By SMGOR Patient, Rachel Peterson
I moved to Bend in August of 2018 with the hope of new discoveries on the horizon. I knew virtually no one but had fallen in love with nearly every aspect of the community after visiting earlier that summer. After my trip, I made the quick decision to pack up my life in Iowa and relocate to the Pacific Northwest with the dream of finding love, community and fulfillment -all while soaking in the active lifestyle Bend offers and I thrive on.
It was in January of 2019, just four months after relocating, that I noticed a lump in my left breast. As luck would have it, I already had an annual physical scheduled and mentioned my shocking finding to my doctor. After examination, she stated that although the mass was quite large, it didn’t feel like anything to be concerned about. After all, I was a healthy and active 27-year-old. For peace of mind, however, she sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound.
That mammogram and ultrasound appointment turned into a battery of questions about my family health history and invasive questions about my general health over the last few months. I was whisked away to a room where a radiologist explained that the imagery was highly concerning, and a biopsy was scheduled for the following day.
I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer on February 12, 2019 – a date that will forever be a demarcation of life before and after cancer. My priorities quickly shifted from growing my marketing business and signing up for trail races to meeting with my new oncology team and reviewing what my health insurance would cover.
If my cancer care team was a sports team, Summit Medical Group Oregon oncologist Dr. Benjamin Miriovsky would be the head coach. Dr. M. orchestrated the medical oncology portion of my treatment. He was the doctor I would see the most and who would be responsible for my chemotherapy treatments which I began in March. I received six rounds of chemo spread out over a period of 18 weeks. I became oddly comforted by the infusion room and the familiar faces of the staff. Sadly, it was part of my new normal, but instead of dreading it, I chose to embrace it. Being the youngest in the room by at least 30 years, I was acutely aware that I wasn’t the average cancer patient. The infusion chairs, warm blankets, and string cheese became pillars of my journey – reminding me that I was still here and still fighting.
I’m a firm believer that trust and open communication with your care team can make a world of difference in a cancer journey. From day one, when I was barely holding myself together to meeting Dr. Miriovsky and beginning the long treatment journey, I was one of the luckier ones. That feeling was only accelerated when I met with Dr. Erin Walling, my surgeon at Summit Medical Group Oregon who would perform a bilateral mastectomy after chemotherapy was completed. Yes, there were many tears shed in and out of the office. But there was also a lot of laughter, a lot of honesty, and many reminders that I could make it through.
When I was first diagnosed, there was discussion about whether I should move back to Iowa and begin treatment where my family and support system was, but I stubbornly fought to stay in Bend. If I had to fight something as ugly as cancer, I wanted to do it in a place that I found beautiful and healing. I didn’t know much about the area medical system, but I was willing to give it a try. Today, I can without a doubt say I received the best care possible because I’m not just living, I’m thriving.
I’m now one year out from my diagnosis. In March 2020, I will be released to quarterly oncology visits instead of once per month. I have hair again. I’ve returned to running and racing. And all those clichés about finding new life and perspectives after cancer? They’re all true.
It didn’t make sense that I got cancer. I don’t know if it ever will. But, most days, I choose not to focus on that. Instead, I look out my bedroom window and see Mt. Bachelor. I listen to the crunch of my feet as I run the river trail. I feel my heart pounding. And I remember that I’m here. I’m alive. I survived cancer.