Brave Mum-To-Be Diagnosed With Two Types Of Cancer Within Two Years
When Rosanna Silber felt a pea-shaped lump in her left breast, she immediately knew it was sinister.
The then 31-year-old nurse practitioner was lying on the couch one evening working on her doctorate degree when her elbow brushed up against it.
“I had found lumps in my breasts in the past, but this one was clearly different,” says the now 33-year-old from New York.
“It was hard, pea-shaped, and non-mobile – the three things you don’t want a lump in your breast to characterise.”
Yet, after seeing her gynaecologist to get it checked, Rosanna was reassured it was just a cyst.
“I let out a sigh of relief as I explained I was going on vacation in a few days and wanted to get it looked at beforehand. He said to return if the lump was still there after my trip,” she recalls.
Despite being told that there was nothing to be concerned about, Rosanna insisted on undergoing a 2D mammogram to confirm.
"I called and said I wanted further testing. I was shocked it came back normal. I felt relieved, but still had the nagging feeling that something still wasn't right.”
Rosanna packed her bags and jetted off to Europe with her fiancé, but she says the feeling that it could be cancer never left her.
“My gut feeling that something was wrong was so overwhelming, that I actually announced: ‘I have breast cancer’ to an empty hotel room in Sweden. I just knew.
“I called my gynaecologist the day I returned to the US and told him the lump was still there and that I wanted more testing done.
“My mammogram only showed normal dense breast tissue, in line with what most 31-year-old’s breast would show. However, there was something seen on the ultrasound, so a biopsy was scheduled for two days later.”
While waiting for the results to come back, Rosanna says she was able to keep her mind occupied by going wedding dress shopping with her family. However, the next morning she received a phone call from the doctor and her suspicious were eventually confirmed: she had breast cancer.
“He very casually told me that ‘the cells do look like they’re cancerous’ and continued to rattle off information about a treatment plan and next steps. After I heard the word ‘cancer’, my brain stopped processing anything he was saying,” she recalls.
“Being told you have cancer is one of the hardest things. It's a punch in the gut,” she explains.
“Many things went through my mind: Was I going to die? What kind of burden would this be financially? Would we be able to keep our wedding date? Would I be a bald bride? Your life just completely changes with a matter of three words: you have cancer. It not only changes your life, but also the life of your friends and family.”
Looking back, Rosanna says she felt numb and disappointed that the original screening test had failed to pick up the tumour.
“It's scary that something that is considered to be the gold standard for checking for breast cancer missed mine,” she says.
While traditional mammograms are extremely safe and effective in detecting most cancers, other screening options such as 3D mammography, ultrasound or MRI may be beneficial to patients with denser breasts.
After being diagnosed, Rosanna says it was difficult to transition from the health professional treating patients to the patient herself.
“Words like mastectomy, stage I, and chemotherapy were thrown at me. As a paediatric palliative care nurse practitioner, this medical jargon was common in my everyday language. But they took on a whole new meaning now that they were being used to describe me.”
In May last year - a month after finishing chemotherapy and seven months after being diagnosed with breast cancer - Rosanna and her partner, Arthur, got married.
“Our wedding was such a magical day. It was amazing to be able to celebrate our relationship and just being alive with all of our friends and family.
“My relationship with my husband has truly been a complete whirlwind. He proposed after seven months of dating. Three months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and we were having intense conversations about fertility preservation and treatment options after not being together that long,” she says.
“A month after my last round of chemo we got married - with a full head of hair! Six months later I found out I was pregnant naturally.”
But just 23 weeks into her pregnancy, Rosanna was delivered some devastating news – she had cancer again. This time it was in her cervix and unrelated to her breast cancer which she had survived only a year earlier.
“When I got pregnant, my obstetrician did a pap smear, which came back abnormal. As soon as he said it was abnormal, I started sobbing in his office,” she says.
Rosanna, who is now 36 weeks’ pregnant, is scheduled to have a cervical conisation four to six weeks after she gives birth.
“While this cancer is in the very early stages, it's usually removed as soon as it's found.
“It's scary to think that it's just growing near my child and we're not really sure what it's doing. Luckily, no one is worried about the baby’s health and I am able to try and have the natural birth that I'm hoping for,” says the mum-to-be.
“I have been incredibly blessed with my sister-in-law pumping extra so that our baby will be able to have breast milk. She has already donated over 88 litres of breast milk and our child isn't even born yet.
“I'm so excited about the birth and cannot wait to meet this little child.”
Rosanna says being diagnosed with two different cancers within two years has given her a greater perspective on life and forced her to trust her instincts more.
“It has been a really difficult thing for me to wrap my head around. But I will be alive for this child, and that I am grateful for,” she says.
For more information regarding breast density, visit the breast density hub powered by Pink Hope, Be Dense Aware, which has some crucial information for women that may be at risk.