Survivor Stories: Teresa Matsui Sanders
How did you first find out you had cancer?
My first diagnosis came in February 2009. My second was in 2010. Because I was considered at high risk for developing breast cancer, I had MRIs every year. After getting the “all clear” for years, I had a heavy-duty MRI-guided biopsy for my first cancer. My beloved breast surgeon called me with the biopsy results on a Sunday morning. A year after that first diagnosis, I was back for a follow up MRI, which I almost blew off because I was so busy. I had my exam before the MRI results were available. As I was leaving the hospital after my exam, my cell phone rang. I was told to go have lunch, then return in the afternoon for a biopsy.
How did you react when you heard the news?
With my first diagnosis, I was very upset. However, since breast cancer runs in my family and I am a high-risk patient, I had felt for years it was simply a matter of time. In contrast, I was much more matter-of-fact with my second diagnosis. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but I wasn’t that upset about it. I attribute that to the fact I had just learned of two women who had had devastating losses in their lives. Compared to them, another early-stage, treatable breast cancer was certainly not the worst thing that could have happened to me.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Surgery of course, including sentinel lymph node dissection. Because I opted for lumpectomies both times, I had follow-up radiation. With my second cancer, I also had chemotherapy.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
That it was never as bad as I had imagined!
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Every woman’s breast cancer journey is as individual as her cancer. Just because someone else has certain reactions or side effects, doesn’t mean it will happen to you. That’s why I believe you need to be very wary about reading too much on the Internet, even message boards where women post about their experiences. You have to keep in mind that, out of the hundreds of thousands of women who will be diagnosed each year with breast cancer in the US alone, and the millions living with it today, a minuscule fraction are online posting about their experiences. And the tendency is you post if you’re having complications or difficulties with your treatments. Generally, women who are doing fine aren’t going to go online and post that everything’s good. So keep those numbers in mind before you conclude that the disease and treatment are going to be horrible for you. The second main thing I would advise is that you make the effort to find doctors you trust and who you are comfortable with. Despite the millions spent on cancer research, there is still so much that doctors don’t know or understand about this disease. That means you make some pretty significant leaps of faith when you consent to recommended treatments. You need to believe your doctors have your best interests at heart.
How long have you been cancer free?
Over two years.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
That cancer is not the worst thing that could befall me. That just because you have cancer, you aren’t “sick.” In fact, I went on business trips and appeared on stage at industry conferences in the middle of chemo—bald! That I didn’t look half-bad without hair.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
That the best thing you can do for yourself is to develop your own sense of self. This is what allows you to make the best decisions about treatments—for yourself, not for your family, not for your kids. This is where you need to be as selfish as you can, to know in your heart that every decision you make about treatments is guided by what deep down is right for you and you alone.
Teresa Matsui Sanders is a longtime hospitality and travel industry professional, as well as a two-time breast cancer survivor. After transitioning away from the heavy travel demands of a hotel management and consulting practice, Teresa’s firm now operates two specialty travel websites: HotelsNearRaces.com for motorsports enthusiasts and DogWonderful.com for travel with pet dogs, featuring dog friendly hotels.
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