"It started as a routine exam, and I didn't think anything of running additional tests. I thought they were being overly cautious - turns out, I'm so glad they were."
The last thing that Andie Nicoles expected to learn about during her prenatal appointment was breast cancer. After all, she had just come in for her very first appointment, 12 weeks along with her second child. “Dr. McClintock was giving me a routine exam, making sure that I was healthy and things were progressing normally,” Andie recalls. “She did find a lump in my left breast and decided to run some tests just to be sure it was nothing. I didn’t think anything of it, especially since she is my new doctor – Dr. VanCuren took care of me during my first pregnancy. I actually thought she was being overly cautious – turns out, I’m so glad that she was.”
The initial tests that were run led to more tests, including an ultrasound, mammogram, and core needle biopsy. “During this progression of tests, Dr. McClintock brought Dr. Hall into the situation and they worked together to determine what we needed to do and what the results of these tests indicated,” says Andie. “I remember April 10, 2014 so vividly because it was the day they officially told me that it was breast cancer. It was shocking to say the least – I’m only 34 and pregnant with my second child. Pregnancy and cancer aren’t supposed to go together!”
She admits that she didn’t hear much of what was said past when they had said cancer. “I’m a girl who likes to have a plan, but at that point, we didn’t have one yet,” she says. “Waiting from Thursday when they told me to Tuesday when I came in to learn about my treatment plan was so hard for me. The entire time, I was trying to be positive, but I have a habit of preparing for the worst and expecting the best. I just don’t think a breast cancer diagnosis is something you can ever prepare yourself for.”
As she discussed her treatment options with Dr. Hall, they strategized on how to treat her grade 3 cancer diagnosis – the highest grade and most aggressive form of cancer – all while considering how to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Andie had a lumpectomy to remove the lump from her left breast and then waited until her second trimester to begin the chemotherapy sessions, with Dr. Harwood as her oncologist.
Additional testing has revealed that she is also a genetic carrier of the BRCA-1 gene. It is this gene mutation that leads to a significantly increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women. “Finding this has actually opened the door to getting testing done in my other siblings,” comments Andie. She has two older brothers and one older sister. “My family history had indicated that this could be a possibility, because I knew that my grandma and great-grandma on my dad’s side both passed away from breast cancer. A second cousin on my dad’s side was identified as a genetic carrier, but even knowing that, I didn’t think it would directly affect me. But I’m glad we have such a complete picture of family history so I can understand how and why this happened, and so the rest of my family can be tested and informed.”
Through this entire experience, Andie has been overwhelmed with the amount of support she has received from friends, family, coworkers, and the community. Her husband Dave has also been there every step of the way. “I’m so grateful for all that’s been done so far for me along this journey,” she says. “My coworkers and friends banded together for support, without even giving me the option of telling them not to do that,” she laughs. And they really have banded together, calling themselves ‘Andie’s Army’ as they sell bracelets and complete breast cancer awareness walks in the area.
So what’s next for her? After she delivers in October, she plans to undergo a double mastectomy with reconstruction to decrease her chances of developing breast cancer again. But we have no doubt that her positivity and strength from this experience will carry on into that one. “I have a plan, and I’ll stick to it… and then, I’ll get to my plan of enjoying our newest addition to the family, our life and all that it has yet in store for me,” she says. That sounds like a great plan to us, Andie!