EVANSTON — On March 3, Cami Mueller turned 44 years old, and she said she is privileged and blessed to have made it to that age.
The mother of two boys, and an activity school bus driver for 13 years, Mueller was diagnosed June 3, 2016, with ductal carcinoma.
“I was hoping it was a cyst, really. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family,” Mueller said.
Ductal carcinoma is considered the earliest form of breast cancer. It’s the presence of abnormal cells in a milk duct located in the breast.
On June 29, Mueller had a mastectomy, and received an implant shortly after. A few weeks later, she got more bad news from her doctor.
The cancer had streamed into Mueller’s lymphnodes. In turn, the doctors removed 20 nodes, five of which had cancer. For her, this meant her cancer had “upgraded” to stage II.
The next things on the list for Mueller were the treatments. Doctors’ orders were eight chemo treatments — one every two weeks for sixteen weeks, and 28 radiation treatments. Mueller drove to Salt Lake City every day for five and a half weeks for radiation therapy.
Cancer treatments can be a long process. Before starting treatment, Mueller got a mediport put in her chest. That was back on Aug. 3, 2016.
A mediport is a catheter that connects the port to the veins. It is made for patients who will need ongoing drug treatments. It’s intended to be more comfortable than older forms of chemotherapy delivery.
Two days later, Mueller had her first round of chemotherapy. Even when it made her feel sick, Mueller said she still drove a bus for work and planned out her treatments so she could continue to do so for as long as possible.
“I did really well through chemo,” she said. “I still drove. My goal was to make it to state volleyball, which was in November, and I did.”
On Nov. 14, 2016, Mueller took her leave at work and started radiation on Dec. 6. Mueller said she had support from her family when she couldn’t drive to her treatments.
Mueller had her last radiation treatment on Jan. 13.
“It was a Friday. But it was a good Friday the 13th,” said Mueller.
Mueller said she took a few more weeks to adjust and recover before returning back to work on Feb. 6.
According to Mueller, the hardest part of her cancer experience was losing her hair.
“It was a Friday morning, my second round of chemo. I was getting ready, running a straightener through my hair and I had hair — more than normal — on my straightener,” Mueller said.
She said it was a petty thing to worry or care about, but it really was the hardest part.
“I said ‘You know what, Cami? You’re not losing an arm, you’re not losing a leg, you’re not losing your sight or anything else — it’s just hair,’” she said.
Mueller laughed when she mentioned sympathizing with her male friends now who have lost their hair. She now sports a naturally-grown mohawk with an even thicker head of hair than she had before.
“I find it funny it came back in a mohawk, I’m just glad to have hair on my head,” said Mueller.
She said this experience has changed her life, and that, as humans, we take too much of our lives for granted.
“I learned a long time ago that life is short,” said Mueller.
Four years ago, Mueller lost her sister. Before that, she lost her nephew, the son of her sister, to leukemia.
“You don’t sweat the small stuff,” said Mueller, “you have to prioritize.”
Mueller said she is very thankful to all of her family, friends and the community.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would sincerely like to thank all of my family and friends who helped me get through this unexpected adventure I had to go on,” she said. “Without asking or saying a word, people stepped up and helped me out — whether it was rides to treatment, meals or fundraisers. It meant a great deal to me and my family. It was through this difficult journey that I found out how much I was loved and thought about. Thank you all for everything you’ve done for me. I appreciated everything — the cards, messages, meals, gifts, everything. I am blessed beyond measure.”
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why things happen the way they do. Unsure of why cancer struck her, Mueller said, “Maybe I just needed to be reminded to not take things for granted.”