My Breast Cancer Journey - Part 1 by Aeliya Jaffar

These blog posts will be a humble attempt on my part to tell my story in order to help other women feel like they are not alone in the terrifying experience that is cancer.  I was diagnosed with bilateral invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) in May of 2021.  Every step of the way, from discovery of the lump to testing to diagnosis to treatment, was uniquely challenging and eye-opening.  Thank you for following along with my journey.

The Discovery

“Now, you are family. Okay. All my life, I had a lump at the back of my neck, right here. Always, a lump. Then I started menopause and the lump got bigger from the “hormones.” It started to grow. So I go to the doctor, and he did the bio…the b..the bios…the b..the “bobopsy.” Inside the lump, he found teeth and a spinal cord. Yes. Inside the lump was my twin.”

- Aunt Voula; My Big Fat Greek Wedding

It was February 2021. My grandmother was dying in Hyderabad, India, partly due to the effects of a fall and partly due to Covid-19. My father, who had gone in December 2020 to take his turn in taking care of her, was also ill with Covid-19. It felt like the world as I knew it had completely changed. I was taking a shower and discovered a large lump in my left breast. Startled by the size and absence of pain, I was unsure of what to make of it. In 2016, after the birth of my 2nd daughter, I had felt a small pea-sized lump in the same breast but it had turned out to be a cyst filled with milk upon ultrasound. It also resolved/disappeared with continuous feeding/pumping. I had breastfed all 3 of my daughters and anytime I had a clogged duct, it was intensely painful until I was able to feed the baby or pump out the milk from the clog. This lump did not feel the same, and it was a lot larger. I informed my husband and mother who happened to be visiting, and both said to inform my OB. An appointment was scheduled for February 8th. Meanwhile, on February 5th, my paternal grandmother, Dadi, passed away. It was and still is a devastating loss. I almost cancelled my appointment with the OB/GYN but decided to go in the end upon encouragement from my husband and my mother. She performed her normal exams, and did not seem too concerned about the lump. She said since I was weaning my youngest daughter Marziya, who was 11 months old at the time, it was more than likely a clogged duct and to try pumping and seeing if the lump decreased in size. I felt reassured and decided not to worry about it over the next month. Unfortunately, as I weaned Marziya, it did not disappear and if anything, seemed to be getting firmer and slightly larger. I also noticed by the end of March an indentation, and when I googled that symptom, it appeared as a sign of breast cancer. Sighing internally, I called the OB office back and made an appointment for early April. Due to everything described above, my OB went ahead and gave me a referral to an outpatient mammography center called Solis. She did not make the referral as urgent, so the mammogram was scheduled for May 6, and ironically my eldest daughter’s birthday and the day I became a mother. It was the first mammogram I had ever had, since I was below the age of 40. The radiologist technician and mammography technician were both very compassionate but kept furrowing their brows as they were performing the exam. Finally, when the radiologist came in, she also frowned (from what I could see as she was wearing a mask) as she took the ultrasound wand and repeated some of the exam. She looked at me finally and said a biopsy is warranted and to schedule it soon. I felt a small pang of anxiety, but quickly tried to squash it and remain calm.

On May 18, I went for what I thought was going to be one necessary biopsy. The radiologist tech told me the doctor performing the biopsy was brilliant, as she called him a “genius Johns Hopkins guy.” Later, I would discover he was Dr. Stephen Rose, one of the nation’s leading mammography radiologists. She said his bedside manner was more reserved, but to trust him as he was the best. I read a silent prayer that he would indeed be the best. When he entered the room, I honestly felt an immediate sense of calm. Despite his mask and quiet way of speaking, he made me feel very calm. He slowly explained that after having the IV contrast mammogram, he was seeing something suspicious in the right breast, as well. He asked if I had contacted a breast surgeon already, and I replied in the negative. He told me there was a lot going on in the left breast, so a breast surgeon was going to be needed. He also said it was my decision as to him performing a biopsy on the right breast that day. I asked that if I was his daughter what would he do? He said it could go either way, but if the left breast was cancerous then I would want to know what was happening in the right so it would have to be biopsied later on. I said then please go ahead and do both sides today because I have a one-year-old and it is not easy for me to recover twice from something like this. He was empathetic to that and said that he believed I had made the right decision. I saw the serrated knife-like contraption they used to perform the right biopsy. It was the introduction to how invasive, how violent cancer treatment is and can be…they literally wanted pieces of visible flesh to analyze.

As I sat in the car, I started shaking with sobs. I told my husband Raza they had found something in both sides, and he said I need to find a surgeon. My gut feeling was not good, but there was still a desperate hope inside of me that maybe the doctor was wrong. For the next 3 days, my mother-in-law cared for my daughters while I rested at home and prayed desperately for some good news. The left side was really giving me a lot of pain after the biopsies, and I wondered if pain was a good or bad sign. On Friday, May 21, my OB/GYN did a video conference call with me and my husband to deliver the news that it was indeed cancer. She expressed her shock and concern, especially as I kept repeating, “But you said you didn’t think it was cancer.” After the call was done, I knew there was nothing now that was going to change the diagnosis or outcome except God and His Power.

9 comments

You are so strong Aeliya – so proud to have you as a friend. My every dua is with you, always.

Farhana June 28, 2022

Love you Aelu! Praying for you. I know how hard a chronic illness is. Brave to share your story.

Rabaab June 25, 2022

You are so brave and strong beyond words Aeliya. I know Dadi is watching you with all her duas and awe at how you have endured everything. I Pray daily that the worst is all behind you forever now InshAllah. May Allah SWT protect and heal you completely InshAllah in every way. Love you

Masuma June 24, 2022

It takes a lot to go through all of it and share it. ❤️ Love and duas

Zainab June 24, 2022

Wish I could reach out to you through this post and give you a hug 💕💕 love you

Mariam June 24, 2022

Thank you for sharing your story to the world – you have showed so much strength and faith in this journey. May Allah always keep you in good health with lots of happiness and joy along with your sweet family. My Duas are always with you!

saba June 24, 2022

Thank you for sharing your journey! I am so sorry that you had to go through that, but hopefully the rest of us learn that we need to get checked out. May God give you a full recovery.

Maisah June 24, 2022

Love you, Aeliya. Proud of you. 💕🎀 🌸

Sukaina J June 24, 2022

My dear Aeliya, you are so brave, and a wonderful person to be sharing this to help others 💕💕💕

Aysha June 24, 2022

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