Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I found a lump in my left breast on a business trip to Tuscany in late July 2009. My mammogram, nine months earlier was clean. There was no history of breast cancer in my family. Tests in early August confirmed I had two tumors in my left breast and one in my right, all positive carcinomas.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
It was like someone had punched me in the chest. When I first realized I had three tumors and not just one was during my core biopsy even before the confirmed diagnosis. I left the radiology center and burst into tears in the middle of Madison Avenue in Manhattan. When my Ob/GYN called with the news that the tumors tested positive I went numb.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Double mastectomy, five months of chemotherapy followed by endocrine therapy. I opted not to undergo radiation. I chose immediate breast reconstruction with tissue expanders followed by implants.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was surprised how little information there is for patients on how to manage side effects from treatment or even what side effects will do to your mind and body. Doctors will treat the cancer but they don’t really explain all the surprising side effects like skin rashes, chemo brain and neuropathy.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Get organized. I have five commandments outlined in my book:
1) assemble a good health care team to guide you even beyond your cancer specialists: dentist, dermatologist, eye doctor and a good pharmacist
2) understand how your health insurance works and how you are going to pay for your treatment
3) decide who you are sharing the news with and who you are not, how you will manage communications and what you want your message to be
4) Get your files organized including medications, prior health history, financial records
5) make lists of questions to ask all of your doctors. You will feel confused and disoriented so make lists to stay organized and always take someone with you to doctors appointments for the all important second set of ears.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
Four years since diagnosis. Three years since end of chemotherapy treatment.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned that while you did not choose to hand cancer you can choose how you want to manage your health and well being during and after treatment to stay strong and to reduce the risk of recurrence or other major health issues. This includes my 10 takeaways:
1) eating a healthier diet with portion control
2) exercising daily
3) managing stress
4) getting enough sleep
5) maintaining a healthy weight
6) wearing sunscreen daily
7) moderating alcohol consumption
8) not smoking
9) avoiding recreational drugs
10) being vigilant about annual screenings and medical checkups
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer:
1) Remember that getting cancer was not your choice, but managing your health and well being to beat cancer and risk recurrence is your choice.
2) Never be ashamed to say you had cancer. It is not contagious and it is not a stigma. Do not let cancer define your life and do not compare your situation and how you managed it to anyone else’s. Cancer may be bad but you are terrific.
3) Consider having cancer a life sentence and not a death sentence. You have just been given the ultimate reminder that life is not a dress rehearsal and you should take better care of yourself and focus on what gives you pleasure and the pleasure you can give to the lives of others.
If you have not been diagnosed with cancer:
Simply this: Be vigilant about taking care of yourself through diet, exercise, stress management and annual screenings and checkups. If you see or feel something, speak up and seek media attention. Finally, understand how your health insurance works. It’s the last thing you want to worry about if something happens to you.
Author, business woman, world traveler and breast cancer survivor, Melanie Young is an advocate for the empowerment of women both personally and professionally. She started her blog Getting Things Off My Chest after finishing her cancer treatment to inspire women to face life’s challenges with grace, grit and humor.
“Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor’s Guide To Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer” is Melanie’s first book. She addresses both health and lifestyle management issues facing newly diagnosed women and provides helpful tips, questions to ask and insights from both survivors and experts on how to be take charge of your treatment and look and feel your best.
She has appeared on a number of panels discussing careers for women and ‘career reinvention’ and has been interviewed by radio stations and magazines on women’s health and being a breast cancer survivor and boosting your self-esteem during and after treatment.
Melanie helped launch “A Second Helping of Life,” an annual fundraiser featuring women chefs, for SHARE www.sharecancersupport.org. She is past president of Les Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY), a philanthropic organization of accomplished women in food, fine beverage and hospitality which provides scholarships and mentoring for women.
As founder of The Connected Table® Melanie advises wine, food and lifestyle companies and organizations on building their brands. During her culinary career she helped launch and oversee The James Beard Foundation Awards and New York Restaurant Week. She has worked with wine and food regions and brands throughout the world and continues to search out delicious new products.