Living by faith: Local woman triumphs over aggressive breast cancer
When a routine mammogram screening revealed a tumor hidden against her chest cavity, Amy Gilliand began a whirlwind battle against one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer. The tumor detected in her routine scan was determined to be triple negative breast cancer – a type that is not fueled by hormones like typical breast cancers and that doubles in size every four or five weeks.
“My tumor was almost against my chest wall. The radiologist said I would not have felt it for a long time. So it was definitely a God thing. So I was diagnosed when I got my mammogram, then I went to the breast center in Huntsville at the women’s pavilion. I had a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy all in two hours. They moved quickly over there which is great – that’s what they do,” Gilliand said.
The wife, mother of two and school teacher said there was little time to process what was happening to her, as two weeks after the tumor was discovered she was already beginning chemo treatments in her battle against breast cancer.
“I really didn’t process everything until this past summer because I didn’t have the opportunity, there was no slow down time,” Gilliand said.
Through it all, she said it was her family, friends, coworkers, and faith that helped her through the battle. Despite undergoing treatments that would leave her nauseated and white blood counts at zero, Gilliand continued to show up for her fourth grade students at Crestline Elementary – only taking off for treatments or surgeries. She said the support and love that her school community showed her was nothing short of amazing.
“It was just phenomenal. One day they surprised me. When I came back from my last chemo treatment they all had team Amy shirts on. I teach fourth grade so all the kids had one and all the teachers had one. They were all super supportive – my kids were wonderful, Karissa Lang is my principal and she was so supportive, my coworker … I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Gilliand said.
In addition to her support system, Gilliand said her faith was pivotal in getting through the treatments that included 12 rounds of chemo and four rounds of Adriamycin or the “red devil” chemo as well as multiple surgeries.
“Honestly it was faith. I told everybody and I still do, Jesus took that fight for me – I didn’t do anything. I was just along for the ride. There was no way that all of that stuff would have fallen into place none of that would have happened without him. I listened to workshop music about 95 percent of the time and I still do. And so I just had a lot of faith – reading my Bible, going to church and listening to worship music. And that’s how I still live even to this day,” Gilliand said.
Gilliand credits that same faith for discovering the tumor before it spread further in her body and for keeping her healthy from viruses and other illnesses in school even while depleted from her treatments.
Although her husband Chris initially suggested that she take the year off from school, Gilliand said she knew she didn’t want to be stuck at home alone every day.
“He was worried about me being around the kids, but they were super good. You would not believe it, but I was not sick one time. I never got strep or a cold – I never caught one thing. I would come to school and my counts would be zero. My kids were really good. They would not come to school if they were sick, they would not come near me if they were sick, my coworkers and everybody. That was amazing – that was a miracle. It was just amazing,” Gilliand said.
Having been through chemo, a double mastectomy, an invasive reconstruction surgery and follow up procedures from the reconstructive surgery, Gilliand is now cancer free. While she continues to have routine monitoring and checks every three months with her oncologists, she says she’s grateful that her cancer was detected early through routine screenings and urges everyone to have theirs done.
“Definitely go in to get your regular mammograms. I would not have felt it and probably would not have felt it until after it had spread out of my breasts and into other organs of my body because the tumor was so deep. You need to do self exams because I do have a few friends that have found them that way and went in and did have breast cancer. But 100 percent get your mammograms. I also did genetic testing to see if I had the gene because I could have passed it on to either one of my children – I could have even passed it on to my son. And even though they told me breast cancer in men is rare, it can happen and men can have it. I would definitely recommend genetic testing as well,” Gilliand said.