My Breast Cancer Journey Part 36: My Baby Sister is Breast Cancer Free at 26 & My Twin Sister's 13th T-DM1 Infusion Was Awesome!

My Breast Cancer Journey Part 36: My Baby Sister is Breast Cancer Free at 26 & My Twin Sister's 13th T-DM1 Infusion Was Awesome!
Here is my baby sister after conquering her follow-up MRI at Mayo Clinic Rochester! The results of the MRI show she's breast cancer free!!!

This blog post is the 36th in a series about my (and twin sister’s) preventative breast cancer screening journey that began when we were 30 years old in July 2019. Here is a list of all of the posts written about our journey at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to date. To keep tabs on new posts, sign up for the “A Daily Miracle” email list at this link. You can also follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

My baby sister traveled down to Mayo Clinic in Rochester with her husband earlier this month for her follow-up MRI to complete her baseline preventative screening and found out she is CANCER FREE at age 26!!! We are so grateful and our prayer is that she will NEVER have to deal with breast cancer ever in her entire life!

Also: I got to travel down to Mayo Clinic in Rochester with my twin sister for her 13th infusion of T-DM1/Kadcyla last Friday. Now she only has one more infusion before she is ALL DONE with her post-surgical chemotherapy regimen!!!!

Here are a few highlights from their visit including praises and new prayer requests for us at this moment in time (full details follow in the blog post below)–thank you so much again for your prayers for us as we travel this journey together!:

  • Praise!: My baby sister is CANCER FREE at age 26 following two preventative baseline MRIs at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and interpretation by their amazing radiologists and breast clinic doctors! You can read all about her journey that started last summer in the blog post at this linkWe are praying she will never have breast cancer EVER!!!
  • Praise!: My twin sister is 92.9% (13/14) of the way done with her post-operative chemotherapy regimen of T-DM1/KadcylaHer side effects have been minimal, especially compared to what she experienced after her neoadjuvant chemotherapy in 2019 and early 2020. She has headaches and a bit of nausea for about a week after each of her infusions of T-DM1, but that is small potatoes compared to what she’s been through and we hope and pray and trust this is the last time she ever has to do chemotherapy EVER!!! 😀 Prayer requests for my twin sister are that her side effects continually improve and are manageable after her last chemo infusions and that her corneal cysts would miraculously disappear even now!
  • Prayer request!: My twin sister’s corneal cysts that developed last year get a bit worse for the week after each of her T-DM1 infusions. But we’re asking for prayers that her microcystic edema will go away now or after her T-DM1 treatment is complete in a month or so! She can still see, which is a huge praise, and she only has 2 infusions of chemotherapy left!
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Here is my baby sister with her husband on the way into the Gonda Building at Mayo Clinic Rochester on January 13th for a follow-up baseline MRI to make sure she is breast cancer free! (She is!!)

My baby sister’s second MRI!

My baby sister began her preventative breast cancer screening last summer (you can read all about the beginning of her journey at this link). In short, she overcame an immense amount of anxiety that caused her to be unable to complete her first MRI exam until she discovered the miraculous help of Ativan (anti-anxiety meds) and an amazing MRI technician who stayed in the MRI exam room with her during the scan and held her hand the whole time. (If you have anxiety and have to get an MRI, feel free to request Ativan and/or an individual to come into the scan with you!!! According to my baby sister it works wonders!! :))

Because of my baby sister’s anxiety, Mayo let her know that she could bring whoever she wants with her into her MRIs going into the future–so, of course, she selected her husband to go in with her for the exam (pictured above).

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Here is my baby sister all set up in the MRI checkin area getting her arms warmed up so they could start an IV with ease!

Sure enough, after she got all checked in and got her IV started which took five pokes and was fairly painful because her veins are super small, she was able to take some Ativan and her husband came back to scrub in with her. They went through metal detectors and marched right into the MRI exam room–which they were a bit worried at first about because her husband has a metal dental implant they thought might rip out of his mouth because of the magnets in the MRI exam–but the nurses and technicians assured them everything would be fine! 

When the exam got started, my baby sister’s husband was able to hold her hand and they talked. Which was awesome. She said they talked about all kinds of things like what their dog was doing at home while they were away. 🙂 Then, as the test got going, the noise in the testing room got a bit more intense. Just like I described in an earlier blog post about my MRI experience(s), an MRI exam sounds a lot like an army of gnomes building a village and hammering metal on metal all around you (you can read about my first MRI at this link and my MRI biopsy at this link). So, as the test grew louder, my baby sister and her husband got to discuss my theory on gnomes, too. And so, after this experience, my baby sister and her husband agree: An MRI exam sounds like an army of gnomes building a village inside of a tube.

They couldn’t talk for the entirety of the test, but they were able to chit chat quite a bit, and he held her hand the entire time! She made it through the test without shaking and her doctor sent her a message with clear and encouraging results the next morning!

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My baby sister and her husband went back to Mayo the next week to meet with our Breast Clinic doctor for a clinical exam and interpretation of her MRI results!

My baby sister’s “all clear!” appointment with our Breast Clinic doctor

My baby sister’s follow-up appointment with our breast clinic doctor was excellent. She and her husband got all of her questions answered about next steps–which will be clinical exams every 6 months and perhaps more frequently during pregnancy when and if that happens.

My baby sister will go back for a clinical exam and imaging in June/July 2021 just to make sure things are still a-okay, and then she will plan to have imaging done every year most likely for the rest of her life. We are praising God she is cancer free and covet your prayers that she will remain cancer free for the rest of her life!!! 🙂

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Here is my twin sister with a beautiful window room at Mayo Clinic overlooking Rochester Methodist Hospital where we had our double mastectomy with reconstruction surgeries!

My twin sister’s 13th infusion of T-DM1

“I’m so glad I get to work with you today!,” the nurse said as she came in to set up my twin sister’s chemotherapy drugs. “I saw your chart, and saw you two come in together, and realized you’ve been coming here for a long time,” she said.

“I sure have!,” my twin sister responded. “We both had breast cancer, and we got diagnosed in September 2019. My twin sister had Stage 0 and was cured with surgery but I had Stage 2A and went through TCHP last year then T-DM1 this year because there was a little bit of cancer left at time of surgery.”

“Oh, wow, that is a long time!,” she said. “Congratulations on your 13th infusion of T-DM1 today–you’re almost there!”

“It’s pretty exciting!,” I said.

We asked her what inspired her to become a chemotherapy nurse and her answer was inspiring.

“Every nurse finds their niche,” the chemo nurse told us. “For example, I couldn’t work in geriatrics because I was so close to my grandparents and that would have been too hard for me. I found my home in oncology.”

We also learned a lot about pediatric chemotherapy which happens in the Mayo Building or at St. Mary’s Hospital campus due to the inpatient nature of it.

We told her she was an inspiration and thanked her for her help. Then we dropped off a dozen Gluten Free donuts we’d purchased at Drift Dough in Rochester for the chemotherapy nursing staff. They were elated.

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Here is my twin sister watching the most epic scene in Wonder Woman getting ready for chemo!

As we were waiting for my twin sister’s chemotherapy drugs to be delivered, we put on Wonder Woman because it’s an awesome movie and it’s important to me to remind my sister she really is Wonder Woman for knocking out all this chemotherapy! As we were watching, we saw a lady get wheeled into the room next to us in a wheelchair wearing a sparkly pink mask.

“I like your mask!” my twin sister called out to her.

“Thank you! I’m a breast cancer survivor!” she said.

“We are too!” we said.

“Oh! Wonderful!” she said. “I beat breast cancer, and now I’ve been blessed with another cancer.”

“Just another opportunity to win the battle!” my sister told her.

She smiled.

“Nice to meet you both!” she said as her husband wheeled her away.

“Nice to meet you, too!” we said.

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Here is my twin sister and me after she knocked out her 13th infusion of T-DM1/Kadcyla, standing in the chemo room which had a nice huge window overlooking the hospital where we both had our double mastectomies with reconstruction in 2019 and 2020!! 🙂

Heading into breast cancer survivorship together!

I got to accompany my twin sister down to her 13th infusion of T-DM1 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester last Friday and it was a pretty exciting and emotional day. A lot has changed since we first started this journey in August 2019–not only the outbreak of a global pandemic, but seeing God move, work, and make a way for us to be healed and delivered from breast cancer at the age of 30.

The ways we’ve seen God move, deliver, and heal us through the skillful hands, care, and compassion of our doctors has been nothing short of amazing. I broke down and started ugly crying when I got home after the day at Mayo with my sister because I am not entirely sure if I ever worked through all five stages of grief properly (oops).

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, instead of working through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in sequence, I think I hopped right into the “acceptance” stage and pushed through this past 18 months without really “feeling” any denial, anger, bargaining, or depression. As we reach the end of my twin sister’s chemotherapy journey–even though it’s not my journey, but hers–and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I think I’m finally starting to realize the importance of knowing it’s okay to not be okay all of the time.

While I wasn’t entirely sure how to describe what I was feeling to my husband who was waiting for me, I started blubbering through tears and hoped something coherent would come out. I told him I was grateful for God’s healing and care for us, and how, while I was thankful that my twin sister only has one chemotherapy infusion left, that I was scared, too.

It’s the end of a journey that’s not even mine, but it’s been something that’s become so familiar to us that I don’t even know what it’s going to be like when we don’t have to ask for prayers for her to go into chemotherapy anymore. It’s one thing to look forward to treatments that are proven to kill cancer every three weeks–and a totally other thing to trust and know that God continues to heal, deliver, and protect her (and all of us) every day, whether or not we are going through chemotherapy or not.

My mom experienced similar fears and anxieties after being cured of DCIS in the early 2000’s. When she brought them up to her breast cancer doctor, he told her: “You can choose to live in fear of recurrence, but remember, you could also step outside of this office and be hit by a bus.” Moral of his story: Breast cancer and risk of recurrence is a reality, but as our doctors have told all of us, this risk is very small for all of us after our double mastectomies. Not to mention, stress is a carcinogen, so worrying about it literally won’t add any minutes, hours, or years to our lives. Haha.

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Exercise is very important to my sister (as it should be!!) and she insisted we take the stairs in the Gonda Building as much as is possible. Before AND after her infusion!!! 😀

An attitude of gratitude

My twin sister read in a devotional she received from a coworker at her law firm recently that it’s very important to remind yourself of this every day: “I am waking up cancer free today and I get to wake up cancer free every day for the rest of my life.”

This affirmation is a good one, grounded in gratitude. Another thing my twin sister mentioned / recommended to me early on this year is that I start listening to Christine Caine’s “Equip and Empower” podcast. It’s available for free anywhere podcasts are available, so I downloaded it and started putting on her ~20 minute episodes whenever I get in the shower or am getting ready for my day.

It’s been amazing to listen to Christine Caine’s teaching because she’s an encouraging and motivational preacher who also happens to be a cancer survivor, a mother, a wife, and leads a global anti-human trafficking organization (The A21 Campaign). And she loves Jesus.

Her big reminders in the episodes I’ve listened to so far in 2021 include reminders that:

  1. We are called to be more faith-filled than we are fearful.
  2. Being afraid isn’t an excuse to not do something, but that it’s an excuse to trust God more and to believe He is bigger than any fear we might feel because often times God’s promises exist within “the land of giants” or fears we have that we need to run toward not away from because oftentimes God’s promises exist in the places we are most afraid to go.
  3. That life is more about living out God’s purpose for you than it is to have status of any kind.
  4. That taking “the next step” with courage and faith is more important than any fear we might feel; and that
  5. We “become what we behold” so it’s important to remember we are made in God’s image and to be motivated by His love and promises for us over any other voices that might threaten our well-being.

Her messages and my time in Scripture this year have reminded me that, even if cancer comes for us again, that God is still good. And, the importance of gratitude and faith over fear–cultivating an attitude of gratitude has led me to explore what I’ve gained in this season of loss.

(To interrupt this somewhat heavy portion of this blog post, I’ve inserted a YouTube video of my twin sister kicking butt and insisting we take the stairs up to her blood test and chemotherapy infusion in the Mayo Clinic Gonda Building last Friday below. Even after her infusion she insisted we take the 10 flights of stairs down to the lobby. I was huffing and puffing and she was just fine!! Goes to show how important exercise, a positive attitude, healthy diet, and lifestyle choices are in the survivorship journey and I wanted to show this video as an encouragement to anyone going through a rough time–take the stairs!! :))

First of all: Breast cancer has taught me a lot about compassion, empathy, and what it means to trust God and know the Lord through and in the midst of physical and emotional suffering. And I’m not even the one who had to endure chemotherapy. Second: I do know that chemotherapy is what has saved my twin sister’s life. Third: If it hadn’t been for me going in for early screening in July 2019 and ultimately getting diagnosed with DCIS–or, Stage 0–breast cancer in September 2019, it’s possible that neither of us would still be here today.

How to suffer alongside someone is not something I cared much about before this breast cancer journey started–and I have learned so much about how to trust that God is in charge and has everything under control in seasons that feel full of darkness, doubt, and despair. Learning how to trust that God is good, even though we got diagnosed with cancer at age 30 and have to live with that reality for the rest of our lives, will be a lifelong challenge. But we can trust Him and that He is still good if we are healed and delivered of cancer and live to be 103 years old and die of something else like a malfunctioning parachute while skydiving or a rock face while hang gliding.

Trust in God really is the most important thing. That He loves us and wants what is best for us, and that He works everything out for our good and His glory. Even if that something happens to be a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, we are called to praise Him and cling to joy and trust in His promises anyway. Because His love never changes and is not dependent on our circumstances.

And also: Something that was driven home during our recent Bible study of the Book of James is that joy is a commandment, not a choice. We are commanded to have joy in all circumstances–something Jesus modeled for us in going to suffer on the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2).

And so, we celebrate life and God’s goodness with things like piano duets in the lobby of the Gonda Building at Mayo Clinic (below)!!!!! 😀

What’s next???

We’ve started talking about what’s next for us when breast cancer treatments are over and done with–for example, what if we were to turn this blog into a book that could support women (and men!) going through cancer diagnosis and treatments? We’ve been blessed by cancer nonprofits including Phil’s Friends and Pink Ribbon Mentors, and we’ve been inspired by so many women who have gone on this journey before us, so we are wondering if we shouldn’t publish a book to encourage and support those going through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment(s) beyond just this blog.

It has been amazing to see the outpouring of prayers and support that have come from publication of this blog–for example, here is a note I just received from a breast cancer survivor this year!:

Praising God for your news!  Our precious Healer! I found your blog when I was diagnosed with dcis with microinvasion in January.  God lead me to it and you went ahead of me through each step from biopsy, to MRI, to sentinel lymph node injection to surgery and reconstruction.  What a comfort and encouragement to me. ♥️♥️♥️ May your whole family feel peace and joy with this news!  I’m so happy for you! 

So we are wondering what it all is going to look like from here — we don’t want to miss an opportunity to glorify God in the process of healing! We are all praying about that! 🙂

God is so good!!!

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Here is my twin sister back home with her husband and their baby Boston Terrier puppy Gizmo after a day full of appointments at Mayo Clinic Rochester!!!

Next steps

My twin sister has heard that you can ring a bell when you finish chemotherapy and she also heard she should get a pin to celebrate finishing! So she’s going to ask about that at her last chemo infusion coming up in just over a month. 🙂 She also wants to make sure to get a photo or two with some of her chemotherapy nurses–that is, assuming they are working on her last day on the chemo floor!

We also want to make sure we throw some “kicking cancer’s butt” parties for my sister, but aren’t sure what that looks like in the pandemic world we are living in right now (thanks, COVID).

As for my baby sister, she is “all clear” heading into 2021 and will have a six-month follow-up clinical exam in June 2021 with our breast clinic doctor!

Also: Here are some things coming up on the docket that we’d love prayer for and are looking forward to in 2021!:

  • Thursday, February 11th: My twin sister’s eye appointment follow-up to check on her microcystic edema at Mayo Clinic Rochester; and my twin sister’s follow-up pelvic exam at Mayo Clinic Rochester to make sure everything is stable after her baseline ovarian cancer screening in 2020
  • Friday, February 19th: MY TWIN SISTER’S LAST INFUSION OF T-DM1 at Mayo Clinic Rochester!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!
  • Monday, March 8th: Dermatology appointment to remove and test a “mildly atypical” spot on my twin sister’s back (the dermatologist doesn’t think it’s skin cancer but just wants to make sure!)
  • Friday, March 12th: My follow-up with my plastic surgeon to ensure that I’m continuing to heal properly and there are no signs of capsular contracture; my twin sister’s one-year follow-up with her plastic surgeon!
  • June 2021: My 18 month Breast Clinic follow-up at Mayo Clinic Rochester and my baby sister’s 6-month clinical exam follow-up at Mayo Clinic Rochester

Thank you so much for your continued prayers for our health and healing, and for my baby sister’s deliverance from breast cancer (forever)!!!

God is good!!!

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Here is my twin sister in the Gonda Building Lobby!

This blog post is the 36th in a series about my (and twin sister’s) preventative breast cancer screening journey that began when we were 30 years old in July 2019. Here is a list of all of the posts written about our journey at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to date. To keep tabs on new posts, sign up for the “A Daily Miracle” email list at this link. You can also follow A Daily Miracle on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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