Let's see. I'm not even sure where to start. I'm known for sitting down to write a paragraph and ending up with a novel so let's see if I can fit this into something between the two. My name is Candice Chilton. I'm 29 years old, I currently live in Las Vegas NV and work for a major casino on the Las Vegas Strip. I am a daughter, aunt, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend to a beautiful and amazingly supportive group of people in my life. I am crazy for the Dallas Cowboys, love country music and have been known to spend rent money on Luke Bryan and Rascal Flatts tickets instead. I'm still waiting for my knight in shining armor to show up, I'm known for leaving on crazy car trips on a moments notice, I've traveled abroad half a dozen times, and oh yeah, I have stage 4 breast cancer with mets to my bones. I have been living with the disease now for a little over a year and what a year it has been.
In July of 2011 I was with my now ex-boyfriend of 4 years when he felt something not quite right near my nipple on my left breast. I had coincidentally had a gyno appointment scheduled later that week for birth control so while I was in my appointment, I asked my doctor to take a look. Admittedly, I had DDD breasts and wasn't always competent at doing my own self breast exams due to not only their sheer size but the misconception that I was too young to get breast cancer. It won't happen to me, especially since not a single family member or anyone I knew had ever had breast cancer. My doctor said “Well, Candice you're too young for breast cancer at 28, I think its frankly just a cyst but just to be sure lets send you for an ultrasound.”. A week later I was in a technicians office getting something that I thought was a test only for pregnant women. I could tell the doctor saw something that looked not right. Even after years of practice I'm sure, body language gives it all away. Another week later I was in a waiting room with my mom and momo waiting to get a biopsy of this strange lump. A large needle combined with an ultrasound compiled the biopsy that confirmed my worst fear. On August 10th 2011, a day I will always remember, I was called down to the womens breast center, surrounded by a “crisis team” and told yes, at age 28, I had breast cancer. I knew I had it the moment I received the call that the center wanted to see me right away. I had practiced on the drive over there what my reaction was going to be. I wasn't going to cry. I was going to be strong but when the words left the doctors mouth I bawled. I remember everyone trying to hold me, touch me, console me and I remember yelling at everyone to get back. I couldn't breathe. When I composed myself I simply asked whats next and was referred to a surgeon. First things first, the lump needed to be removed.
I met with my surgeon who told me over several appointments that I was so young, I couldn't be any more than a stage two. He doubted I would even need chemo. A lumpectomy and that would probably do it. I caught it early. I was lucky. A few more tests revealed the lump was bigger than thought and had a tail. It was a little more severe than thought. The surgeon calmly said it didn't change anything but the size of the surgery. It was recommended that I remove my entire left breast at first, but at the end of the conversation considering my age, the options of reconstruction etc. I was pretty much set on a bilateral mastectomy. The chance of recurrence at my age, some time in my life was relatively high and after all, physically, I'd hate to have one breast that aged to be 70 and one breast that stayed its nice perky implant at 28. If I had to go through this, I only wanted to go through it once. Take it all, take my breasts, besides my insurance would pay for new ones. Women get voluntary implants and now its going to be paid for ;p why not!
The surgery on September 28th went well and I opted for immediate reconstruction so I went under with DDD and woke up with B expanders. I was released from the hospital in less than two days and everything seemed to be looking up. A week later I had a checkup and my surgeon said well, the surgery went well however we have some bad news. You're stage IIB. We found cancer in 7 of the lymph nodes we took out which means that there is a chance the cancer has spread. It doesn't change anything though. You're definitely still curable, it might mean you have to go through chemo but you're going to be ok. I was referred to an oncologist and told to check up with my plastic surgeon to make sure the expanders were healing. I met with my oncologist and he went over the several tests he wanted to run, took some blood, gave me some paperwork on possible chemo's and basically said lets get these tests ran and we'll go from there. Meanwhile my right expander wasn't healing. The incision wouldn't close. The skin was dying and upon my two week checkup it was decided that the right breast needed to be redone. Oncology treatment was postponed and I went back under to get a smaller expander. I was already sick and tired of hospitals, stitches, drains, tests, and doctors. I felt like the worlds biggest pin cushion but I laugh at that now. If I knew what was coming, I would have never complained. You'd think I'd been through enough right? My diagnosis, my surgery, finding out that the cancer might have spread, another surgery, now the addition of chemo. Nah, that was nothing. I woke up from my second surgery and noticed a pain in my right shoulder. Let me preface this with just a few notes about me. I have an insanely high pain tolerance to most things which is very dangerous, dangerous because by the time I feel pain the problem is usually much more advanced than it needs to be. I am also not one to complain or lay in bed sick. I am a doer. I get out and about and push myself, force myself to get out of bed and not be the patient. That being said, a week after surgery I mentioned to my plastic surgeon that I was having this annoying pain and he said if it got worse to let him know but the body reacts to surgery in mysterious ways blah blah blah. The expander meanwhile, healed nicely this time. Two weeks after surgery I was in an extraordinary amount of pain. My right arm was feeling tingling sensations and I started to lose function in my right hand. I went to urgent care who took an Xray and saw nothing and quite frankly was afraid to touch me, after all I was still wearing a compression bandage and was getting ready to get rid of my drains from reconstruction. They prescribed me pain killers and sent me on my way. A few more days went by, the pain killers weren't working and I was at the point where I couldn't stand. The weight of my arm on my shoulder would cause such pain, such crazy nerve pain through my whole arm, I would hit my knees when I tried to stand. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor who wasn't in and referred me to her colleague. I had to be wheeled into the doctors office in a wheel chair. Words could not describe the pain I was in. The doctor who saw me, wouldn't touch me. He saw the bandages, the drains, looked at my history and said it must be from the surgery, it was a pinched nerve and needed muscle relaxers and stronger pain meds. I was sent home and two days later I finally understood why people in pain wanted to end their life. I was miserable but being me, I forced myself to get out of my recliner where I was living at this point and walk to the kitchen to get a drink of water. I made it to the hallway before the pain caused me to black out, the room to spin and I collapsed on the tile. I remember laying there thinking I was going to die right there on the tile floor. For what seemed like an hour, but probably was only a few minutes, I laid on the tile afraid to move. I remember quite vividly glancing across the hall and seeing a beetle or some kind of bug on it's back, legs flailing in the air, dying just like me. That's when I made the decision that enough was enough, I wasn't going to go out like this. I pulled myself off the tile with all I had and crawled back to the recliner where I found my phone and called my mom. I demanded they take me to a real emergency room, not urgent care, where I wasn't leaving till someone found out what was wrong with me. A battery of tests including a CT scan and many hours later, an emergency room doctor came to my bedside, grabbed my hand and said Candice, I hate to be the one to tell you this but your cancer has spread to your bones. You are stage 4 and I'm sorry but at best, you probably only have two years or so to live. There's a tumor in your neck that's causing your pain and the tumor is so advanced, it has eaten the entire vertebrae and is pushing on your spinal cord. We don't know how you walked in here. We don't understand how you're not paralyzed. If you were to turn your neck even a quarter of an inch in the wrong direction, you would be paralyzed, that's how unstable your neck is. How did this get missed? How did I go from a curable stage 2 to a terminal stage 4 after being told I probably wouldn't' need chemo. Later it would be explained to me that due to my age, they didn't do preliminary PET scans and other necessary tests because the fact that my cancer was so advanced was so rare for my age, it just wasn't usual practice to assume it was mets to bones. This happened on a Tuesday night and Wednesday morning I was meeting with a spine surgeon who was telling me that there was a good chance I may not pull out of this emergency surgery and if I did, there was a chance I wasn't going to have use of my neck, or walk for that matter. How did this happen? Just two months before this I was your typical 28 year old, planning my life, my career, wanting a family, hoping my boyfriend would pop the question and getting settled in my new life in Vegas.
The surgery was complicated and involved operating extremely close to my spinal cord. People from all over were being called to come see me just in case I didn't pull through. I had to pick someone to make the decision to take me off life support in case I woke up a vegetable. I have never been so scared in my entire life. The surgery took 9 hours and I spent 3 days in ICU on a breathing tube. When I was cleared to be moved to a room and the tube taken out, I couldn't speak, I couldn't swallow. Something was wrong! The surgeon explained that they had to go through the front of my neck and the back of my neck to get to the tumor and in doing so had to move around my vocal cords and esophagus. I was going to have to learn to use my voice box and learn how to swallow all over again. I was put on a purified diet, then mechanical and finally solid food after a month. I didn't get my voice back for 3 months. Along with this, I was put in a body brace they fondly referred to as my suit of armor or the turtle shell. I had to be put into it and taken out of it. It took me two weeks to walk again. Someone had to help me with everything from eating to going to the bathroom. I was pretty much immobile. When I could walk 50 feet they moved me to a rehab center and a week into rehab I begged them to let me go home. The rehab center was a nightmare. I did get to go home in my turtle shell with a walker and a home nurse visiting me every day. I realize this story is getting long so I won't go into the hideous details but once home I was prescribed radiation to my neck. I had 15 treatments, 5 days a week for 3 weeks. The act of getting me out of the turtle shell, lined up on the table, took longer than the actual radiation. I slept a lot during that time. I never got stomach sick but just as my voice came back, it was gone again when the radiation fried my vocal cords. I got an insanely sore throat but even worse than all of this, I suffered a crazy radiation burn to the back of my neck which thinned my skin so much it busted open the incision from my neck surgery. At one point the incision was 2 inches wide and a half inch deep. The nurses tried wet to dry bandage, burn cream, prescriptions, and even a wound vac to heal the gaping incision all the meanwhile still radiating the neck to make sure the tumor was gone. I made it through the radiation but a short week after my last treatment, I woke up and noticed my expanders were double their size. Immediately I went to my plastic surgeon who said I had a infection in both expanders and they needed to be removed. Are you kidding me? What else could go wrong. I'm still in a turtle shell body brace, I'm finally out of radiation and now I'm losing the only breasts I have left. I remember bawling the night before surgery. The only good thing was that while I was under, they stitched up the incision on the back of my neck. I left the hospital after my third surgery and in short my chest and my neck finally healed. The scars aren't pretty but I'm alive. I healed up for two weeks physically but emotionally I took a few more blows. It was about a week before Christmas at this point, I had my first chemo, and my boyfriend of 4 years decided he couldn't handle this whole cancer thing and not only broke up with my but kicked me and my three cats out of his apartment. My brother had to come get me and pack my bags for me since my brace made it impossible to do anything. At 28 I had to move back in with my parents. My life really was an elaborate country song. It was a rocky few months after that. I lost all my hair on Christmas Eve. I focused on physical therapy and getting through chemo. I had three doses of A/C which seemed to be sending my tumor markers down and at the end of January 2012, after being in my full body brace for 4 months I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was released from the full body brace and just had to wear the neck brace and a week before my 29th birthday in March 2012, I was told I could get rid of the brace completely. I now have about 80% use of my neck and that May, went to Disneyland with my family and rode (much to my doctors dismay) every ride. Through the summer, I took 3 doses of Taxotere because the A/C stopped having an effect on my cancer and that seemed to knock the cancer out almost completely.
Currently as I write this (it's September 2012) I am defying odds. I have enough use of my neck that no one can tell what I've been through. I have been out of chemo for 6 weeks and am on Tamoxifen and Aredia (Zometa) monthly. My tumor makers are crawling back up so we are going to try Lupron injections for the first time next week. It's all about finding the perfect cocktail to keep my markers down without going back into chemo. I feel amazing. I am working 40 hours per week, taking road trips, dating, and running circles around my 7 year old niece. They told me I might die, I might not walk, that I wouldn't live to see 30 but I'm determined to prove them wrong. Recently I've made it my goal to run a half marathon in December. I feel like it would be an amazing inspiring thing – and when I asked my doctor if running was ok, it was all he needed to do to tell me that he didn't care if I ran but someone who has been through what I have been through cannot complete a half marathon. I have stage 4 cancer, I have had life and death surgery, the odds of me being able to complete that were near impossible. Done. Now I have to do it. I'm stubborn like that. I know the odds of someone living a long time with stage 4 cancer are nill. I hear the statistic but I'm not a statistic. Cancer doesn't know who it's messing with. No one can put an expiration date on your life. I will not give up. A cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence and it doesn't mean you need to fit the in bed, sickly, depressed cancer patient stereotype! I have been knocked down many a time these past couple months and here I am. Is that all you got, cancer? Nice try!!
I now do a video blog every week and have been keeping a written blog since 2011 at http://killerboobsattack.blogspot.com and have a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/245274812173135/ . I'm hoping to connect with other cancer survivors, especially women who are experiencing this at such a young age. I LOVE hearing about stage 4 cancer survivors. I want to inspire and get the word out that young women need to be aware that breast cancer can happen to you too and we women are really strong enough to get through ANYTHING. I am eternally optimistic, cheerful and well, just loving life. Thanks for reading my story :) Please don't be afraid to contact me, ask me questions, share your story. I like to share stories, answer questions, and discuss topics important to us in the breast cancer community on my blog so please let me know you're out there!
“Breast cancer affects one out of every eight women in their lifetime.”spread the word