A survivor’s story: Focus on what’s important
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Nicole Piret was the last person her group of friends thought would get sick.
At 45, she could easily pass for being in her 30s.
The mother of a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old, she is a picture of health — active, strong and a nutritious eater.
But because of some family history of breast cancer, Piret was hyper vigilant. She got her first mammogram at 30, again at 35, and annually starting at 40. Both her grandmothers and an aunt died from breast cancer.
But her genetic tests came back without any mutations associated with increased cancer risk.
Then last April, she felt a dime-sized lump in her right armpit. “It was very noticeable,” she said, describing it like a pea, or a “hard round little ball.”
Piret went in and got an ultrasound and a mammogram. Doctors said she needed a biopsy.
While she waited during the weekend for the results, she took every bit of information she had and went on a Google crash course.
“I knew it was probably cancer,” Piret said. She was right.
“Even if you prepared, you are devastated,” she said. The hardest part was calling her mother and telling her kids.
Once over the initial shock, “I just decided to deal with it. You have a choice. Either deal with it with a positive attitude, or be angry and upset. Why not just move forward and deal with it the best you can?”
She let her friends feel the lump, so they would know what cancer can feel like.
In May, she had a lumpectomy, during which they took out the tumor and three lymph nodes, one of which was cancerous.
After the surgery, she was given a score of 23. An Oncotype DX score of 18 or lower indicates a cancer with a low risk of recurrence.
So, she started chemotherapy. She also elected for a scalp cooling treatment, which allowed her to keep about 50 percent of her strawberry blond curls.
After four rounds of chemo three weeks apart, Piret decided to go through with radiation treatments.
“My theory is to hit it with everything I’ve got now,” Piret said. “And give the best chance for no recurrence.” It was also a decision made as an additional precaution because she did not get a full mastectomy.
Piret continues traveling to Denver to see her doctors and begin radiation treatments, as they aren’t offered in Steamboat Springs.
She spends the weekends at home and weeks in Denver, going in each day for radiation and working from her hotel room.
Her last radiation treatment will be Nov. 2.
Piret decided to be very open with her kids and her friends.
“This community is amazing,” she said. During her six-month journey, “I saw how many people care.”
She also found out how many other people have gone through it.
When her daughters asked whether she really had to get radiation, she told them, “Yes, I do have to do this. This is the best chance I have to be around in 30 or 40 years.”
Piret now encourages her friends to be aware and get regular mammograms.
“If you are young and healthy and exercise, it doesn’t exclude you from the possibility of cancer,” she said. “It doesn’t discriminate. If I can get it, anyone can.”
Now nearing the end of the radiation treatments, it hasn’t been too terrible — all in all, Piret said. Medication has helped to combat some of the side effects, and her work was very supportive and accommodating in letting her work remotely.
She continued to exercise, though at a lower intensity, which she believes helped her recovery.
After she met her deductible, she had good insurance coverage through her job.
“The hardest part is being away from my family,” she said. “I can’t wait to be back here again.” Especially in time for ski season and the holidays.
Piret knows cancer can lay dormant for up to 20 years, and she will remain hyper-vigilant. But, the experience also “gives you great perspective on life,” she said. “It makes you pause and figure out what makes you happy and what brings you joy. And then it makes you focus on what is important.”
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