm happy to be moving around more each day.
When I received my diagnosis, I had no reference for it. Nobody could answer the hundreds of questions I had. But if I could be that person for a woman, just receiving a diagnosis, here’s what I’d say. Don't delay getting your preventive checkups – they’re specifically designed to detect this. Stage 0 cancer is not something you can self-diagnose.
Ask your doctor questions, do self-examinations and don’t take good health for granted. Even if you consider yourself to be healthy, like I did, that can all change in an instant. So talk to your doctor, take control of the situation and put yourself in the best possible position for a positive outcome.