It seems like something everyone tries to hold on to. A feeling of wanting something to work out for the better so badly, but a sense that is sometimes so undeniably hard to fathom having when you are faced with some of the most unthinkable tragedies this world has to offer. But sometimes, hope is all we have to get us through.

I was 37 years old when my world was flipped upside down. It was almost the end of 2018. My husband and I had been married for nine years, and I was a mother to two young children - our two precious boys were four years old and just seven months old--Babies.

I was an elementary school teacher on maternity leave, trying to enjoy what was left of my time off. Then, on the night of December 9th, my world stopped. My kids were with my husband, and I was in my room changing my clothes. My left breast felt weird. Itchy. Like I wanted to scratch my skin off, itchy. It was red and inflamed, so I knew something was wrong. And that’s when I started to feel around, and I found a lump.

The days that followed were consumed by doctors and scans and imaging and poking and feeling and looking, and by the end of that same week, just five days after I discovered a lump - a biopsy. That was rough. I was thirty-seven years old, literally two babies at home, and my life was about to change. All of our lives were about to change drastically. As I was lying on that table, awake, the doctor trying to make light of the situation as best as he could and the nurse squeezing my hand at any sign of discomfort, what did I do in that very moment? I had hope. I hope that it’s nothing. I hope that if it is something, it’s not that bad. I hope that whatever it is can be cured. I hope that at 37 years old, with a 7-month-old baby at home and a 4-year-old child at home, I’ll be able to see them grow up. There’s nothing left to do but to hope because if I give up hope, that’s when the darkness sets in, and the darkness cannot come in. I have two babies at home. They need me.

  A few days later, after waiting for a lifetime, the results came in. Breast cancer. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Not sure what stage yet. More information to follow. Now it’s game time. Forget about maternity leave. I’m a mom of two young kids with a husband who works long hours. Now, it’s breast surgeons and figuring out the next steps and… hope. Hope now that this cancer is not too advanced. Hope that I can still parent my kids. Hope that I am not going to die. But keep hoping. Don’t let that darkness in.

Over the course of that week, I had gotten more information about my breast cancer. I found out it was stage 3, which was advanced, but it wasn’t stage 4 (silver linings), that it’s hormone-positive, and her 2 -, which means that it has the potential to respond more effectively to treatments and that chemo was the next course of action. What to do now? Hope. Hope that the chemo kills it all. Hope I can get through this. Hope that I can handle it when my hair falls out. Hope that my kids are not affected. Hope that I can still act like a mother and spend time with my baby. Hope that my husband has it in him to handle what is coming.
But I could feel the darkness coming. My hope was slipping. The clouds were closing. I was scared, rightfully so. I went from maternity leave to disability leave in a matter of weeks. I was thrown into a world I never imagined I’d be at 37 years old. I had just had a baby. How am I supposed to do this?? I kept searching for answers on how to parent kids while battling breast cancer, but I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I just had to hold on to hope, as hard as it was to do at this time.

I started chemo on January 16th, 2019, just two weeks after my 38th birthday. Some birthday this was. Sixteen weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy with reconstruction; expanders. Here’s the hope again. Now we hope I heal quickly, we hope the cancer didn’t spread, and we hope the expanders work. During the reconstruction, it was discovered I did have lymph node involvement. And two weeks after my expanders were placed, I ended up with infections. So, the expanders came out, I was closed up and I went on to 28 rounds of proton radiation.

Here’s the hope again…. Please let this be over soon. Hope that my infections heal. Hope that I can lift my arms again soon. Hope the pain subsides quickly. Hope that the radiation kills whatever cancer is left in me. Hope that I don’t have burns from the radiation. Hope that I have the strength to go on with this torture.

But this torture is how I fight to make sure that I’m here for my kids. My kids were my hope, strength, and how I got out of bed every day throughout this craziness.

I finished radiation in October of 2019, 10 months of the most intense, grueling kind of treatment that a body can endure. Or try to endure, as it breaks your entire being down. I chose to remain flat as I didn’t want anything else placed inside my body, and I wanted to get back to my life and my kids. Those 10 months were rough. I had every possible side effect known. I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally, and I had to figure out a way to pick myself up and put myself back together. But I had no idea how. I equate it to a strong storm passing through a town. Maybe even a tornado. It comes, it rips everything apart, and then leaves. And you are left picking up the pieces, trying to figure out how to clean it up and put back together what remains. And you hope. You hope you have the strength or can somehow find the power to do it. It might take some time and lots of help from others from your support circle, but all you can do is hope. Hope that you’ll get to the other side of this and that you can one day look at this journey like it’s so far off in that rearview mirror.
So here we are…April of 2022. In October of 2021 I celebrated 2 years of no evidence of disease. My kids are doing amazingly well, and my oldest will be 8 in June. My little one will be 4 in just a few days. My husband has been our rock.

I do have lots of residual side effects, but for the most part I can say that I’m doing okay! I never went back to teaching. Throughout my journey, I became a blogger, documenting every part of my story. I love writing and found that this is my niche… writing, blogging, sharing, helping, advocating and educating. So, I actually switched careers from teaching to helping others with their breast cancer journeys! I now work for the YWCA Princeton in NJ at their very own Breast Cancer Resource Center. I help educate the community on prevention and early detection, help newly diagnosed navigate, and help advocate. I help younger women with young children navigate this awful disease and facilitate a 45 and under support group. I want to be a positive impact in the breast cancer community. I want to speak motivationally and eventually piece together my writings for my own book!
In November of 2019, I was chosen to meet Hoda Kotb of NBC’s Today Show on the Dr. Oz Show to talk about the word hope and how it helped me throughout my journey. I guess it’s safe to say that all the hoping I did help because it ensured that I never gave up and that as hard as my life was during those months, my time to shine was coming. Was my hope a constant thing? To be honest, no. Sometimes I lost sight of it, but I always found a way to get it back. Now I just hope that I remain a survivor for as long as I can.

Hope. It’s a powerful word.
Michele Schwartz lives in Manalapan, NJ with her husband Jason and their two amazing sons, Matthew and Ryan.  She works for the YWCA Princeton NJ’s Breast Cancer Resource Center as a Program and Outreach Coordinator. Michele loves to write and has been blogging throughout her entire breast cancer journey. When she is not out educating and advocating, she can be found spending time with her boys, her husband, family and friends.  Family time is her favorite time. She also loves the beach, anything Summer related, great wine and loves sports. She’s a huge NY Giants and NY Yankees fan. 
Social Media: 
Instagram - @momssurvivingcancer
Facebook- Michele Brown Schwartz 
Published on 4/28/11

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published