How did you first find out you had cancer?
I was 33 years old and just started to wean my 8-month-old daughter from breastfeeding when I felt a hard lump in my left breast. Two days later, I was in my doctor’s office. She thought it might just be an infection from nursing. This definitely was not an infection. I was sent immediately for my very first mammogram and ultrasound that confirmed it was breast cancer.
How did you react when you heard the news?
My first reaction was that I would not see my daughter grow up. I thought I was going to die—and die soon. I told my husband in the doctor’s office that day that he had to promise me he would remarry so that our daughter would have a mother in her life.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I had a lumpectomy, eight rounds of dense dose chemotherapy (Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxotere—yes, my hair fell out), seven weeks of daily external beam radiation, an oophorectomy (removal of my ovaries which has left me infertile and menopausal), and ongoing hormone treatment.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was most surprised by how manageable the side effects were but don’t get me wrong, treatment was brutal. It completely depleted me of all my energy and having to care for an infant made it only more difficult. In my experience, I found that my doctors really cared about my quality of life and made sure that I wasn’t suffering too badly, both physically and psychologically.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Find your community. As much as your friends and peers want to help you, they never will fully understand what you’re going through. I found a fabulous group of women—all of us diagnosed and undergoing treatment at the same time—at the Young Survivor Coalition (www.youngsurvival.org). The group was my safe haven. I could go to them for advice about the weird side effects I was dealing with or just to complain or vent about what I was feeling. The group still checks in with each other at least once a month these days.
How long have you been cancer free?
It will be four years on October 23, the day the cancerous tumor and lymph nodes were removed from my body.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. Even four years out from my diagnosis, I’m still trying to fully grasp what I’ve learned from having cancer.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Don’t assume that not having a family history of breast cancer means that you won’t get it. Know your risks!
Wendy Nielsen is a wife and a mom to a curious 4 1/2-year-old daughter. She is passionate about writing, teaching, and eradicating breast cancer. She’s never without her iPhone, too far from a Starbucks, and longs to wrap her arms around rocker Dave Grohl. She is a proud member of the DSLRF Army of Women’s Supporting Partners Network and an active participant in a weekly breast cancer Twitter chat (#BCSM). Klout ranks her in the top 5 of +K recipients for breast cancer.
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