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Patient Continues to ‘Enjoy the Joy’ Despite Breast Cancer

Editor’s note: In this guest-written article, UAB Medicine patient Haley Isbell shares her perspective on being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.

What do you do when, at 31 years old and two days after Christmas, you’re told you have breast cancer? You grab an Uber, make your 7 pm dinner reservations, and then go see St. Paul and the Broken Bones live at the Alabama Theatre.

At least that’s what I did after a general surgeon called me following an ultrasound-guided biopsy and told me I had breast cancer. You only get a couple of defining moments in your life, and that conversation was definitely one of them. But when the concert reminder popped up on my phone as I sat in the imaging waiting room that afternoon waiting to get my first mammogram to “assess the damage”, I texted my mother-in-law and made sure she was still up for a night out. Because, hello? I have a life to live.

Trusting Her Care Team

A CT scan would hint at – and a bone scan would later confirm – that my triple positive cancer had spread to my bones. Stage 4. I’ve always been an overachiever, but even for me this was impressive. (That’s a joke, guys.) In the days and weeks that followed and as my treatment plan became more clear, it also became obvious that life wasn’t going to slow down just because I was “sick.” Don’t get me wrong. Things were different. Things are different. I have stage 4 breast cancer, for goodness sake. But I didn’t stop being Haley, and the world didn’t stop spinning for little ol’ me. And thank goodness for that.

I Googled stage 4 breast cancer exactly once after that first CT scan and never since. I’m a firm believer that ignorance is bliss, and trust is imperative in times like these. So from the very beginning, I’ve chose to trust Dr. (Carla) Falkson and the entire UAB Medicine staff with my care.

I’m happy to share that I have had amazing results as I continue on what will end up being a lifelong journey of treatment. Every three weeks I head to The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital for infusion therapy. Currently, I am on Herceptin, Perjeta, and Taxotere. This cocktail is working very well for me, and my last set of scans confirmed that my bones are healing and that my tumor is shrinking into oblivion. But enough about cancer.

Since being diagnosed, I have truly lived my best life. Your whole life you fear getting sick. Then it happens, and you realize that life goes on. It has to. With two small kids (ages 2 ½ and 5 months when I was diagnosed) and a hardworking husband at home, I knew I couldn’t let cancer define me or us for that matter. It wouldn’t be fair to them for me to let this disease sour what is otherwise a beautiful time in our lives. So you focus on the best things: the dance recitals, the crawling for the first time, the six-year wedding anniversary, and the new playhouse in the backyard, because that’s what life's all about – not a couple of cells that decided to go haywire and form a tumor.

 

Life Goes On

I know it sounds like I’m oversimplifying, but that’s exactly how I’ve had to deal with this. I’m going to be okay because I have to be. I’ve told people when they ask how I am, “There’s joy in every single day.” Although it reads like a cliché Hallmark card, it’s true. If there’s a day I don’t feel good, there’s still not a moment in that day that I would trade. A giggle or a kiss from my babies. A funny text from a friend. A Hootie & the Blowfish song on the radio.

I’ve got an absolutely amazing life, which is why I see the sadness in people’s eyes when they learn I’m sick. It doesn’t seem fair for someone my age – with the many blessings I have and so much life left to live – to have to deal with something so scary for the rest of my life. But it’s for that reason that I’m willing and ready to deal with it for the rest of my life. I want to fulfill my potential, be here to be grateful for all God has given me, and most of all, be here to enjoy the joy in every single day.

Being treated at UAB Medicine is one of the blessings I don’t take for granted. The staff, my doctors, the other patients, the nurses; everybody is part of my healing process. It’s crazy to say that I look forward to treatment days, but I do for two reasons. One: The drugs are working. Two: I always meet someone who gives me greater insight into my own situation. I make a point to talk to people, learn their stories, and encourage them, because everyone I come in contact with at UAB is doing the same for me.

Some people hate hospitals, but in my experience over the last nine months, The Kirklin Clinic is a place of hope and triumph. I’m proud to be Team UAB, and my thoughts are with all the survivors and those still battling this disease.

Learn more about breast cancer treatment at UAB Medicine.