How did you first find out you had cancer?
I found a lump in my left breast. I have to admit, I did self-exams sporadically, but did one that particular time because a small patch of skin on my breast was discolored. My physician didn’t think it was anything, but sent me for an ultrasound because of the discoloration. The hospital he referred me to said, “No, let’s do a mammogram, too.” Then I was sent for a biopsy. And, well, that was that. No family history, be damned.
How did you react when you heard the news?
The doctor ended up talking to my husband because I couldn’t stop crying. Before my appointment, we figured I was going to be given the all-clear because we knew the doctor had a surgery booked 15 minutes after my appointment. We thought, “Hey, he can’t be telling me I have cancer if he’s running off to surgery.” Wrong! Then they sent in a nurse to pick up the pieces. The first thing I said to her was, “I have a 5-year-old son.” She looked me square in the eye and said, “Mine was 2. Now he’s 17.”
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I had a lumpectomy and axillary dissection, chemotherapy—four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan and four rounds of Taxol (AC-T)—Neupogen shots during chemo, then radiation, and finally Tamoxifen. There was some back and forth on the Tamoxifen because I had inconsistent results in some of my tests. One was estrogen-receptor positive, and the other was negative, but my oncologist has since concluded I’m “weakly positive.”
What most surprised you about your treatment?
Other than one horrendous allergic reaction I had during my second Taxol treatment, my chemo treatments were uneventful. I think chemo is what you make it. My husband brought the cribbage board and we broke out the cards. I work a couple of blocks away from the cancer agency, so sometimes my colleagues came in and hung out with me, or dropped by for a quick visit. So the surprise was we could make it seem normal.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Take a deep breath, or several if needed. It is not a death sentence. Don’t be afraid to tell people, because you may find amazing support in places you would not have expected.
How long have you been cancer free?
According to my medical team, I’ve technically been cancer free since my surgeon, bless her soul, removed my tumors with clear margins on March 26, 2012. If we’re going by when my treatment ends, it will be mid-October 2012.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Support can come from the people you don’t expect it from, or it can come in ways you don’t expect it to. I had been at my job for seven months when I had my surgery. I expected support, but not to the extent that I got it from my colleagues, many of whom I now consider friends. They made me a quilt which I brought to my chemo treatments, took up a collection for me, visited me at home and during treatment, and listened to me bitch and complain a ton. I did expect that from my friends who I have known for years, but these guys were just getting to know me, so the fact that they stepped up to the plate really amazed me. That said, the friends I have known forever have surprised me too, such as our confirmed bachelor friend who came to our home to babysit at 8 a.m.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Stop sweating the small stuff. Missing the bus, the kid coming home in daycare clothes for the millionth time because he’s soaked every last item in his cubby, a friend snapping at you because they’re having a bad day—these are all things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Stressing about them makes it harder to enjoy the good things, and it’s bad for your body. So stress less, enjoy more.
Lori Kittelberg is a mom of one, and a writer and editor. Lori, her husband, son and cat live in Vancouver, BC. She blogs about her cancer experience and life in general at Kittelberg Writes.
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