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Living a Life Of Hope: Findng Purpose and Praise While Living a Life with Breast Cancer


 Karen with hope rock.hands 2 220x147 My Breast Cancer JourneyThree Years in a “Nut Shell”

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2009. My husband and I sat in the office of my general practitioner to hear the results of the breast biopsy I had had days earlier. This doctor, a woman who over the years had become a friend of mine, cried when she told us the news. I wouldn’t say I was shocked to hear that I had breast cancer, because I saw the news coming over the course of many days. 

After a routine mammogram I received a “call-back” for another mammogram. When I arrived, I found out I was also having a breast ultrasound. My suspicions were aroused and from the moment the ultrasound technician asked me to come in to speak with the radiologist, I was prepared to hear that I had breast cancer. He was very professional, kind and specific, “Mrs. Penfold, what I see here is very concerning.” He showed me the view of the ultrasound and pointed out a grey/black roundish area. “This right here looks like breast cancer.” He recommended I have a core needle biopsy as soon as possible.

That’s when I called my doctor, Julie Vails, who put into immediate motion the excellent care I have since received. I was scheduled for the biopsy within a couple days. I didn’t find the procedure terribly painful. I was going through the motions and I imagine I was feeling rather numb in more ways than just physical. Then on November 4, 2009 my husband and I drove the couple miles from our home to Dr. Vails office to hear the results. Before we got out of the car, I took my husband’s hand and said, “I have a feeling that everything after this moment will be ‘after breast cancer’.” He solemnly nodded and gave me a little kiss and we went in. We were asked to come back and sit in her office (not an examining room). We sat and waited for her in two chairs across from her desk.

As I mentioned earlier, Julie cried when she explained the diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, which made it all the more “real” to me. I don’t remember much more of what she said other than she wanted to refer me to a breast surgeon for a lumpectomy as soon as possible. She explained that removing the cancerous lump and having it sent for pathology results would help us understand the severity of my disease. I wasn’t shocked or in shock. I heard the news and in a very strange way it was comforting. Not comforting as in encouraging, but assuring because it was a confirmation of what I already knew to be true the moment I stepped into the radiologist office a week earlier. And reassuring in a stranger way, as I then understood (as best I could) what this sense, this “knowing” I had that “God was preparing me for a battle.” I couldn’t articulate it before, but slowly, like a movie going forward in slow motion, I saw the pieces coming together. Verses, God’s promises from his Word, ran across my mind as if typed out by a typewriter. Images of me hearing, sensing the words from God, ” I am preparing you for battle” moved across my mind- seeing, remembering over the last year (or was it years ) where I was when He “spoke” to me: the shower, walking on my treadmill, sitting at my office desk, on the floor in tears with my Bible open. Now I know. This is confirmation. I was not shocked. I was not scared (at that moment). Now I knew- this is the battle. And I felt prepared.

I had my first lumpectomy and a Sentinel Node Biopsy on my right breast and arm pit the week before Thanksgiving in 2009. It was outpatient surgery, but a long day, as the process for getting ready for the sentinel node biopsy takes several hours. The surgery went well and the news given my husband while I was still in recovery, was that she got all the cancer- a tumor about the size of a pinky finger nail. The initial pathology showed clear margins and no lymph node involvement. This was obviously the best news we could hope for – my family and friends were all relieved. I was relieved too, yet oddly surprised.

The day of my surgery, I recall sitting in the lobby of the hospital waiting with my husband to be called in to do pre-surgery paperwork, and taking a moment to say something to him I had been waiting for days to say without too much drama. This was my time, “Honey, I know you will get the news first and then you will need to tell me. I want you to know that I am prepared…. to hear … I don’t know… bad news.” I had started to cry just a little and he was shaking his head and pulled me into him. He wasn’t going to hear any of it, but I was trying to warn him and grieved what he would feel like having to give me bad news.

Recovering from the lumpectomy wasn’t a big deal for me; I mostly was bothered by the surgical drain I had to drag around with me for about a week. I remember getting the drain out the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and driving from the doctor’s office to Safeway to do a little grocery shopping for Thanksgiving. My mom and her husband were arriving the next day and I felt a lightness as I picked up items for my grandma’s turkey stuffing I would be making.

Me in Pink hat 143x200 My Breast Cancer Journey

I can honestly say I was not thinking about the additional pathology report that my doctor said would come back about a week after the surgery. We had our good news and now it was Thanksgiving time. My mom and her husband had only been at our home about twenty minutes when my cell phone rang and I saw that it was my surgeon calling. I remember being surprised she was calling me. I really think I forgot about the whole “additional pathology” thing. Dr Joyce Eaker is a brilliant and compassionate woman. She also is very direct. She basically told me she had bad news for me and had debated whether to call me the day before a holiday with this news. She told me the pathology report on the tumor margins, which came back “clear” at surgery, with the more sensitive testing showed there actually was additional cancer in the tissues. I moved into my office upstairs to find a pen and paper to begin taking notes. She was surprised and felt bad for me – she said. “90% of the time after a clean pathology report at surgery, this report comes back negative too, “ She said the test showed I have another type of cancer called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ “DCIS”.

As I was trying to understand this she said the sentinel node pathology also came back positive- for a Micrometastasis. So in both places where we thought there was no additional cancer- there actually was still cancer. I asked more questions and took more notes. “What do we do now?” I asked. The word that struck me in her answer was Mastectomy. Now my head was reeling. “Wait a minute! I thought we got it all, what is going on?” I think she may have said, “Typically we treat DCIS with these kind of margins with a Mastectomy….we could do a Re-excision (another lumpectomy) and see if we can get it all… that is also an alternative.” Ok, another lumpectomy- that sounded much better. “But what about the cancer in the lymph node?” I asked. She said I would need to talk to an oncologist to discuss that treatment.

I needed a game plan and she had one for me. For the next two weeks, my husband and I had consultations with an oncologist, a radiation oncologist and two different breast reconstruction surgeons and one with her- the breast surgeon. She referred me to wonderful doctors who spoke to us with great care and concern, answering all of our questions until we understood my diagnosis- Stage IIA, Intermediate Grade, Triple Negative Breast Cancer with DCIS. A message we did hear over and over, was that this was a curable breast cancer- with surgery and adjunctive therapy (chemotherapy). A big decision I still needed to make was would I have another lumpectomy or a mastectomy. I chose the lumpectomy, but first, on January 4, 2010, I began a 8 treatment course (one treatment, every other week for 16 weeks) of chemotherapy (Adriamycin, Cyatoxan & Taxol) followed by the lumpectomy in May and ultimately a bilateral mastectomy on July 12, 2010.


Within the “pages” of I Choose Hope, I am honored to share with you my journey, not only with breast cancer, but a journey of healing, and a new awareness- that through these two turbulent years of unwanted news, bad test results, pain, fear, suffering, so much unknown and an unwanted look at my mortality; I found peace, joy and an overflow of hope, as I set out to learn and experienced what it means to trust in the Lord and not be afraid. True blessings were and are mine, as I am walked through valleys that seem bleak and dark. Yet it’s been in the dark valley where His light has shown the brightest.

I have been blessed to find purpose, and praise for God, in the path the Lord has set before me. Beyond these and other blessings, God has given me the desire of my heart. (Psalm 37:4) Through my writing and sharing on this website, my prayer is that it reflect the heart of God, His Goodness and Hope for today, tomorrow and eternity- as I am able to connect, inspire, and encourage women as a writer and a speaker.

By clicking on Breast Cancer Journey under Categories, you can read entries from posts I used to update family and friends when I learned of my cancer in November of 2009 to September 2010 when I celebrated victory over cancer on top of KarenPenfold1 248x300 My Breast Cancer JourneyHalf Dome in Yosemite National Park- 5 months after completing chemotherapy and 10 weeks after having a bilateral mastectomy. After my reconstruction surgery in October of 2010 my posts dwindled to silence, until August of 2011 when I found a lump under my right arm pit. And just days after learning the lump was cancerous, I fractured both sides of my sacrum (pelvic bones) in a car accident in Las Vegas. After an eight weeks recovery, I had an Axillary Dissection of the lymph nodes under my right arm in October of 2011. I recovered from that surgery and began a 12 treatment course of chemotherapy (Gemzar & Carborplatin) for Local Recurrence of Stage 2, Triple Negative Breast Cancer. After a 5 week rest, I received  radiation treatment five days a week for 5 weeks. In June of 2012 I officially was done with breast cancer treatments. 

Today my blog has much more to do with living an everyday life filled with love and hope, and how one goes about life as a survivor choosing hope over fear everyday. I’m writing about the many changes in my life from my husband and I becoming empty-nesters and our many travels together to the decisions I’ve made about what I do and don’t eat and why and what supplements I take and why. I also enjoy sharing my recipes, homemaking and gardening tips.  Lastly, I love to write about the love of my Lord and Savior and all He continues to teach me about faith, love, hope and this plain ol’ wonderful life.

I’m grateful for the experiences and relationships this journey has given me- like this opportunity to share my heart and hear from yours. I’m here and I’m listening.