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SAMANTHA (PART 1)

“Breast cancer ductal carcinoma in Situ, invasive.” All these words being just a barrage, thrown at me. So what we didn't think was cancer, was.

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WHEN SAMANTHA MET MICHAEL

It is kind of a fun story, which I quite like telling. So first of all, I have lived in this one neighborhood in Los Angeles for, oh gosh, probably about 4 or 5 years and never had gone to New York Bagel. It's this great breakfast spot. But for whatever reason, it was walking distance from my apartment. I had never gone. But one day, I had some friends of mine who were going. I was like, “You know what? I'll meet up with you before dance class.”

Photo by Meeno Peluce
I heard this ferocious dog bark, and I turn around and look at the dog. And then I look up and follow my eye up the leash to the very, very tall, 6’5” handsome man.

So there I was sitting with these two guys who were just friends, and I heard this ferocious dog bark, and I turn around and look at the dog. And then I look up and follow my eye up the leash to the very, very tall, 6’5” handsome man. I think, “Ah, he's very cute.”


So I'm kind of just checking him out as he's being led to his table, and it turns out he’s at the table next to ours. But right between our tables was some sort of, like, ivy/vine thing. So I'm trying to peek through the holes, I’m making sure that he's not catching me checking him out. And then all of a sudden my dance class was gonna to start. So I got up and I left.

I try to play coy, and [say] I'm like, “Say, were were you at the Bagel this morning?” He goes, “That was you!” Which meant, he was checking me out!

Well, that same afternoon, I was at my cousin's birthday barbecue--and who walks in but the tall, handsome man with the barking dog. And I said to my friend, “Oh my God, that was the guy I was checking out this morning. You’ve got to introduce me!” [She’s like] Yeah, I totally know, Michael! OK, come on over.” So I try to play coy, and [say] I'm like, “Say, were were you at the Bagel this morning?” He goes, “That was you!” Which meant, he was checking me out! So we talked for two hours straight. He got my number. He called me the next day. No games. No messing around with that, and has called me every day since. And it's been 19 years.

19 YEARS OF MARRIAGE, AND COUNTING

I feel very lucky I found someone who is really the “yin” to my “yang,” and we have personalities that are really a good match. I am incredibly high energy, and “go, go, go, go, go” all the time. He’s a little bit more chill, mellow, go with the flow. When he puts his foot down, you know he's serious because otherwise it's pretty chill about things. I think that's really helped. Laughter--you know, when we would get into arguments or things--he would just kind of look at me and give me this little, almost mischievous smile that would just crack us up. And we knew, alright, this is something we just really need to move past.

And usually those little tiffs would make us stronger. And to be honest, I feel almost guilty with other people that are having relationships that are really challenging

And usually those little tiffs would make us stronger. And to be honest, I feel almost guilty with other people that are having relationships that are really challenging, to say that we've really had smooth sailing for the most part.


And I'm talking about going through me leaving for a couple of months, going to Broadway soon after we've had...my daughter was almost almost 2 years old, traveling back and forth, going through breast cancer, and living through the diagnosis, and three surgeries over the course of a year. And him flip-flopping and having to take over as the caregiver for all of us. We've definitely been through a good amount, but we really don't tend to argue much. I mean, there have been some, that I can count on my two hands. So I think that's pretty good.

Samantha's “Switzerland,” and she doesn't like confrontation.” And he's absolutely right. I like to make people happy, I’m a people pleaser. I like to smooth things over.

HOW THEY KEEP THE PEACE AT HOME

If you ask my husband the same question, what he would say is, “Well, because Samantha's “Switzerland,” and she doesn't like confrontation.” And he's absolutely right. I like to make people happy, I’m a people pleaser. I like to smooth things over. Don't ruffle feathers, don't make waves.

I think as I've gotten older, and especially after cancer, when I realized life's too short to deal with the B.S., I definitely have gotten a little bit more staunch about putting my foot down or building more of a strong--I guess people would call it--backbone. I always feel like it's a lot easier to deal with people, and with life, with a smile. It takes a lot more effort to be angry and depressed and mean, you know, and if something's really serious and then I'll put my foot down. But he's sort of similar, too, he just really takes a stand when it's really important to him.

I always feel like it's a lot easier to deal with people, and with life, with a smile.

MOTHERHOOD TO TWO DAUGHTERS IN PRESENT TIMES

It's pretty crazy that I now have a teenager. You know, COVID adds a whole other layer to all of this parenting thing, and technology adds another layer on top of that. I think every generation, when you ask the parents, there's something, right? I mean, whether it was Elvis dancing back in the day, that was like, [covers her eyes with her hands] “Ah! I can't see that!” to, you know, the crazy music to technology today making things challenging to some degree but also really fantastic, especially amidst COVID, so that the kids can stay in touch with their friends.


It's hard. I think parenting is one hundred percent the hardest job there is. And there are days where, like I said, I'm a happy go lucky person. I like to make sure that there are no waves. But when it comes to being a parent, it's a whole different picture. My little one, who is now 9 and 1/2, she's very much me--but me with a lot of sass. [Whispers] A lot of sass. So that’s a challenge sometimes.

I think parenting is one hundred percent the hardest job there is.

HER BREAST CANCER JOURNEY AT 40

So I lost my dad to colon cancer when he was just 50 [years old]--which is crazy when I think about the fact that my husband is 50 right now. When you're the kid and it's the parent, you don't realize how young that is. Usually, you would get your colon checked 10 years prior to the diagnosis of your parent. So for me that would have been 38 [years old]. And I actually started earlier. I think I started at at least 35 [years old] getting colonoscopies. My mom was very insistent about us making sure that our gut health and our colon health was there, and there were no precancerous lesions or polyps, or anything like that.

I lost my dad to colon cancer when he was just 50.

Being my own best health advocate is something that I didn't realize I was doing with the colonoscopies early on, and I was doing them every 3 years--I still am. But when I was diagnosed--or I should say, blindsided--by breast cancer at age 40 [years old] back in 2014, I never realized how important it was to be your own best health advocate. I really made that my mission to help people become empowered to take control of their own health, because I think a lot of times you just sort of, either we lean in to the medical professionals to give us the answers and the diagnoses when it happens. Or we throw things up to, “Well, it's genetics, it's hereditary. We had heart disease and everyone died of heart attacks in my family.” Or, “We had diabetes in our family. I'm going to get diabetes. Oh, well, it's what's going to happen.”


No, it's not. And that's my message in writing [my book], “Your Healthiest Healthy,” which is really a roadmap or a guide to living your healthiest life. To reduce the toxins in, on, and around your body. When I was diagnosed and I had no hereditary link to my cancer despite my dad's colon cancer, because sometimes there's a breast-colon connection, despite his mom having breast cancer in her ‘60s, but living to 95, thank goodness. So I hopped on getting a mammogram right when I right before I turned 40, because I thought this is what people do.

I was diagnosed--or I should say, blindsided--by breast cancer at age 40 [years old] back in 2014, I never realized how important it was to be your own best health advocate.

But only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are genetic. But I figured I had cancer in my family, [so] get the mammogram. So I did, and it came back clear, which is what I expected, because I was this fit, healthy girl. I was doing all these like fitness and health magazine covers, and I was eating my chicken breasts that were skinless and boneless, and my cheese-less pizza, and my egg whites. And, you know, people make fun of me being the “healthy one” among my friends and family.


And then here I was, blindsided by a diagnosis. So 11 days later though, after the clear mammogram, I found a lump. I was changing after a workout. You know, you get like that tight sports bra. You just kind of gotta move things around. I call it the soft tissue, soft shoe. It's like, “5, 6, 7, 8, roll to right, roll to the...” [motions rolling, laughs]

...the surgical oncologist said, “You're not crazy. There's definitely something there.”

And so that's pretty much what I did for breast self exams, was like, roll them around. And I felt this lump that definitely wasn't there before. So I called my long time OB-GYN. She saw me a few days later. She did a quick touch-feel exam, said it's nothing, and sent me on my way. A month later, the lump was still there and I thought, “You know, I should probably get a second opinion. If it's really nothing, let's just make sure.”

Photo by Meeno Peluce

So I went to see my internist. Again, not thinking it was cancer, so why would I see an oncologist? I went to my internist. He did the same thing. Quick clinical exam, [he] said, “I'm not worried about it, but if you are, you know, we'll keep an eye on it.” Well, I kept an eye on it, and 4 months after I found it the first time, it was still there.

“Well, good news and bad news. The good news is, it's not cancer. The bad news is, I don't know what it is. Let's take it out.”

So that's when I said, “OK, if it's really nothing, I need to know for certain.” And the only way to do that is to do a more invasive exam. Let's get some ultrasounds, which are not invasive, but then a needle biopsy. So I went to a breast center. And funny thing is, so St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica has the Margie Peterson Breast Center. And I figure that's where you go to look at breasts, right? Go to see someone who looks at breasts every day, that's what they do. You need to see a specialist. They know what to look for.

@samanthaharrisTV on Instagram

But the word, “oncology,” and “cancer,” was kind of around. As I walked in, I thought, well, that's weird. I don't have cancer. Why am I here? But that's where they look, right? That's the type of place, that's a breast center. They're looking to see if you have breast cancer. Anyhow, the long story longer, the breast surgeon, the surgical oncologist said, “You're not crazy. There's definitely something there.” We did the ultrasounds. [He said] “I see something. I don't really think it's cancer. We’ll do the needle biopsy. I still don't think it's cancer.” [We] get the results from the needle biopsy.

Told my husband a week later, “Stay at home. Don't worry, you’ve been hanging out with the kids. You don't even need to come with me.”

The pathologist says, she said literally, “Well, good news and bad news. The good news is, it's not cancer. The bad news is, I don't know what it is. Let's take it out.” So we did, and [I] woke up from a lumpectomy and they said, “Yeah, no, not cancer. We’ll see you in a week to check the scar, get your final pathology.” Told my husband a week later, “Stay at home. Don't worry, you’ve been hanging out with the kids. You don't even need to come with me.”

And that's when I sat there, in a surgical oncologist’s office, and she was drawing very quickly all these diagrams, and dots and, “Breast cancer ductal carcinoma in Situ, invasive.” All these words being just a barrage, thrown at me. So what we didn't think was cancer, was. And thank goodness I listened to my gut and that inner voice that was nagging.

If you think it's something, go check.

Thank goodness I have a mom, who is just vigilant, and sometimes people they call [them] “Doctor Mom.” There's a reason they call them Dr. Mom, right? She was on top of me, too. And she kept saying, “If you think it's something, go check. Go check.” And I kept thinking, no matter how many times your mom tells you, it still has to come from right deep inside you. And that's when I finally listened to my own gut. And then we found that was what was happening.


THE SIZE OF THE LUMP

So what's interesting is that my actual cancer was quite small. But what we think we figured out in retrospect is that the cancer cells had kind of glommed on to something that was not cancerous. So, I mean, I wanna say it was kind of, maybe that’s a little big, maybe like that [shows size--about a dime]. It was kind of size-y enough that you could almost see it protruding from the skin a little bit.

Being my own best health advocate is something that I didn't realize I was doing with the colonoscopies early on...

I mean, look, I'm a smaller-chested girl, so that made it easier. I have dense breasts, so that makes it usually more challenging. But because of its placement, which was it was on the front side and on the rear side behind the tissue. So thankfully, it was on the surface. And it was near the surface, so it really pushed the skin out just enough that I even said to my husband, like, “Am I crazy? Do you see a lump here?” He's like, “You know, I see something.”

HOW TO DO A PROPER BREAST EXAM

The interesting thing is--to do a proper breast exam--the touch is usually a three-finger touch, and it’s circular motions. And you start--and hopefully this isn't too crass that I'm touching my breasts on TV or on a virtual thing--but it's circular motions, and you're not pressing deep down.


So I think there are a couple of layers. The layer to not miss is that it can be a very small, little pebble, and it can actually be really on the surface. So the pressure is almost like someone has a very, very painful bruise, and you don't want to hurt them, but you need to put some cream on it like Arnica gel, or something. So just a very gentle [press], and then you go a little bit deeper all the way around again, and then you go a little bit deeper from that all the way, and so that you can push through all the layers.

...knowing what's your normal is really important.

Now that I have the implants from the reconstructive surgery, and I have no tissue left, I still have to do it because, if God forbid the cancer came back, it would just be right under the skin layer. So I have to just touch very gently, because it would only be at that layer. And also not to forget the armpit, because if there is lymph node involvement, you can’t always feel it. But you’re kind of digging into and around, and feeling in the armpit.


And knowing what's your normal is really important. Getting really personal here. But my lymph nodes in my groin, which is another area that you have your lymph nodes, you have lymph nodes here [neck], you have under your armpits, you have in your groin. So in my groin, I can actually see--my lymph nodes are kind of large that I can actually see--them when I'm standing naked in front of the mirror, and I can really feel them. They're very palpable.

Doing that monthly exam is really important. You have to know your breasts. You have to know your body in general.

But on my armpits, I couldn't. So in that respect, knowing that that's my normal, because I remember I went to see--I think that it was one of the oncologists or an internist who was doing an exam--and she said, “Wow, your lymph nodes in your groin are really large.” [laughs] But then they asked me, “Well, is that normal for you?” Well, if I had known that that was normal for me, we would have been on high alert. So it's just something to really know. And, you know, doing that monthly exam is really important. You have to know your breasts. You have to know your body in general.


Story of Samantha Harris, Author (Your Healthiest Healthy); TV Host (Dancing with the Stars, Extra, E! News, The Insider, Entertainment Tonight); Actress (Chicago on Broadway). gottamakelemonade.com

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