BETHESDA, Md. - More than two years after the global outbreak of COVID-19 and numerous variants later, the ongoing pandemic continues to impact, if not sometimes halt, everyday life across the country and in the DMV.
Unfortunately, people who are battling life-threatening illnesses don't have the luxury of hitting pause.
Our own Ayesha Khan is one of them, as she deals with stage 3 breast cancer. Ayesha has been off air since October to take care of her health.
In the personal narrative below, the FOX 5 reporter and DMV native is sharing her story, as part of a series called "Cancer: Fight over Fear," to help others who are navigating through a similar experience and path.
Thursday, Feb. 3 was chemo number 5 for me.
I’ll be sitting in a reclining chair for a whole day, every week, for the next 11 weeks at the Aquilino Cancer Center located within Adventist HealthCare in Rockville, Maryland.
These days, I am deep into this life-saving treatment. Since Dec. 8, I have already completed four very intense rounds of this life-saving treatment. And each time, I am leaving feeling achy, exhausted, and totally drained.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 in 8 women in their lifetime, will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.
And just like any woman, I never imagined being that statistic.
Back in my 20s, I told every doctor I ever saw about a small but hard tissue build-up creeping in underneath my right breast.
After all, breast cancer runs in my family on both sides.
One physician even sent me for a mammogram being that young but nothing alarming popped up.
Fast forward to July 2021 – just a few months shy of my 40th birthday – the tissue build up was getting bigger, and painful, causing part of my breast to visibly begin changing shape.
After a mammogram, an ultrasound, and an MRI, I went in for a biopsy.
A week later, while I was on assignment, I got the dreaded phone call. It was cancer, stage 2.
"Breast cancer is a disease of aging breasts. Really, the only risk factors you need to have are being a woman and having breasts and getting older," explained Dr. Sonya Kella, Women’s Imaging Director for Adventist HealthCare.
My world came crashing down. How is this even possible? I think to myself, "‘I’m too young to have the C- word!’"
Plus I work out, eat well, and am in pretty good health overall, so what gives?
"While we set screening guidelines to start at the age of 40 as a routine exam, women with higher risk would likely need to start earlier than that," Dr. Kella said.
The hardest part was telling news of the diagnosis to my mom, brother, and sister.
We were and still are, dealing and grieving with the immense pain of suddenly losing our father. He accidentally fell to his death from a four-story apartment building while working, on Feb. 17, 2021.
The tumor was classified as invasive ductal carcinoma. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, that happens when abnormal cells growing in the lining of the milk ducts change and invade breast tissue beyond the walls of the duct.
"Young women can get estrogen progesterone receptor-positive tumors that are allegedly less aggressive. And they are, but can still spread in lymph nodes and spread elsewhere," explained Dr. Colette Magnant, of Maryland Oncology Hematology.
Magnant who is also my personal breast surgeon is board certified in general surgery, specializing in advanced breast surgery techniques, including skin and nipple-sparing mastectomies and minimally invasive breast-conserving surgeries.
The tumor was in two different places, right behind the nipple. One was 2.8 center meters in size, the other, 1.1.
The diagnosis forced me to quickly make a decision about fertility and freeze my eggs, known as cryopreservation. It’s a very uncomfortable, tedious not to mention, an expensive out-of-pocket process. But it was important to me because most cancer treatments can cause infertility in pre-menopausal women.
Meanwhile, Magnant explained to me, she would do everything she can to surgically spare the nipple but to also be prepared for losing the entire breast.
"What we wanted to do was to try and take out the cancer with some surrounding tissue because that was the best prognosis in terms of not coming back in the breast area itself," Magnant said.
Part 2 of "Cancer: Fight over Fear," aired on Thursday Feb. 17 where Ayesha shared her life post single mastectomy.
Meanwhile, there are a number of resources available within the DMV that could help you or someone you know, going through cancer and treatment.
Located within The Aquilino Cancer Center is the Bill Richards Center for Healing which is currently offering virtual education seminars that include essential strategies to mitigate side effects, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing breaks in treatment and promoting healing. More information can be found on the center’s website at https://www.aquilinocancercenter.com/healingcenter
Many patients, depending on the course of their treatment, tend to lose their hair or experience significant hair thinning. Items like head wigs (synthetic and human hair) scarves, hats, beanies, and any other scalp gear can be very expensive even with insurance but the Aquilino Cancer Center can assist with providing those items for free or at low cost.
Through the generous financial help from family, friends, and local business community, Ayesha was able to obtain a wig from the Frederick Wig Company. The boutique, located in downtown Frederick, is owned by Rachel Anne Warren. She sells ready-made medical wigs and hairpieces.
Warren’s passion behind her business is personal after she had been diagnosed with androgenic alopecia, a genetically determined disorder that causes hair loss.
Ayesha will also be sharing ways to obtain financial assistance for those who might want to try a cooling cap during their treatments. More details on what that is and how it works will be shared in the coming week.
Below are many other resources that could be helpful and useful.
Pink Cancer Treatment Foundation: www.pnkctf.org or 1-855-PNK-CURE
The Pink Fund: www.pinkfund.org or 1-877-234-PINK
The Donna Foundation: https://thedonnafoundation.org or 1-877-236-6626
Smiley Wiley Breast Cancer Foundation: www.smileywiley.org or 561-632-8631
Donna M. Saunders Foundation: http://dmsfinc.com
Cancer Care: www.cancercare.org/financial or 1-800-813-HOPE
Health Well Foundation: www.healthwellfoundation.org or 1-800-675-8416
For 3 Sisters: www.f3s.org or 301-812-9003
Hopkins Breast Cancer Foundation: https://hopkinsbcinc.org or 301-755-6253
Help Now Fund: http://thebreastcancercharities.org/help-now-fund or 936-231-8460
Family Reach: https://familyreach.org/family-eligibility (children must be impacted to apply)
Cleaning For A Reason: www.cleaningforareason.org or 1-877-337-3348
American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services or 1-800-227-2345
Step Sisters: www.stepsisters.org; must contact nurse navigator for assistance 571-472-0744
American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/about-us/local/virginia.html or 703-938-5550
Hope Scarves: www.hopescarves.org or 502-333-9715
Bravadas: https://bravadas.com or 703-352-4247
TLC: www.tlcdirect.org or 1-800-850-9445
The Pink Lily: www.thepinklily.net or 855-746-5545
Knitted Knockers: www.knittedknockers.org or 360-595-3278
Mary’s Place By The Sea: www.marysplacebythesea.org or 732-455-5344
Little Pink Houses of Hope: www.littlepink.org or 336-213-4733
Breast Cancer Freebies: www.breastcancerfreebies.com
The Lydia Project: www.thelydiaproject.org or 1-877-593-4212
Magic Hour: www.magichour.org (free family photo shoot)
For journalists who are navigating a similar health-related path and are seeking financial help:
For affordable and low cost scans and mammograms:
Breast Care for Washington