Amber Hall was just 32 years old when she noticed a knot on her chest. The lump caused a strange – but not painful – sensation, so she made an appointment for a mammogram at the Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center. After the mammogram, Hall underwent an ultrasound and then a biopsy. “Through the course of that, I learned I had stage IIB breast cancer,” she says. “I learned I was BRCA1-positive, which means I have the breast cancer gene.” Hall discovered she inherited the gene from her father’s side of the family. She later learned a few of her aunts had died of breast cancer – each at a very young age.
Bride-to-be comes to terms with diagnosis
The diagnosis was so shocking to Hall that she had her physician call her fiancé to give him the news. “When my doctor called me, I was actually at work and I was crying so much I couldn’t leave my office,” she says. “My fiancé called back and came and got me.” Hall told him, “You’re a young guy. Why don’t we just call it quits, no hard feelings. I understand. You go ahead and have a wonderful life. You’ll meet a wonderful woman who can have children for you and will look normal.”
Her fiancé had other plans. He suggested they move up the wedding date and get married quickly before her cancer treatment began. “I was diagnosed March 12 and we got married March 25,” says Hall. “I started chemo five days after I got married.” After Hall completed chemotherapy, William Barber, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, performed a mastectomy.
She then underwent radiation therapy, followed by mastectomy of her other breast and reconstruction of both breasts. “Treatment is not like what you see in the movies,” she explains. “It’s traumatic to have your hair fall out, but it grows back. You’re not going to feel wonderful. It sucks. But there’s life on the other side of it.”
The surprise of a lifetime
“After I finished chemotherapy and my surgery, I went to the fertility specialist who had said to come back after I was done,” she says. The specialist told her he couldn’t say she was infertile because she had never tried to conceive, but it was unlikely she could have children. “My husband is forever the optimist – thank goodness – and said, ‘We should try. Let’s just try and see what happens – doctors don’t know everything,’” says Hall.
Knowing she wanted children, Hall began researching adoption and even contacted an agency. Not long after that, she got the surprise of her life. “Fast forward to December 2011 – I learned I was pregnant,” she says. “That was a very good day because I thought it couldn’t happen. It is my miracle.”
Nine months later, Hall and her husband welcomed a baby boy named Harrison. One of her biggest lessons learned: “You go through a challenge and if you can push through it, there’s life on the other side of it. There are wonderful surprises, like my son, that you would never even dream of. It reminds you there’s life to be lived.”