Hoping for the Best

Yvette is a proud Orlando native who has always lived an active lifestyle. She’s an avid reader, hiker and marketing pro. But, of all her titles, the one she cherishes most is mother to her two sons, Caleb and Jacob. When Yvette noticed one of her breasts was larger than the other, she didn't think much of it because she was still breastfeeding her youngest son. But a few months after she’d weaned Jacob, her right breast remained enlarged and she started experiencing sharp pains. She decided to get a mammogram. Yvette’s family has a history of various forms of cancer, so she was aware she may be at risk, but hoped for the best as she went in for her appointment at Orlando Health.

Yvette had her mammogram and a follow-up ultrasound the same day at the same location and a biopsy a week later to confirm her worst fear. She had breast cancer. After being diagnosed, she was scheduled to meet with Dr. Nikita Shah, medical oncologist at Orlando Health’s UF Health Cancer Center. Because of her family history and their close bond, Yvette’s family wanted to be with her for support. Dr. Shah helped facilitate Yvette having mom and close family there as she learned that she had stage 4 triple positive breast cancer and what the plan of treatment would entail.

Powering Through

Yvette technically had stage 4 cancer because it had metastasized, but her physicians were confident in the decision to treat the cancer as a stage 3C with the “intent to cure.” This gave Yvette hope. A stage 4 diagnosis means the cancer is considered incurable and a person would have to remain on chemotherapy. Being treated with the intent to cure meant Yvette could look forward to a day when she no longer had to take any treatment.

Initially, Yvette struggled to process the overwhelming diagnosis. She couldn't help thinking of her boys and what they would do if something happened to her. Soon after starting chemotherapy in the summer of 2019, she had an epiphany. “I really had a spiritual moment. I said, ‘I can stress and worry about it and be negative or trust God and focus on the positive.’ Instead of thinking negatively I would think, ‘OK, how can this help me and my life? Every person I meet and everything I go through on this journey, think of it as a way to grow.’” Soon, her positive outlook was met with a positive outcome.

After the chemotherapy had shrunk the tumor in her breast, Yvette was able to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy to preserve her breast. As part of her care team, she also met with Dr. Patrick Kelly, a radiation oncologist at the UF Health Cancer Center. Dr. Kelly recommended Yvette receive five weeks of proton therapy to eradicate any possible lingering cancer cells along with a week of radiation therapy.

Proton therapy is an advanced radiation treatment that delivers radiation to a precise area in order to preserve as much of the surrounding healthy tissue as possible and offers fewer side effects. Yvette says initially she was intimidated by the machine but after seeing a pediatric patient receive treatment, she was motivated to stay strong. She knew if a child could find the courage to receive treatment, so could she. She felt even more comfortable knowing that Dr. Kelly would be treating her. “I didn’t know much about proton therapy, but I knew Dr. Kelly. He is very educated.”

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Finding Joy in the Journey

Yvette is overjoyed at how well her body has responded to treatment and how the Orlando Health team “works like clockwork” when it comes to her treatment. She also has lymphedema therapy twice a week. Throughout the entire process, her doctors kept her informed, so she always knew exactly what was going on and confident that they were making the right choices. Now, while Yvette is on a chemo maintenance drug for a few more months to increase the chances of the cancer not returning, she is also making plans for a new career as a mobile notary agent.

Yvette also found motivation and encouragement in Orlando Health’s Cancer Support Community. The group aims to improve patients’ physical, emotional and social health to help them maintain a high quality of life throughout cancer treatment and into survivorship. She’s enjoyed activities like painting, beading, makeup and cosmetics and music therapy sessions with other patients, survivors and caregivers from all over Central Florida.

One of Yvette’s biggest takeaways from her experience is that it’s not what you go through, but how you go through tough times that defines you. Hair loss is often one of the most difficult side effects of cancer treatment, a possibility that Yvette was dreading when she began treatment. But when she noticed her hair thinning, she found strength in shaving her head. “When I cut my hair, I thought, ‘I have a new look, but I have a new outlook.’” After Yvette’s haircut, her sons were right beside her to offer their mom an abundance of encouragement and love. Between kisses on her head from her son Jacob and her older son Caleb telling her “don’t wear a wig, you look cooler without it,” she was able to embrace her new hairstyle. Ironically, now Caleb is trying to grow his hair out to be able to make a wig for cancer patients who feel they need one.

Yvette credits her faith in Jesus Christ for the strength to face her cancer diagnosis and treatment. She is also appreciative of the Orlando Health cancer team’s commitment to her treatment and for encouraging her in her cancer journey. She’s determined to stay positive and continue trusting God. And, to spread hope and inspiration to other survivors, she’s sharing her story via social media. “This whole situation, I’ve just grown from it. You don’t know how strong you are until you have to be. It’s all been a very enlightening and positive experience.”

Photo credit: Troy Mitchell