Fight over fear

ayesha khan headshot

By Ayesha Khan

I will never forget the phone call I received in July of 2021 as I was on a work assignment. “Are you driving?” my personal care doctor asked. “Pull over and brace yourself…”

I knew in that moment that my biopsy came back positive for breast cancer. I went completely numb and couldn’t think straight. How was this even possible? I thought surely it would be benign.

Earlier that year, I lost my dad tragically after he fell four stories from a building while working. My family and I were still reeling from losing him in such a horrible way—and now this?

From going to several doctor appointments with my younger brother and getting one opinion after another to figuring out what my life would look like for the next year, it felt as though time had just stopped.

By the time my 40th birthday rolled around in September 2021, I was consulting with Shady Grove Fertility on how to freeze my eggs. I was so stressed out about the fact that my insurance wasn’t going to cover the cost—even though it was something I had to do because of the cancer treatments that were going to wreak havoc on my reproductive system, according to my doctors.

When mid-October rolled around, I had my single mastectomy followed by three months of full recovery. As soon as that was over, I was getting ready for 16 grueling rounds of chemotherapy that took me all the way to the beginning of May 2022, followed by 30 rounds of radiation. In between, I experienced everything—unbelievable fatigue, constipation, nausea, brain fog, bone pain, metallic taste, neuropathy and just an overall terrible feeling. My hair was mostly gone—no eyelashes or eyebrows either. My nails were turning black. I was bloated and looked like a completely different person from just a few months ago.

Even though it felt like time had stopped, I can’t believe that looking back a year later—I went through what I call pure hell.

I wanted to tell my story, but I waited until I knew what my life would look like during treatment. In February 2022, which marked one year since I lost my dad, I started using my platform as a TV journalist with Fox 5 D.C. For the past year, I have been sharing my experience and fight against stage 3 breast cancer with our viewers.

I have been chronicling my experience in the series, “Cancer: Fight over Fear” with the hope of providing helpful information to my community.

I remember the first time I reached out to the Prevent Cancer Foundation—I was actually sitting in the operating room being prepped for my right breast mastectomy. There was a lot of waiting, so I was on my phone and just kept searching for cancer-related foundations, support groups or organizations that I could connect with to share my story and be part of something that could change people’s lives.

I had the need to raise awareness for cancer prevention and early detection. I will admit—I did put off getting a mammogram when I first felt that something was off back in 2017. I was too scared, and I didn’t want to know if something was wrong because I was at the peak of my career.

But I think the trauma from losing my father in 2021 took its toll on my body. I could see it in my breast as the nipple was completely inverted by what turned out to be a large cancerous tumor under my right breast.

I continue to advocate about the mere fact that we need to listen to our bodies, as obvious as that may sound. Medicine and technology have come a long way, especially when it comes to breast cancer detection. I believe it is no longer “your grandmother‘s cancer.” So why not take advantage of the resources that we have available and use them to take care of not only our mental health, but our physical health, too?

While I am so grateful to be alive, I am continuing to learn how to navigate life while being on long-term medications to prevent the cancer from returning.

I love to stay busy with my career as a news reporter while advocating for regular screenings and mammograms—and whenever my body allows, I love working out, running and teaching indoor cycling classes. It’s something that I think helped me a ton during my recovery.

I could not let cancer stop me from leading my busy life. I know not everyone is as lucky as I am when it comes to dealing with the kind of cancer I had. I really hope whoever is reading this can gain some insight or maybe a glimmer of hope. But most of all, I’m really hoping that if you have not recently gone for a screening or a test, that you will schedule it today? What is the alternative if you don’t get it done in time?