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Defying Cancer's Toll: A Journey of Faith, Family, and Self-Discovery

Heather Field, a wife, mother of two, and business owner always made time for everything and everyone – except herself. Despite being young and healthy, the chest pain and high blood pressure she originally wrote off as stress and anxiety turned into a diagnosis of stage II breast cancer. Heather met with Carlos A. Encarnación, M.D., FACP, at Texas Oncology–Waco, who had previously treated her mother-in-law's breast cancer a decade prior.

Confident that she was in the best hands, Heather was ready to fight cancer alongside her loved ones, including her husband of 23 years, Cody. However as her physicial body began changing and her hair fell out, Heather felt unprepared for the mental and emotional toll of cancer on not just herself, but her family as well. Feeling like she lost her identity, she decided to lean heavily on her faith, family, and friends, which ultimately helped her come to an understanding that we are so much more than our hair.

Hear Heather's story and how she discovered a new admiration for her body as a cancer survivor.

Transcript

Ted Canova: A woman faces cancer, one day at a time, head on.

Heather Field: I woke up every morning after I shaved my head. And I would touch my head. And it was like, yep, you have cancer.

Ted Canova: Hi and welcome back to Right Here, a podcast from Texas Oncology who knows that family and friends are a huge part of cancer treatment, so being right here makes a difference. For expert cancer care, go to Texas Oncology.com. I'm Ted Canova. There's a public face of cancer and a private one.

Heather Field: Hi, I'm Heather Field. I live in Waco, Texas, and I'm a cancer survivor.

Ted Canova: For Heather, she had both faces. Married with two kids, she also owns pediatric therapy clinics with two business partners, so life was fast and furious.

Heather Field: Your feet hit the floor of the morning and you run through the day. And then you collapse in bed at night only to start it all over again.

Ted Canova: Luckily, Heather has a teammate in Cody, her husband of 23 years. Together, they're accustomed to tag-teaming family life.

Heather Field: We do what every other family does, we just make it happen.

Heather Field: Both the kids are in sports; Taylor was heavy in volleyball. Right now, she's a freshman at Baylor University. And then Shane is all things sports, cross country, basketball, he also shows pigs. We may be doing Waco symphony bell with, big ballgowns or we may be bathing pigs in a wash pan.

Ted Canova: What Heather didn't have time for was herself.

Heather Field: I probably neglect myself and don't always pay attention to what my body's telling me.

Ted Canova: Her chest pains and high blood pressure? Well, she figured it was just stress and anxiety.

Heather Field: And in hindsight, I feel like my body was trying to tell me something was going on. So, I talked to my doctor, and he referred me over to go get some testing done. I thought everything was going well. When I was on the treadmill, the staff member that was conducting the test said, are you okay? And I said, Oh, great, I'm fine. But that's kind of my M.O., I'm fine. I'm fine. Everything's fine. And she said, Well, we&'re going to stop the test.

Ted Canova: On one hand, Heather thought she passed.

Heather Field: And then on the other hand, I thought, oh, here we go.

Ted Canova: Here we go because Heather's Mom died very young of heart issues.

Heather Field: When I took my blood pressure it was so high that the doctor said go to the ER. So, I went to the ER, and they did a heart catheter on me, and they were like, You are too young for this, we do not see people this young coming in. 

Ted Canova: Heather wasn't just young; she exercised her body and her mind.

Heather Field: And then in January, it was time for my routine mammogram. When I went in, I've had dense breast tissue always. And so, it wasn't uncommon for them to say, Oh, we see some things, but you're okay. If you don't hear from us, everything's great. Otherwise, we'll give you a call.

Ted Canova: Soon, that call came.

Heather Field: When they called two days later and said, Hey, we need you to come in. I thought, it's likely going to be cancer.

Ted Canova: Likely, but not definite. Doctors spotted something suspicious, so Heather had a mammogram, went on a family vacation, and scheduled an ultrasound for when she returned.

Heather Field: It was supposed to be one of those times that it was going to be just for family, just peace in the water and all of those things. And it was until the day before I left to go get the ultrasound. And I was just a wreck.

Ted Canova: Until the diagnosis was certain, Heather and Cody decided not to tell and not to worry the kids.

Heather Field: So I go in for the ultrasound. And that's when the mass was determined that it was likely cancer. The radiologists came in and she didn't say yes, this is breast cancer. She said, you've done all that you can do, now we're going to refer you for a biopsy.

Ted Canova: A few days later, the surgeon called and confirmed it- Heather had stage 2 breast cancer.

Heather Field: And immediately I was like, well what do we do? Let's get started. I went and met with Dr. Encarnacion at Texas Oncology. Ironically, like, Hi, we're back.

Ted Canova: Ironically, because Dr. Encarnacion was the same doctor who treated Heather's mother-in-law 10 years earlier. That provided reassurance and trust.

Heather Field: Oh, 100%. I think knowing Dr. E, from the treatment of my mother-in-law during her breast cancer brought us a security a confidence. We knew we were getting the best care at Texas Oncology with Dr. E's team.

Dr. Encarnacion: I am Dr. Carlos Encarnacion. Medical Oncologist in Texas Oncology, Waco.

Ted Canova: Most breast cancers occur after menopause, in one's 50s or 60s.

Dr. Encarnacion: That said, there are patients who will have cancer of the breast early in life like Heather did. And if there is any important message out of that is you're never too young to have breast cancer. So, if there's anything that feels abnormal in the breast, it should not be dismissed as nothing, it should be evaluated properly.

Heather Field: So we sat down with him. And he basically told us that we're going to meet as a team, Texas Oncology meets with the surgeon everything and then develop your plan of care.

Ted Canova: The survival rate for Heather's type of cancer was 98%, reassurance for when they told the kids.

Heather Field: It was very important for Cody and me, that we manage this journey as a family because cancer is multi-dimensional. It's not just me, it's all of them.

Ted Canova: Heather's treatment plan called for 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 21 rounds of radiation and a lumpectomy.

Heather Field: A lot of people call it the Red Devil. We called it the red soldier because it was fighting for us.

Dr. Encarnacion: We gave her chemotherapy before the surgery with the purpose of shrinking the cancer, make the surgery easier, and hopefully prevent the cancer from spreading before she had the chance to have it removed.

Heather Field: It was a pretty hard couple of weeks. And we went to Kentucky for a volleyball tournament. And I got a phone call, and found out that we were BRCA negative, which was huge.

Ted Canova: Huge because that meant Heather likely couldn't pass the gene onto her children.

Heather Field: This feeling of relief was incredible.

Ted Canova: By day 14 of chemo, Heather started to lose her hair, so to help normalize things a bit, she made an event out of it.

Heather Field: I had a party with my husband and 10 to 12 of my best friends. And I sat with them in a circle around me in a chair, no mirror, but I saw my reflection in all of their eyes.

Ted Canova: And what was being reflected?

Heather Field: It was reflecting strength, joy, and beauty. In those friends that were looking back at me I could see myself and I knew we were going to fight as hard as we could.

Ted Canova: Heather's hair loss took her cancer from private to public.

Dr. Encarnacion: It's tough, it is a clear sign in your eyes, in the eyes of everybody that there is something wrong going on with you. so it's a reflection of the cancer, maybe it's that's more than just losing the hair, it's just a sign of cancer being present, and chemo being given and, and that that increases the level of stress.

Heather Field: My face is not the face of cancer. We think of grandparents, great grandparents, your great aunt, all of them, they have it. I'm at the ballfield, wearing a wig, watching my son play baseball, hoping my wig doesn't blow off. And I chose to wear a wig for them. And, looking back, it was probably for me a lot, too. It's very humbling to not have your hair. I felt embarrassed for myself and for my kids. And sad that their mom had this, I didn't want to have cancer. Nobody wants that. You know, again, it's part of your journey. But I called the moms or text messaged them and said, Hey, I just want to let you know when your boys are here, I'll wear a scarf on my head. And one of the moms wrote back, the boys love you, not your hair. I didn't want to be able to stop being like the fun mom and the mom taxi. And I wanted my kids to be able to look back as adults later they're going to say, my mom still did life while battling cancer.

Ted Canova: Heather cared so much about others. But on the inside, she struggled with what she was losing part of her identity.

Heather Field: I would lay in bed every morning; I woke up every morning after I shaved my head. And I would touch my head. And it was like, yep, you have cancer. And when I looked in the mirror, I looked like a person with cancer. And that was really hard.

Ted Canova: For the next three months, Heather's treatment progressed as planned. Chemo, a lumpectomy, and then radiation finished the job. Hers wasn't the only face of cancer. Her husband Cody wore an unspoken one, too.

Heather Field: There's a picture that somebody took of Cody and the look on his face is just he was lost. And I think for a man, for a husband we don't give credit to what It feels like for them to know the mother of their children, their wife that runs the house, the bossy one is fighting something that can take them from them. So, yeah, he was amazing. He was an amazing partner and support for me.

Ted Canova: Support is crucial for anyone going through cancer treatment. And being close to home, close to Texas Oncology allowed that support to make a huge difference.

Heather Field: Having Texas Oncology accessible to me so that I could continue to be a mom was paramount in this journey. Because my goal was to continue in my daily life. And I didn't want to have to leave my kids. I felt very confident in Texas Oncology and the staff, they were wonderful. And we did it during the school day so that we didn't have to miss anything with the kids. We went to games, and we drove them to practices and all of those things.

Dr. Encarnacion: I think her prognosis is very good. I think she has a chance of not having cancer ever again. I would just tell her; you've done everything you can about it. It's not something that you missed doing. You did everything humanly possible.

Heather Field: Dr. E, thank you for walking beside us in this journey with our family. Thank you for making it possible for me to still be here for my children and for my husband. We appreciate the compassion and the knowledge that you have to make life possible.

Dr. Encarnacion: I'm very proud of you. You not only did the treatments without complaints or problems, you responded very well to it, you always kept a very good attitude.

Ted Canova: Through it all, Heather learned much about cancer, but perhaps even more about herself.

Heather Field: I learned to just be still which is not my personality. I like to go, go, go, and do myself, and for the first time, I had to be still and rely on others. I learned to be still and let my body do what it had to do. Be still and rely on Dr. E for what we needed. Be still and let the medicine do its work and let them administer the medicine. And be still and let my children process this on their own.

Ted Canova: Today, Heather takes a chemo pill and will take a hormone blocker for five years.

Ted Canova: Up next, a teenager with a passion for the rodeo and George Straight, learns he has two tumors in his brain.

Walker Huggins: The doctor goes, well, Walker, you got two big old tumors in your head, and we're going to get you out of here. And hearing that. It was just like my whole mind just went blank.

Ted Canova: His inspiring story in our next episode when we meet Walker. We hope you enjoyed Right Here, a podcast from Texas Oncology who knows that family and friends are a huge part of cancer treatment, so being right here makes a difference. For expert cancer care, go to Texas Oncology.com. I'm Ted Canova. See you next time.

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