Cancer didn’t stop me!

By TJ Miles

When the itching, burning sensation in my breast first started, I thought my new bra was too small. I bought a larger size, but the pain never went away, so hoped I was pregnant. My name is TJ Miles, and this is my cancer story. Only 30-years-old at the time, my husband and I were trying to have another child. But the pregnancy test came back negative, and the pain never went away.

After my friend insisted I go back to the doctor—she had a cancer scare few months earlier—my doctor ordered a mammogram which lead to an ultrasound. It found a golf ball-sized lump in my left breast.

There’s no history of breast cancer in my family. But after a biopsy, on April 11, 2014 I was diagnosed with the most common kind of breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma.

My life was a whirlwind after the diagnosis. I immediately started treatment at Celilo Cancer Center in The Dalles, Oregon.

A breast nurse navigator, Melodi Johnson, accompanied me to every appointment, explaining my diagnosis and treatment options in layman's terms. It was wonderful knowing I could call her at anytime and she would have an answer.

My first chemotherapy treatment went as well as it could go. I received a bag with goodies in it to help get me through the treatments: socks, chapstick, tissues, and a crossword puzzle. It was really nice, because I didn’t know what I should bring.

Two weeks later I was at the BRN4D Barrel Racing Finals in Tri-Cities, WA. When I ran my fingers through my hair, a huge clump fell out. By the time I got home, I had huge patches of missing hair.

I sat on the bathroom floor, crying as my husband shaved my head. My son, then 8-years-old, put his arm around me and told me that I’m still beautiful. Afterwards, my husband and son shaved their heads, so we would all look the same.

Unfortunately, I was allergic to my chemo, which caused me to pass out during my second treatment. I remember my friend talking to me, then everything went black. All the nurses came running.

Due to the risk of recurrence, I chose to have a double mastectomy with ovary removal. That was the most difficult thing for me emotionally. Having more children was very important to my husband and me. In the operating room I cried hysterically, knowing I would never be able to have any more child.

Instead of scrubbing in, my surgeon and plastic surgeon held my hand to calm me down and reassure me. It felt like I was more than just a patient to them. They really cared about me.

Despite the cancer, I never slowed down and started riding again only 3 weeks after my double mastectomy and barrel racing again shortly after that. My doctor was quite shocked and not thrilled with my decision, but that is what I needed for my soul to heal.

My husband and I live on a 20-acre farm in Lyle, Washington. He was medically discharged from the Army after multiple IED attacks and a near miss by a sniper.

During one attack, he passed out from the explosion. When he came to, everyone was screaming his name. A medic, he saved the lives of two people who would have died from their injuries.

After leaving the Army, he was on the road a lot for work. Taking care of the farm, and our son, kept me busy.

Chemotherapy made me tired, and there were days I didn’t feel well, but I rode my horses all the way through my treatment. I think it kept me from being sick. By the time I saddled my horse and got on, I forgot I didn’t feel well.

Sometimes, if I had a quick appointment, I brought my horse and trailer to Celilo Cancer Center. Everyone always got a kick out of it.

Today, I’ve been cancer-free for 5 years. Although I am no longer able to have children and my life will never be the same, I have a new normal. My husband and I recently became foster parents to two young siblings, a 4-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy, who we are trying to adopt.

We’ve raised the little boy since he was 4-months-old. I’ve always dreamed of having a little girl to ride and barrel race with, so when we learned our foster son has a half-sister, we happily expanded our family.

Celilo has funds that help people going through cancer treatment feel normal. Celilo Cancer Fund provides assistance to cancer patients, including free gas cards, wigs, prescriptions, massages, and other integrated therapies.

I now work for Mid-Columbia Health Foundation, the very organization that provides funds for patients at Celilo, and other patients who need support. It is now my passion to help raise money for the Celilo Cancer Center Fund, so everyone who receives care there can feel as normal as possible.