She was “way too young for cancer to be something to worry about.” So she ignored the lump she’d found for 2-3 months, thinking nothing of it.
“Then I started getting swollen lymph nodes under my arm and I talked to my brother about it; he insisted I go to the doctor,” Paula said.
Paula went to her OB, who referred her to a breast surgeon for a biopsy. A week later, she went back to the doctor to get the results.
“It was my dad’s birthday and he had just passed away six months earlier from lung cancer.”
Paula’s mom was with her and offered encouragement, “We will get good news today.”
They didn’t. Paula was diagnosed with stage 2B, ER and PR positive, HER2 negative breast cancer.
That same week, she met medical oncologist Dr. Jayanthi Srinivasiah, got her port put in and started chemotherapy.
“I’ll never forget when I met Dr. Jay; she said ‘We have to like each other because we will be together for a long time.’”
Paula added that she was shocked at her diagnosis.
“I went into life cleanup mode. I wanted to immediately clear my life of bad energy and focus on what mattered.”
Her work was very understanding of her new schedule. Paula needed finally to take care of herself.
Her mom, who is a nurse, would take every other week off work to spend with Paula, going to chemotherapy appointments and taking care of Paula for the days that followed.
“One of the lows of being 30 and having cancer was that I was single and was about to lose most of the things that make you a woman — hair loss, then menopause, then losing your breasts … your entire body changes within a few short weeks and months,” said Paula.
“You can deal with the sickness - that will subside, but losing pieces of your womanhood is something that never goes away and provides a daily reminder that you have cancer.”
After having chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and then another 12 months of Herceptin (Paula’s HER2 status changed to positive over the course of treatment), Paula was able to get back to “normal life” for about six years.
“I met my husband during that time, we bought a house, got engaged, had THE BEST wedding, bought property, adopted a bunch of dogs, then bought a historic house and moved to downtown Cartersville,” said Paula. “We were busy! I also quit my job and started a successful residential design business.”
Then, on a routine scan in 2017, a small lymph node on Paula’s esophagus showed up positive for cancer. She did another six months of Herceptin.
In 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, another routine scan showed Paula’s cancer had spread to her liver, one kidney and one lung. She started more chemotherapy and lost her hair, again.
From 2020 until mid-2022, Paula says she felt like everything needed to be on hold. She put a hiatus on spending; she wouldn’t even buy clothes because she didn’t want anyone to be burdened with stuff after she died.
“I only planned for bad news. My husband and I had wills drawn up and were planning for the worst.”
But then in early 2022, Paula started Enhertu and says it has worked wonderfully.
“I feel like I can plan things again. We can plan vacations more than a month out; we can plan home improvements that will take time. We can think about what we want in our garden next year, just simple things that people take for granted.”
Paula says stage 4 cancer is a roller coaster ride both mentally and physically. Her chemotherapy is working great, and her cancer is stable and shrinking.
She and her husband go to counseling for help working through some of the issues that cancer brings up.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have the greatest support system through all of this,” said Paula. “My mom was the real MVP during my original diagnosis. And even now, 12 years later, she still comes to almost every chemo with me every three weeks.
“My husband is very patient with my moodiness and is a steady rock in my life. I really have the best friends and family I could ever ask for. They are all there when I need anything and are willing to jump in to help.
“I adore the nurses at Northside … I have never had a bad experience with any staff, they are all friendly and knowledgeable, from the nurses to the folks that perform scans, to my sweet Dr. Jay. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
Today, Paula enjoys spending a lot of time with her dogs, her husband and her mom. She also adores getting to spend quality time with her little niece, watching her grow and learn.
“I started learning how to fly fish after a recent retreat … My husband and I are also new beekeepers, so that’s something we both are learning together and hopefully will get honey this year, fingers crossed!”
“Cancer is not a death sentence like it once was … For me, it was a wake-up call to learn to enjoy my life and focus on the positive.”
Her advice to other women … “None of us are guaranteed any specific amount of time. Take life one day at a time and enjoy the little things that bring you joy.”
* The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50% five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.