How did you first find out you had cancer?
I discovered my lump by accident and my diagnosis was confirmed by a biopsy after a mammogram/ultrasound in May of 2008. The next day after my biopsy, my doctor phoned me just as I was arriving in New York on a business trip to tell me the news.
How did you react when you heard the news?
I was in denial when I was first asked to come back for a biopsy. There’s more than one Rhonda Smith who lives in Miami Beach and at the time I always getting calls for her restaurant and spa appointments. I just knew the same thing had happened in this case and that they called the wrong person.
When I heard the news from my primary care doctor I was terrified and scared because she did not provide any details of my diagnosis, she only said that I needed to see a surgeon and an oncologist. So, I had no idea what I was up against, what was my fate, or how serious my diagnosis was. Fortunately, after numerous tries I was able to speak with the doctor that performed my biopsy who was able to explain my actual diagnosis and reassured me that because I was diagnosed early that my prognosis was good. Later that same day, I was in the company of very good friends who had other women in their lives who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and they comforted me and helped put me at ease.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I had a lumpectomy, 4 rounds of chemotherapy, and 6 weeks of radiation treatment.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
That I found it to be more difficult dealing with life after treatment than actually going through the treatment itself. I was prepared to deal with the side effects of the drugs while undergoing treatment, but I was not prepared for the impact of the after effects of treatment on my quality of life, and on my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I wasn’t expecting to be such a different “being” after treatment.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
First and foremost, make sure you understand clearly what your diagnosis is, i.e. stage, tumor type, etc. Second, make sure you choose doctors and a medical team that you feel confident will take care of you and not just treat you for the disease. Third, be informed and do your homework. Talk to other women who have been diagnosed or have completed treatment, and learn about breast cancer from reliable resources and organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Fourth, make sure you get all of your questions answered by your medical team to your satisfactions and ask following up questions if necessary for clarity. And, be sure to participate in the decision making process for your care rather than rely 100% on the doctors to dictate everything for you. Fifth, make sure to understand how to optimize your health and wellness through the entire process by eating well and engaging in moderate physical activity as approved by your doctor. Lastly, be proactive and take charge of your diagnosis so that you control it rather than it controlling you. You will be able to approach your breast cancer journey with an empowered attitude.
How long have you been cancer free?
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
The key lessons I learned from my breast cancer experience are:
How to be at peace with things I can’t control
How to say “no” and really mean it, and not feel guilty about it.
How to let go of things, be free and not be so attached (old ways).
How to live, work and play in a more mindful way so that I can do the 3R’s everyday.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
As frightening as the words “you have breast cancer” are, in approaching your bout with breast cancer, you can chose to be victorious rather than victim. You can approach your breast cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to focus on your health and wellness, or view it as a life enhancing event and not a life limiting event. And, on the other side of it you can emerge a better, stronger, healthier, and more vibrant person that ever before.
Rhonda M. Smith is the Founder of Breast Cancer Partner, an organization that focuses on breast cancer recovery through health and wellness and taking a more integrative and holistic approach to recovery. Breast Cancer Partner provides tools, resources and information to help breast cancer survivors recover, restore and re-energize themselves after treatment. The organization’s mission is to function as a “partner” to breast cancer survivors (and their families) who are nearing the end of or have completed treatment, on their journey to recovery, or who are cancer free.
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