Breast Cancer Survivor
In recognition of October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are featuring a Q&A with survivor Amanda Glass. Through a routine mammogram, the 47-year-old was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) at age 44, but she actually was stage 4; it had metastasized to her liver. She started chemotherapy before the coronavirus outbreak and ended up contracting the virus and had about a 2% chance of surviving. During 2020, she had half her liver removed and had a mastectomy with reconstruction and continued her treatment.
During this time, she and her sister, Samantha McInturff — who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in March 2021 and is still undergoing treatment — also were caregivers for their stepmother, Julia Mote, diagnosed about the same time with stage 4 lung cancer.
What was your cancer prognosis?
I was young enough to have mammograms every two years. I already had had two mammograms annually, so I thought it was OK to wait two years. Fortunately, due to changing insurance, I decided to get my mammogram, even though it had only been 18 months. In October 2019, my mammogram came back showing a large lump on the back side of my breast, which explains why I never felt it. A biopsy confirmed IDC. They thought it was stage 2. But after a full body scan, they found it had jumped to my lymph nodes and my liver. I was now in stage 4.
To say I was shocked was an understatement. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, and I was an active, healthy yoga instructor. But I also knew cancer doesn’t discriminate because, ironically, I worked many years for the American Cancer Society (ACS) in the breast cancer division. When the patient navigator nurse handed me a brochure and booklet to help me understand my diagnosis, it felt surreal. The material she was handing me was the same material I had dropped off for them to use.
What treatment did you undergo?
Typically, stage 4 means no cure. They have a tried-and-true regimen that works quite well, but, statistically speaking, it was still scary. However, my oncologist was amazing and had another option to try. This plan didn’t follow the typical regimen and would be intense. He said I was young and healthy, so it was an option. He said it would be a difficult journey, and although there was a possibility of a cure, there also was a possibility they wouldn’t be able to get it all at once. But I knew if there was even a chance of a cure, I wanted to take it!
So I had seven months of chemotherapy, a radical right-side mastectomy with lymph nodes, left-lobe liver dissection and daily radiation for two months. To say it was intense is an understatement. I did natural things to help keep my body strong and kept a positive mind frame to keep going. I even continued to work full time as division manager for the Kennesaw Parks and Recreation Department the entire time.
What was it like also dealing with COVID-19?
At the time, no one knew what was happening. My entire family became sick during the Christmas holidays. I started coughing and running a high fever. I ended up in the emergency room and was admitted quickly because I was neutropenic (my bone marrow wasn’t producing any white blood cells) from round 4 of adriamycin and cyclophosphamide (AC) chemo. AC chemo is no joke and is nicknamed the Red Devil for a reason. It makes you terribly sick. Many come off it in the first round due to side effects, and this was my fourth round.
Contracting a virus during this time was very dangerous. My body had no defense against anything. I don’t remember anything after being admitted. Apparently, my lungs quickly became worse. They tested me for everything, but everything came back negative — no infection, flu, etc. They simply knew I tested positive for a virus, but they didn’t know what it was.
I ended up on a ventilator and quickly had to be put in a coma on life support. I continued to get worse. At one point, the vent was on 100% and I still was going downhill. My organs were starting to fail, and my kidneys went first. This typically is the beginning of the end. By now, most of my family was sick and couldn’t be in ICU with me. My baby sister, Meghan Camp, was the only one not sick and was with me the night I started slipping away. They told her to call the family because I probably wouldn’t make it through the night. But I did. I pulled through, and they very slowly began turning the vent down as I began to breathe on my own.
Describe what your hospital stay was like for you and your family.
This was in January 2020, so it was before the COVID restrictions hit. My family was sick during the time I was in ICU, so I had to recover without them. However, other family members and friends came to sit with me during my recovery.
It’s crazy because when you have been in a coma, your body doesn’t work right when you wake up. I was paralyzed, with tubes and wires all over me. I was confused as to what had happened physically. The only thing I knew and felt was beautiful love and light. I felt connected to God and everyone around me. It was precious because I wasn’t afraid, nor did I feel alone, even when I was.
I had nurses bathe me, change me and flip me until I learned how to move again. The doctors said it would take weeks or months of rehab to bounce back, and even then, I might have a “new normal.” However, as you can see, I don’t follow statistics and am a fierce fighter. I was able to walk out of ICU and go home, released to my brother-in-law since he’s a physical therapist, just a week later! And I didn’t even qualify for home rehab the week after that. My doctors and nurses kept saying they have never seen anything like it and that I was a true miracle and definitely “not normal.”
Two weeks after that ordeal, I had to go back on chemo and start rounds of Tamoxifen. That was brutal. By the end of that — and by the time I was scheduled to start my multiple surgeries — COVID hit full blast and everything started shutting down. Most surgeries were being postponed, but because mine were urgent, they pressed forward. I had my radical mastectomy and liver removal in March and April 2020 — completely alone. My family wasn’t even allowed to walk me in. They dropped me off at the door with a bag of personal items and I went in alone. These two surgeries were very difficult, especially the liver procedure, because not only were they serious, but the hospital staff was threadbare and stressed. I often couldn’t get help for a while after pushing a button. I wasn’t upset with them because they were doing the best they could in unprecedented circumstances. But it still made it really hard on me. I did the best I could, however, and kept pushing through.
How did you care for your stepmother when you were sick yourself?
My stepmother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer 24 hours before I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. We fought side by side and would share treatment stories to support each other. I was doing much better than she was, as her treatments weren’t keeping her cancer from spreading. She was going downhill quickly. My dad is legally blind, so Samantha and I took turns taking her to treatments. I was still working full time and in treatment, so my sister handled the brunt of their care. In March 2020, right before my surgeries, she went into home hospice. There wasn’t anything else they could do, so we did the best we could to make her comfortable. This was very emotional for me — taking care of her while I was still battling and unsure if I would make it. It was a traumatic time. I was grieving and in pain but couldn’t stop to process it properly. I had to keep taking care of her, my dad and myself. Julia, my stepmom since I was around 6, died March 16, 2020. This was during the tightest lockdown guidelines, and we weren’t even allowed to have a proper funeral. This was one of the most difficult times of my life because I had to find the will to keep going myself while battling cancer, survivor’s guilt and fear that I would end up the same.
To what do you attribute your survival?
Faith in God, hope (regardless of statistics), joy (no matter what happens), family and friends (their support and love) and tenacity (the fierce strength to fight and push through). During my battle, the city of Kennesaw’s employees, council, volunteers and residents truly rallied around and supported me. Kennesaw was there with love and support during my darkest time, and for that, I am truly thankful! Kennesaw will always have a special place in my heart.
What is your message about mammograms?
DO THEM! A mammogram saved my life. If I had put it off even six months to a year, I probably wouldn’t be here. Know your body and address any changes you see with your doctor. Report lumps and skin changes like rippling, rashes, red spots and nipple changes. Do not be afraid to get screened and biopsied, if needed. Many lumps are noncancerous, but you won’t know until you are checked. Early diagnosis is key to survival!
How are you doing now?
This June was my three-year cancer-free anniversary. I graduated from being screened every three months to every six months. This was a huge milestone for me! I am not only surviving but thriving. My body is strong and healthy. I even teach fitness classes, including power yoga. I teach mindfulness classes and workshops for those with trauma, anxiety, pain and PTSD. I consider it a win if I can help others get the understanding I received without going through what I went through. Seeing others heal and gain strength, peace, joy and hope makes what I went through worthwhile. I’m trying to pay it forward.
How did your ordeal change you?
I’m not afraid of pain, suffering or even death now. I have a deeper joy for life that only comes from deep gratitude. I honestly can say I am happier now than I ever have been because I was given a gift. I was given a deathbed perspective of life, a realization of what truly matters, and then allowed to go back and live the other half of my life with this understanding. Most people don’t get this until it’s too late. I’m thankful all the time. I treasure every day, every experience, and every breath. My pain is now my purpose. I share my story as often as I can to help support others during their time of suffering. I want to give them hope!