A life changing lump


Provided by Heather Whitcomb

Heather Whitcomb smiles with her oncologist Tobi Nwizu on her last day of chemo. Ever since she felt her lumb five years ago, her life instantly changed as she was struck with the news that she had invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer.

By Rachel Kim, Liberty High School - TX

Ever since she found her lump five years ago, life began to change for freshman volleyball coach Heather Whitcomb.

“When I first found a knot on my breast in mid-November, I scheduled my yearly exam and went to get it checked out and looked at,” Heather said. “The doctor told me that my breast felt dense and decided to send me to get a mammogram. The week after Thanksgiving break, I went in for my first initial mammogram, which the doctors had to call me back in to zoom in about 300% on the knot. After zooming in, the doctors were concerned and scheduled me for a biopsy.”

A week later, Heather was struck with life-changing news.

“On December 7, I got a call at work and was told that I had invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer,” Heather said. “At that point, I had let my family [and friends] know.”

Getting that call was devastating for Heather’s dad Michael, as he didn’t want to believe what he had heard.

Heather Whitcomb holding her daughter Harper after a few weeks completing radiation treatments. Heather had a few initial haircuts in order to help her daughter adjust to the changes that were about to happen. (Provided by Heather Whitcomb)

“I was kind of in disbelief,” Michael said. “My heart hurt [and] my brain wouldn’t shut down about my daughter.”

Close friend, Madi Fogarty, found it hard to comprehend how one of the most positive individuals in her life could be experiencing the effects of such a life-threatening disease.

“When Heather told me she had breast cancer I was completely taken back,” Fogarty said. “She was such a light and so full of life that I didn’t even expect that she was going through something so life changing.”

In order to help her battle and fight against cancer, Heather had to undergo numerous days of treatment.

“When I had a double mastectomy, I had all the tissue removed from both of my breasts and was notified when the results came back that I had 13 different types of cancers,” Heather said. “So, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and was required to have 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 32 days of radiation.”

With the amount of treatment she had to go through, Heather began to see both physical and mental changes happening throughout her body.

“My body changed immensely with me losing my hair, gaining 40 pounds, and being in menopause,” Heather said. “I [had also] lost my memory and struggled to remember certain [ideas and tasks].”

Watching the disease slowly overcome Heather was heartbreaking, causing Michael to consider the unknown.

“It broke my heart to know what she was going through,” Michael said. “I was [extremely] sad and scared that I would lose her.”

For Madi, the thought of finding ways to support Heather during her fight constantly circulated in her mind.

“I kept thinking to myself ways to help make this time easier for her,” Fogarty said. “So, there were multiple times where I would run errands for her, do her grocery shopping, bring her meals, and drop off and pick up her daughter, Harper, from daycare.”

Madi, however, was not the only person who had wanted to express their love and care towards Heather as her dad supported her every step of the way.

“I shaved my head in support of her and did a fundraiser and raised a thousand dollars to help her,” Michael said. “Some of the money was used to have eyebrows tattooed on to make her seem more normal and feminine and for her treatments too.”

The help and warmth she received from her family and friends made Heather realize there was still generosity and compassion in the community around her.

“Breast cancer restored my faith in humanity,” Heather said. “The whole community, my friends, and my family surrounded me with love and support and I never had to go without. It was crazy seeing everybody come together to help me in the best way they knew how.”

Heather stands with her nurses on her last day of radiation. Heather was able to handle her issues one day at a time, and Cancer had taught her how fragile health can be. “I advocate for women to be proactive by going to yearly check-ups, getting their mammograms done,” Heather said.
(Provided by Heather Whitcomb)

For her dad, Heather’s journey gave him a clearer understanding of the vulnerability of life and power and strength of hope and positivity.

“I realized just how fragile that your health and life itself really are and that a positive attitude can really make a difference,” Michael said. “Some people get angry or feel sorry for themselves, but Heather did not. She took it one day at a time and handled her issues like a champion.”

Heather hopes that individuals not only understand the potential danger of cancer but also the significance of taking charge when it comes to their health.

“Cancer does not discriminate and does not care what color your skin is or how old you are,” Heather said. “That is why I advocate for women to be proactive by going to yearly check-ups, getting their mammograms done, and speaking out if they feel anything different because anything can change in years and you are the only person who knows if something has changed.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on October 26, 2022.