An Itch Saved My Life

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By Ashley Patek

An Itch Saved My Life

“An itch saved my life!”

Mom of a five-year-old son and a consulting creative director, Dulci never imagined that cancer would happen to her. 

Dulci explains that an itch on her chest led to feeling a lump. 

Three weeks later, Dulci had a diagnosis: Stage 2A, grade 3, triple-negative breast cancer. 

“It is hard to feel anything other than fear at that moment. Being faced with your own mortality at the age of 33 is a really hard reality to face.”

Dulci was an unlikely candidate with no family history or other risk factors. “Cancer didn’t happen to people like me. I wasn’t sick. I couldn’t believe it was possible. I had no idea how much my entire life was about to change.”

After her diagnosis, Dulci says she was thrust into a foreign world overnight. Days were filled with oncology appointments, tests, blood work, and IVF treatments. “I didn’t know that chemotherapy can cause infertility so we decided to undergo fertility preservation. My first pregnancy came to me quite easily, so I never imagined I'd ever go through IVF, but it was only the beginning of my medical journey as a new cancer patient.”

During treatment, Dulci continued to work full time. “This helped me feel like my life was still my own, but the truth is, I was in survival mode, just trying to get through to the other side.” 

From diagnosis to final chemo pill, Dulci was in active cancer treatment for 18 months, and she shares that the side effects were not only unpredictable but grueling. “After chemo, I went in for lumpectomy surgery where the remaining tumor in my breast was removed. I completed 20 rounds of radiation therapy, supposedly the last line of defense in my cancer treatment regimen, however, because I did not have a complete response to the chemo, my doctor prescribed 6 months of oral chemo.”

She continues, “To get through it, you put your blinders on. I was focused on each treatment cycle and just powering through so we could put it all behind us.”

An Itch Saved My Life

Very quickly, Dulci’s life became hyper-focused. “You realize what's important and what's not. You don't have the energy or emotional bandwidth for anything extra, so your circle gets very small. We prioritized time together as a couple and as a family. Things I took for granted, like seeing my son grow up, suddenly became up for negotiation. That was a really hard thing to think about.”

Her son was 2.5 at the time of her diagnosis, which, looking back, she says, was a blessing. “We explained that mama had a boo-boo and needed to go see the doctor, but aside from that, our conversations with him were limited because of how little he was. Keeping his world untouched was my goal, and I'm proud to say that we succeeded in doing that. My husband and I were definitely not around as much, but he was thrilled to have constant visitors and extra playdates. We really tried to make lemons into lemonade for him.”

While Dulci wasn’t able to be with her son as much as she would have liked during her active treatment, she was eventually delivered more time. “Right after I finished, we entered a global pandemic, and suddenly we were spending ALL our time together. It was not easy, but I also welcomed it after feeling like I had been on the sidelines for so long. I'm still a human parent and I get frustrated all the time, but I am really grateful for every bit of time we have together.” 

Dulci is now looking forward, living for today and her future. “Recovery is something I'll be doing for the rest of my life. Physically, it has taken some time for my body to detox from everything, but the bigger hurdle is staying positive. So much of the recovery is mental.”

She continues, “There is a lot of pressure as a cancer patient to be ‘on’ all the time. And while I do think mindset plays a big part in healing, I also think that we have to be honest with ourselves about how we are feeling. I had a lot of bad days and I allowed myself to feel however I was feeling at any given moment. Giving yourself permission to say, ‘This sucks and it's not fair’ is very liberating.”

Dulci offers advice for women and men who share a similar experience. “Ask for help and accept it when it's offered! It's easy to become totally cut off from others because you just go into the trenches, but it really does take a village. We were extremely lucky to have so many people step up in ways big and small that helped us when we needed it the most. With that being said, don't be afraid to set boundaries with people and be clear about what is and is not helpful. This is your time to do what works for you and your family.”

She adds, “Also, get a second opinion. So often we accept whatever we're told by doctors, but being your own health advocate is really important. Feel empowered to ask questions or shop around for a doctor that understands your specific needs and goals. I'd also suggest adding an integrative medicine specialist to your care team who can advise on alternative therapies like acupuncture and oncology massage to be used in tandem with more traditional modalities.”

At the end of the day, Dulci wants to pay it forward. “At my age, I was not being screened for breast cancer and I was not performing self-checks, so the chances of me actually finding this early enough to make a difference was incredibly slim. This is why regular self-checks are so important and a big reason I've been so vocal about sharing my story. I hope someone reads this and it helps them, too.”

•  •  •

** Dulci Edge is a consulting creative director. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 and is passionate about women's health advocacy. She lives happily in San Francisco with her husband and their 5-year-old son. They love traveling, family hikes, and tacos. You can find Dulci's webpage at www.thefarandnear.com **

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