In the weeks leading up to the Pink Arrow game on September 22, 2023, we will be sharing stories from Pink Arrow Pride. Today’s story is from Amy Van Duinen.
My name is Amy Van Duinen. I have lived in Lowell since 2005 and worked as a window clerk at the Lowell Post Office for 24 years.
On December 28, 2021, I noticed changes to the skin on my left breast. It looked red and swollen. I called my primary care doctor and was scheduled to arrive on the same day.
My doctor made urgent orders for me to have a mammogram and an ultrasound that very same day. After those exams, I was scheduled for an MRI and a biopsy. The test results confirmed I had HER2-Postive Inflammatory Breast Cancer Stage 3b. Inflammatory Breast Cancer is a “Rare, Aggressive” breast cancer that typically makes a physical appearance rather than a lump, which I didn’t know. I was scared and very emotional when I heard I had breast cancer.
On February 3, 2022, I met with the “Multispecialty Breast Cancer Team” at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Center. I was meeting my cancer doctor, my radiation doctor, my breast surgeon, the nurse navigator, a social worker, and the financial coordinator. It was an all-day appointment, and the care/treatment plan was laid out with chemotherapy starting as soon as possible. It seemed we were moving at a fast pace, and I barely had any time for it to sink in. It was so overwhelming but reassuring to have a team caring for me.
My first chemo treatment started on February 17, 2022; it was every three weeks, 6-8 hours a day, for 14 weeks. My head started to feel tingly, and I started losing my hair before my second treatment. I didn’t want to shave it. I was afraid to wash or comb it; my hair had always been a part of my identity, and I was in denial that it would be gone. I started losing clumps of my hair. I learned about “Beautiful You By Profile” – my family saw me struggling with my hair and encouraged me to reach out. It’s a wonderful organization that donates services. They offer several other beauty services to women going through cancer treatments. The ladies cared and respected my emotions and grief about losing my hair. They took time to help me come to terms with trimming my hair, so it wasn’t so traumatic. They also fitted me with a wig that looked exactly like my hair.
The chemo treatments took a toll on my body. I ended up in the emergency room more than once. I was in an emergency in May due to critically low magnesium and potassium. In June, I was hospitalized with a temperature of 105 and pneumonia. These setbacks kept lengthening my treatment timeline.
I had a mastectomy in July and removed ten lymph nodes; two lymph nodes were cancerous. I had to start another round of chemotherapy treatments. I was so upset and sad to hear that I had to do a second round of treatments. The chemotherapy started
August 2022 to May 2023.
When I started radiation treatment, it felt harder than the chemo. The chemo treatments were every three weeks, so I had time to overcome sickness and start feeling good again. The radiation was daily, and my skin got worse with each treatment. My skin was incredibly tender, red, bleeding and weepy. I had 25 radiation treatments, Monday-Friday, for five weeks.
My family was very supportive. They surprised me with a Pre-Chemo Party and made pink T-shirts that said, “I Am A Warrior.” I wore that shirt to my chemo appointments. My cousin made “Team Amy” bracelets for everyone to wear until I completed my treatments. My 18-year-old nephew, Jason (senior at the time), shaved his hair for my cancer journey. My family took turns coming to my chemo treatments and doctor appointments. We were able to cut off our “Team Amy” bracelets at my Celebration Survivor Party in June 2023, after my last chemo treatment.
In 2022, I had over 120 medical appointments. My physical, mental, and emotional health were pushed to the limits. The constant letters, calls, cards, gifts, flowers, and text messages from Post Office customers, co-workers, family, and friends encouraged me and reminded me to keep fighting. I didn’t realize how many people cared and prayed for me.
I am beyond grateful to my doctors, nurses, family, and friends! They were all amazing. I felt like, at every turn, my body was fighting and struggling, as well as my mind and emotions.
I received so much support from Lowell Pink Arrow, Gilda’s Club, and Beautiful You. The Lowell community also gave me the strength to keep going. I am so grateful to live in a community that cares for each other and that cared for ME.
I did it! We did it! I am a WARRIOR and a Cancer Survivor.