Audra: Breast Cancer Survivor
Dedicated to tomorrow's love
As a newly married couple Audra and Paul were looking forward to starting their new life together. They were young, healthy, and eager to venture into new careers and to share new experiences. However, when Audra was diagnosed with stage I medullary breast cancer two months into their marriage, everything changed, and would continue to change more than they could have imagined.
In September of 2004, Audra found a lump in her breast and went to have it checked. Thanks to the urging of her husband, however, Audra decided to make an appointment for a second opinion at Yale Cancer Center. A biopsy confirmed Audra's diagnosis. “If it wasn't for my husband I wouldn't be here today. It was because of his persistence and encouragement that I pursued the lump and had it checked out further,” said Audra. Audra had a lumpectomy and received radiation treatment and by October of 2005 she was beginning her recovery.
A year to the day that Audra received her diagnosis, she drove her husband Paul to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. A few hours later he was being rushed by ambulance to Yale Cancer Center where he was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). He had an extremely high white blood cell count and his outlook was bleak. Paul received aggressive chemotherapy and was in Yale-New Haven Hospital for 25 days. Paul comments on his physician at Yale Cancer Center, Peter Marks, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Hematology, by saying, “He was the first doctor that made me feel comfortable and that I felt really cared. I am so blessed to have him as my physician.” After chemotherapy, Paul continued with chemo-maintenance for two and a half years where his white blood cells were monitored to make sure they were decreasing in number. Today, thankfully, they are both in remission.
When Paul was diagnosed with leukemia, Audra was still in recovery from breast cancer. “It was extremely scary. I had no idea what was going to happen. I was just recovering from my own cancer and now I was watching my husband struggle. Seeing the person that you love most in life suffer is unbearable and heart wrenching. For the first time in my life I felt completely vulnerable,” Audra said. She moved into the hospital to be with Paul during his chemotherapy. “My wife is a hero in every sense of the word, not just my hero, but a true hero,” Paul said. Both Paul and Audra agree that they could not have asked for a better support system than the one they found in each other.
Because Audra's cancer is indicative of a genetic mutation, she had genetic testing done after receiving counseling from Ellen Matloff, MS, Director of Cancer Genetic Counseling at Yale Cancer Center. “Ellen was a godsend to me. She was amazing and helped me understand the procedures and tests,” Audra said. Audra tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Although the couple is now dealing with fertility issues, they are glad they have all the genetic information they need to monitor their health.
Having come through this experience together Audra and Paul are extremely close and have learned a lot about each other along the way. Although cancer put their lives on hold, they are closer and more positive than ever before. “Having to manage both the physical and emotional pain of cancer has given me clarity and a heightened sense of perspective and awareness in my life. As horrific as cancer is, it led me to confront my own raw emotions. I realized that you only have one life and if you want inner peace and happiness then you must believe in yourself in order to achieve the goals that looked insurmountable before cancer changed your perspective. I now know how important it is to find someone that you truly love,” Audra said.
Audra, who was a high school English teacher, has now decided to write a book about young adults and cancer. She notes that there are not a lot of books, if any, that deal with this issue. Even though everyone's experience with cancer is different, she wants to be able to connect and talk with young people about what they are going through. Both Paul and Audra speak with young people who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. “Suffering leads to humanity, the worst and best of it. When you suffer in this way you look at people differently, and you look at life differently. You are more in tune with other people's suffering and therefore are in a better position to help,” Paul explained.
“When we tell people that we've had cancer they don't believe us. Having cancer this young changes everything, but we are closer and have a more positive outlook on life now,” the couple said. They are focused on helping people and giving back, which is something they have always wanted to do. Audra and Paul remain a young, healthy, and eager couple ready to begin their new life together; only this time around they know exactly what they are living for.