Finding Light in Cancer’s Shadow: Alana Auslander-Price
2012- Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer
2014—Tumor Discovered on sternum
2018—Lymph nodes pressing on airway
Summer 2019—Spots found on her lungs
It was during the summer while she was teaching at her high school’s band camp when Alana discovered she had breast cancer. “I was having pain in my left breast during band camp, I thought that maybe it had to do with my menstrual cycle so I let it go for a month to see if it would go away, and it didn’t,” she explains. “So, I started feeling around and I felt a hard spot, so I made an appointment to see my OB/GYN.” Alana and her husband were trying to get pregnant with their second child, and they had just been in to see the doctor a few months earlier, but she hadn’t detected anything wrong with Alana’s breast. This time she did. “I was only 37 and I’d never had a mammogram,” she says.
“I had a mammogram, but it was inconclusive because of the dense breast tissue that most young women have. Thankfully my doctor is very aggressive with her testing and I had an ultrasound, and they found two masses in my left breast and inflammation under the armpit which made them believe there was lymph node involvement. They ordered biopsies and they all came back positive.”
The doctor told Alana that she had to have a mastectomy on that breast due to the two large lumps, and they couldn’t do lumpectomies. She opted to have both breasts removed just to be safe. While the surgery was taking place, the doctors found that the lymph nodes under that arm had grown into a big clump. Twenty-four were removed and 13 were positive for cancer.
“It became medically necessary to do a full body scan, and once they did, they found the cancer had metastasized to my liver and my spin, so I was at Stage 4,” she says.
Alana began chemotherapy and hormone therapy and by March of the following year she was in remission. They stopped the infusion chemotherapy and Alana stayed on the hormone therapy pills, but about a year later, in 2014, she began having extreme chest pain. “We were working on our school musical, and I thought I’d broken a rib. I kept holding an ice pack on my chest to relieve the pain.”
Her doctor discovered a tumor on her sternum. Alana had radiation on the sternum and started a new round of chemotherapy. She was in remission for three years, but in 2018 she developed an incessant cough. Scans were done once again, and it was discovered that her lymph nodes were pressing against her airway. They did a biopsy and discovered that her cancer had mutated. She began new oral medications and the lumps receded almost immediately, giving her relief from the coughing, yet at the beginning of the summer of 2019 she began coughing again and spots were discovered on her lungs. She underwent another round of chemotherapy treatments.
On her three year ‘cancer-versary’ Alana had a dragonfly tattooed on her chest.
“My scars always looked like wings to me,” she says. The artist drew it freehand on my chest.” She wanted it to incorporate my family into the design, so she had ivy drawn in a heart shape around it, adorned by flowers that are the birthstone colors for her husband and daughter.
Losing her hair was the most difficult part for her. “I know that sounds vain. It was so hard for me to comprehend I had cancer because I did not physically feel sick, but then I went to the mirror and saw myself without hair and I looked sick. That’s the issue with women, most of the time. It’s not the vanity, it’s when you see yourself for the first time as a cancer patient.”
“I’ve learned through the process that telling your story is really important and that we all learn from each other. Nobody’s journey is the same. Even if I have the same diagnosis as someone else, our journeys are going to be so different. Listening and talking to each other is important. I share my story all the time.”