In my 14th year at Cisco, I was feeling great. It was the fall of 2011: Life was busy, work was good and challenging, and my family was healthy. I had no complaints.
Six months later, I found a painful lump in my breast. Initially, an aloof radiologist said it was nothing and come back in a year. I questioned this because the lump hurt. I immediately went to my doctor, who in turn sent me to breast specialist. The biopsy confirmed I had breast cancers – not just one but two.
After a couple months of denial, many tests, and professional opinions, on June 28, 2011, it was revealed that I had only one option: radical bilateral mastectomy. My sister Nene drove home with me so that I could tell our mom and brother about the situation. I suggested to Nene this would be a good time for her to switch doctors and she actually agreed and made the appointment from the car.
Seven days later, Nene called in a panic. She said she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I thought it was a sick joke. She couldn’t have cancer; she was my little sister! All I could do was think about how I could manage in a way that kept her forward thinking, not steeped in “you have six months or less to live if you don’t start treatment.”
Leaning back was never an option for me. With my diagnosis and long term recovery, and now my sister’s breast cancer, I had to remove any space in my mind for negative thinking. My manager, Cisco family, and friends stepped forward. I was determined to get through surgery, reconstruction and the healing process while actively coaching my sister, reminding her that all this was temporary, and we will keep looking forward.
My life became a project with daily challenges and moving milestones. Surgical complications knocked me off my plan of being on hand to support her in person. Nene risked infection, so Mom and our brother, John, needed to tend to her and the nurses on my behalf. I had the nurses set up the computer to enable video chats, keeping Nene’s the next day, next month and next year. We needed to keep looking forward and stay focused on kicking cancer’s ass so I would be there for my boys and Nene would be there with us. That is the way it would be.
Education and technology are the great equalizers. While in the hospital, I kept asking questions about quality of care and options for improvement. I thought, “how do I get the word out on breast density and IBC?” I found a new upcoming technology company, UE Life Sciences, which developed NoTouch Breast Scan, a device that was providing a great promise in early detection and establishing a baseline for breast health.
I also took on a new role on the Connected Business Operations - Security & Government team at Cisco. The new role drives me to leverage the inquisitive skills I put into use while seeking to understand and defeat our cancers.
I continue to speak out and bring awareness about IBC and breast density. I will host experts who will participate in a “Breast Cancer” awareness event for our Cisco team in 2013. While I continue to face health challenges, I know I will overcome them by continuing to look forward. I hug my boys daily, and smile knowing Nene is now six months cancer free.