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I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer on September 28, 2009. It was nine years to the day after the Palestinian intifada was launched in Jerusalem - our old stomping grounds. My husband and I are both journalists. We lived in Jerusalem for nearly eight years. Our two daughters were born there. Then we moved back to the States, and I started working at the Pentagon. I work for Fox News; he works for National Public Radio. We met years ago in South Africa at the end of Apartheid. We had covered wars for years: Somalia, Afghanistan, Israel. I wore flak jackets when I was pregnant. I found out I was having my third child on a trip to the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. I covered other people's wars, not my own.
That is until last year.
I discovered my lump, if you can call a nine centimeter tumor a lump. It's really more the size of a grapefruit. I discovered it when I was weaning my son, Luke, when he was six months old. As my breasts deflated and the milk dried up, it became clear there was something very hard growing inside me. I had thought it was mastitis, a blocked milk duct. So did my doctors. At first they told me to go home and massage it and put hot compresses on it, and to come back in a week. In my heart I knew something was wrong, but I never dreamed it would be breast cancer. But I still thought it was something benign.
After all, I had nursed all three children, even carrying my stylish black leather breast pump everywhere to interviews with Sheikh Yassin, the founder of Hamas, in the Gaza Strip and to the Pentagon where I joked with Fox higher-ups that we broke more news when I was pumping than any other time in my career because I would kick producer Justin Fishel out of the booth and he would be forced to troll the halls in search of news during those months.
I thought I was safe during my pregnancy and while I nursed, but I wasn't.
In fact, I had been getting mammograms since was I was 30, but there was no way to screen while I was pregnant and nursing. Doctors still don't have any way of screening. So on Monday, September 28, which also happened to be Yom Kippur, I received a call from my doctor as I got out of the shower. I was getting ready to head to work at the Pentagon.
I never made it to work that day.
A 'Tricky' Kind of Cancer
My doctors told me I had triple negative breast cancer, a fast-growing, aggressive kind of breast cancer which the oncologists describe as "tricky." About 10-15 percent of breast cancers are triple negative, meaning it is estrogen, progesterone and HER2 negative. There are not drugs, like herceptin or tamoxifen, to prevent a recurrence. I started chemo a week later. After 17 rounds, I had my double mastectomy on April 6, and six-and-a-half weeks of daily radiation.
A few days after I was diagnosed, a friend took me to a gym where we planned to take advantage of a discount deal. I said I would do it only if they took me month by month because I wasn't sure how long I would be able to do it during chemo. My daughters, age 6 and 8 at the time, took me shopping for wigs. They chose a wig that they said reminded them of "Hannah Montana, ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œthe Miley." The younger one came with me to get my head shaved. My friend, Lila, flew in from San Francisco, and two other friends joined me at the salon for the emotional farewell to my overly-processed, highlighted locks. My 6-year-old videotaped it with a camera given to her by Greta Van Susteren. In the end, I think it helped Amelia process the fact that her mommy was suddenly bald.
Then came the war plan: My new gym offered me a free Pilates session. I called the teacher, Joshua Dobbs, and explained my situation. I was blunt and he was blunter. I said I had breast cancer and needed to train my body for my mastectomy. He said, "No promises." I thought, "Who is this guy?" We became soul mates.
I exercised almost every day of chemotherapy - even when I didn't feel like it. Twice a week Pilates made my core so strong that when it came time for surgery, the orderlies didn't have to lift me from the gurney to the bed. I lifted myself up without any help using my stomach muscles. Joseph Pilates would have been proud. After all, he invented Pilates for wounded vets during World War I - amputees who needed to exercise in their hospital beds. And I was one wounded warrior. His machines use the springs from hospital beds. It is the perfect form of exercise for any patient, I found.
When I didn't do Pilates, I ran - even when it got very cold, even when there were tears running down my face. A friend of mine sent me some UnderArmour caps to sleep and run in because it's mighty chilly when you have no hair. The exercise eased the nausea. I can honestly say I didn't have a single day of nausea throughout treatment. It was exercise and a very pure diet and recipes from Rebecca Katz's "One Bite at a Time" and "The Cancer Fighting Kitchen" that made the difference.
New Diet, New Life
I completely changed my diet at the time of diagnosis. Research showed that while we triple negative sisters don't have drugs to prevent a recurrence, a low saturated fat diet and 4-5 hours of exercise a week can lower the chance of a recurrence by 60 percent. That was enough for me. Exercise and a strict diet became my tamoxifen. I eliminated all sugar from my diet, all packaged foods, and began buying everything organic. No more dairy. No alcohol (breast cancer patients and survivors should not drink ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ studies show that more than 2 drinks a week can raise the risk of a recurrence significantly. I now only drink water (lots of it), sparkling water, green tea and one black cup of coffee a day. No more lattes. No more bagels with cream cheese. Essentially, it is whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦with some Chia seeds (flax equivalent with tons of Omega-3s) thrown on top. I eat lots of salmon (wild caught only, please), broccoli, cabbage, quinoa and oatmeal with walnuts and dates, all great anti-oxidants, all great anti-inflammatories.
My friends at the Pentagon used to check on me, including General (David) Petraeus, who would write late at night to see how I was doing and challenge me to a run. I kept telling him I was ready for it when he was. Before I knew it, his scheduler was writing to me to set up a time to run the next time he was in D.C. I put them off because it fell just after my surgery. Now four months later, I am cancer-free (or as they like to say in the world of oncology, I have "no evidence of disease"). I went back to work 11 months after being diagnosed and my first assignment was in Afghanistan to interview Petraeus. I brought him a pair of pink running shoes as a joke.
I have spent much of this year running for my life. Now it is time to take a victory lap.
For more incredible cancer survival stories, tune in at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday to watch FOX NEWS REPORTING: Winning the War on Cancer.