Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a surreal experience for Brenda Frost. Having just been laid off at work, she went in for a routine check-up, not expecting to be diagnosed with Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or abnormal cells inside of the milk ducts.
After more scans, an MRI and a biopsy on Christmas Eve, doctors found two 2-centimeter lumps in her breast tissue. Frost’s condition was upgraded to stage 2, meaning that it had spread and was possibly in her lymph nodes.
“It was totally surreal,” the Bellevue resident said. “I had no family history of breast cancer. I’m a statistic — one of the one in eight women who will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. Now, I’m not the kind of ‘why me?’ person, but you start second-guessing everything. But they still don’t really know what causes breast cancer, so it could be anything.”
Frost didn’t have any lumps or visible signs of breast cancer, and was diagnosed at stage zero or the earliest stage of cancer. DCIS is such an early stage of cancer that it’s generally only diagnosed by a routine mammogram, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the end, Frost’s unemployment was a happy accident, because it gave her the time to go for the mammogram she had been postponing for seven years.
Two weeks after starting a new job, Frost began her 18-month-round of chemotherapy. Because she didn’t want to be known as “the woman with breast cancer” in her new workplace, she hid her treatment from her coworkers, receiving her treatments toward the end of the week so the side effects would affect her less at work. Feeling like she hd the flu every Saturday, then like she had been hit by a truck on Sunday before returning to work on Monday became her new normal.
Around the same time she started chemotherapy, Frost discovered Team Survivor Northwest.
The organization’s mission is to provide a broad range of fitness and health education programs to enable cancer survivors or women at any stage of treatment or recovery to take an active role in their physical and emotional healing. Frost happened to join at the same time as another woman who had just been diagnosed, and felt a familial bond to the various women.
It was exactly what Frost felt like she needed.
“You feel a loss of control, like your body has betrayed you when you’re diagnosed,” she said. “I felt like I had to prove something to myself. I had to reclaim my body, my mind, some power over what was happening to me.”
That’s not to say it was easy. The stress of her new job and her chemotherapy treatments took a toll on Frost. Some weekends, she said, she could barely get around the loop that she and her daughter would walk. By her last chemotherapy appointment, she was so drained, she could barely get out of her chair.