Rachel’s story: An Optimistic Busy Mom of Five Kids and a Breast Cancer Survivor

Like many dual working parents, Rachel and her husband Travis try to balance their hectic work schedules and family life.  Rachel led a high-stress career working as a financial planner and Travis is a Sheriff’s Deputy.  They both have two children each from previous marriages and welcomed their son, Eli, two years ago. 

Rachel, Travis, and Eli

One day while breast feeding, Rachel felt a lump as she brushed the right side of her breast.  For peace of mind Rachel decided to make an appointment with her primary care physician.  The reaction was a little unexpected,  nonchalantly the physician stated “the lump could be anything.”

Enduring the ultrasound and mammogram Rachel was anxious to find out the results.  The radiologist didn’t say the words “you have cancer” but kept saying if this is positive, we will have to do this and if this is positive, we will have to do that.  Rachel finally asked, “You keep mentioning positive but what if the results are negative?”  For which the radiologist starkly replied, “If it comes back negative then we biopsied the wrong spot.” 

“As I was walking out of the office it all kind of hit me.  Oh my gosh this is real, I have cancer,” said Rachel.  She got to her car and immediately called her brother who is a family practice physician. He was busy seeing patients and didn’t answer so she just sat in her car alone and burst into tears.

Rachel continued, “As I am crying and not moving I realize I have to get back to work. It’s so bizarre how everything slows down, it was as if the world had stopped.”

She saw her mom in person shortly after the appointment and broke down crying.  Her mom was in a state of denial, saying the doctors can’t be right, they must have gotten it wrong.  As she was gathering the kids in the car her mom ran out yelling “turkey tail mushrooms…look it up!”

The next day she was interrogated by her 12-year-old daughter. Francesca said, “Mom, I looked up turkey tail mushrooms and they are used for diabetes and cancer. You don’t have diabetes because you’re not fat, so do you have cancer?” Although the “not fat” part made Rachel laugh she also knew the seriousness of this conversation and wanted to make certain that she had cancer before discussing it with her kids. 

Rachel’s kids cutting her hair

Like most newly diagnosed cancer patients she didn’t realize that in addition to her surgeon, she also had to find a medical oncologist.  Rachel’s surgeon referred her to a breast cancer specialist, Rachel Raab, MD at Messino Cancer Centers. 

Even though Dr. Raab couldn’t give a conclusive diagnosis until after receiving the biopsies, she was sure of the carcinoma and that surgery was necessary.  Deciding to move forward with the bilateral mastectomy surgery, Rachel knew it was time to tell her daughters.  The reaction from her youngest daughter, 9-year-old Maribel, about her mom having to get her breast removed reminds us in these difficult moments how important it is to laugh.  Maribel asked, “They are going to take off one boob? That’s going to look so weird!” 

The surgery revealed a 9.5cm tumor with a diagnosis of IIIB invasive ductal carcinoma of the right breast estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative and HER2/neu negative – essentially, she has triple negative breast cancer.  “It was insane to hear my diagnosis, I am only 37 years old, how can I have stage three breast cancer? The answer is simple, even young women can get breast cancer,” said Rachel.  She admits that she didn’t do self-checks on her breasts and now encourages everyone to do so.

“Rachel is an inspiring young woman who is intelligent, kind, funny and courageous. In the face of her diagnosis of an aggressive breast cancer, learning about her BRCA2 gene mutation, undergoing extensive breast surgery, treatment with aggressive chemotherapy and the need for radiation treatment, she maintains optimism and hope,” said Dr. Raab.

Another piece of advice Rachel shares is being completely open and honest with your family and sharing information about your family’s ancestral medical history.  After her diagnosis she learned from a cousin that there was a line of cancer in her family.   Her grandfather on her father’s side was BRCA2 positive and his mother died of ovarian cancer.  So, Rachel did the BRCA genetic test with the results showing she did in fact have the BRCA2 mutation. 

Brycen, Francesca, Maribel, and Hunter

Rachel’s patient experience with all the staff at Messino Cancer Centers has been great.  She said, “Dr. Raab spends so much time explaining things to me and going through different scenarios. I feel like she truly cares about me as a person.”

This wonderful care continues with many different people at the clinic. She is appreciative of the help from financial counselor, Jillian, who went above and beyond helping her fight with Blue Cross Blue Shield, staying late one evening helping to resolve an insurance issue.  Rachel continued, “I also love my chemo nurse Maren. Everybody is so nice at the practice; I really love everyone there.”

Rachel is still undergoing chemotherapy but in addition to treatment she has decided to return to a healthier lifestyle.  She was raised on an organic family farm in Ithaca, N.Y. where the milk came from their own farm and the meat was organic.  Life can be difficult to balance when you are busy working parents, it’s not always easy to make healthy decisions.

She admitted, “I just ate at a popular fast food chicken place for the first time five years ago.”  She sees this as an opportunity to get back to the way she was raised, eating healthier and focusing on all things organic.  Also focusing on self-care like reading a book, taking a bath or spending time in her happy place admiring flowers and gardening.  Enjoying all the beautiful outdoor activities that Asheville has to offer like hiking and biking with her family.

In the midst of such a difficult time, she keeps a positive and uplifting attitude with the amazing support system from her family and friends.  In addition to the healthier lifestyle, Rachel and Travis also agreed to let the “little things go” and “have gratitude” by focusing on the wonderful things she has in her life, a husband that loves her and five beautiful children.