"Is this seriously happening?! Did I do something to upset the Universe?" These are some of the questions that Whitney Fisher-Doyle, then mother to her 2-year-old daughter, asked when she was first diagnosed with stage zero-turned stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 30. Whitney had discovered a lump prior to her diagnosis and thought nothing of it – "I was too young," she said. But after a few years, on the advise of her doctor, she had the lump biopsied only to learn that it was cancerous. Fortunate to have caught it early, Whitney is now cancer-free and thriving. To learn more about her treatment choices and how her perspective on life has changed for the better, read our interview below.
Name: Whitney Fisher-Doyle
Location: Fresno, CA
Current Health Status: Surviving, thriving and clear scans!
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed with Stage 0 DCIS Breast Cancer in November 2016. I was 30 years old. I actually detected the lump years earlier while I was in college, but I quickly dismissed it because I was so young. It didn’t occur to me that it could be breast cancer. When I was pregnant with my daughter (at age 28) my doctor noticed the lump during a physical and asked how long I had had it. Did it ever hurt? Has it grown? Essentially, the “typical” cancer symptoms. The answer to all of those questions was no - the lump had never bothered me. A couple years later at a checkup, I mentioned to my doctor that I still had the lump, still no pain, no growth, nothing. He scheduled me immediately (that day) for a mammogram and biopsy. That was November 4, 2016. On November 11, 2016 I got the call that it was DCIS Stage 0.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
Is this seriously happening?! Did I do something to upset the Universe, to upset God, that this was now a battle I was being faced with? At the same time, I was a semi-new mother with a 2½ year old, and unfortunately I was dealing with a separation from my estranged husband. I was trying to be a good mother, hold together my emotions about my marriage to an adulterous husband, on top of starting a new job (which I now also had to ask for time off from)... It was A LOT to handle!
How did your friends and family take the news?
My family and close friends were very scared, some were even angry (simply that this was happening). Most of them treated me like glass, which I understand but I also hated.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
I decided to have a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. The tumor was located rather high towards the top of my breast, and my breast cancer team and I felt that the lesser surgery wouldn't leave my breast drastically smaller than the other. So I went ahead with a lumpectomy and planned to take a hormone suppresser for the next five years (my tumor was estrogen receptor-positive). After the tumor was removed, the pathology came back, and unfortunately they found a few millimeters of invasive cancer directly in the center of the tumor; I was then bumped from DCIS Stage 0 to Stage 1 Breast Cancer with micro-invasion. That’s when I was informed that I would need to undergo sentinel lymph node surgery to see if any cancer cells had spread. I proceeded with that surgery and thankfully, all the lymph nodes that were removed were clear! So the last step of treatment for me was radiation and to continue my hormone suppressant.
Were you able to work through treatment?
Yes, I continued to work full time. I only took two weeks off from work, one week to have and recover from my lumpectomy, and the second week a few months later to undergo and recover from the sentinel lymph node surgery. I did have to take one season off from my softball league while going through radiation.
Where and how did you find the best care?
My breast cancer team at Kaiser Permanente was good and overall, I really felt that I was in good hands. For radiation, I went to the Fresno Cancer Center, and I actually really enjoyed that place. The staff was amazing, the facility was calming and the resources that they had were great (e.g. yoga for breast cancer patients).
Did you receive any additional support or alternative therapies?
No, I didn't.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
I honestly tried to keep a lot of it to myself. I really didn’t want to add any stress to those around me, and truthfully, I didn’t feel as though anyone could really understand what I was going through unless they had been through or were going through it themselves. About 6 months or so after I had my last surgery, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. She became a great sounding board. We talked about our different treatments, how we were feeling, sent encouraging texts -- that was helpful for me.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
Mentally and emotionally, breast cancer hit me hard. I was willing to live with the physical changes so long as it meant I lived. Psychologically, I felt damaged, I felt like my body had let me down. I got tested for everything, and I had no genetic pre-dispositions, no BRCA gene, no family history (although I was adopted at birth, so it’s a little hard to truly say that). I was pretty healthy and very active, yet my body had a few cells that decided to go rogue.
I was also faced with the mental challenge of being alone for the rest of my life. With an impending divorce and seeing how uncomfortable my scar and skin after radiation made some people, which was further compounded by my own insecurities about my body, I figured it would just be easier to stay alone and focus on raising an amazing child. (Thankfully I overcame those feelings).
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
That I had time to make my decisions. I appreciate my breast cancer team for being prompt and acting quickly, but I did feel rushed. I wish I had slowed it down just a bit to do better research and ask more questions. Within a matter of months, I went from being diagnosed (November 11th) to having a lumpectomy (January 10th), all the while still dealing with the initial shock of the diagnosis. I had to make some big decisions, quickly.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
Not in particular, but whenever I find something that does speak to me, I write it on the chalk wall in my foyer and keep it up for a few weeks.
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
Do not beat yourself up, and do not feel pressured or rushed into decisions about your treatment by anyone.
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I recognized the depth and power of my strength, and somehow I learned to be softer as well. My brother texted me one day and said “Whit, you are definitely a Honey Badger…love you!” That has stayed with me.
For those that don’t know, the Honey Badger holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of “World’s Most Fearless Creature."
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
As cliché as it sounds, I do not take life for granted anymore. I make a conscious effort to live, not just exist. On illness? A friend had recommended a book, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, and in it Hay states that holding onto anger, negativity and harmful thoughts can lead to illness and disease. I have taken that to heart, and I try to acknowledge those feelings and then quickly let go and/or forgive as best I can. I try very hard, on almost a daily basis, to not dwell in negative thoughts or give them any room to grow.
How have you changed?
I feel much more open, accepting and thankful of what comes my way. I have been one of those people that hates to make mistakes (even small, minuscule mistakes) - I try very hard to not mess up. Ever since finishing radiation and essentially making peace with what my body has gone through, I have noticed that I am radically open to making mistakes. And it’s actually quite a relief to not be so hard on myself.