Tonya Fields was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 34 weeks pregnant. Now October reminds her of the worst thing to ever happen to her.
Tonya Fields used to love October — the change of seasons, the cooler weather, her son’s birthday. Now, October, with its pink ribbons and pink shirts, is simply a reminder of the worst thing to ever happen to her.
Fields, of Gate City, was anticipating the birth of her daughter last summer when she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, which accounts for about 80 percent of all breast cancers. Invasive ductal carcinoma refers to cancer that has broken through the wall of the milk duct and begun to invade the tissues of the breast.
She was 32 years old and 34 weeks pregnant when she felt the lump. Three weeks later, a doctor dismissed the results of an ultrasound, telling her to come back in three months for a recheck. She insisted on a core needle biopsy, however. On July 11, 2012, she learned she had cancer. She was told to check in to the hospital to deliver her daughter by Cesarean, then have scans and get a port placed so she could begin chemotherapy.
She had four treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan, part of the chemotherapy cocktail ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol), to shrink the tumor to an operable size. On Sept. 27, she had a double mastectomy and eight lymph nodes removed. Three weeks later, she finished the chemotherapy cocktail with 12 treatments of Taxol. In January, she began 28 days of radiation treatment.
In the midst of the treatment and caring for a newborn, Fields had another responsibility — finding her biological mother. Fields had learned through genetic testing that she is a carrier of a harmful mutation of the BRCA gene, which increases a woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Believing her mother also has the mutated gene, she felt obligated to find her.
“After the year I had, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” she said.
Fields was adopted as a toddler. She knew her maternal grandmother had died of breast cancer at age 50, and she knew her mother’s name, but it took a long time to locate her. When she did, she learned that a great aunt had ovarian cancer, and a great-grandmother had breast cancer.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Fields sees pink merchandise everywhere.
“These tiny little reminders of the worst thing that ever happened to you,” she said. “Everywhere you go, there’s a pink ribbon, an advertisement for the race, the T-shirts and hats.”
While she respects those who embrace the pink and admires the work done by Susan G. Komen, she doesn’t share the joy.
“It’s a whole month dedicated to the worst day of your life. It’s hard. It’s hard to see it everywhere you look,” she said.
Saddled with more than $100,000 in medical bills, she’s getting back on her feet thanks to the generosity of local churches. She’s an advocate of taking charge of your own health — including having genetic testing if necessary — and she wonders how the outcome might have differed if she hadn’t insisted on the biopsy.
“If they’re wrong, it could be a bad day for them. But if they’re wrong, it could be your life,” she said.