Survivor Stories 2013:
How did you first find out you had cancer?
I received a phone call at work from a doctor at my gynecologist’s office. I didn’t know this doctor and had never worked with her. I had called a few days before asking for an appointment because in my heart I knew it was cancer and I didn’t want to be at work when I found out.
How did you react when you heard the news?
I never actually heard her say, “you have cancer.” All I heard the doctor say was, “I’m sorry to tell you this.” I started screaming and sobbing. I tucked my head between my legs for fear of passing out. One of the secretaries in my department happened to be close by, came into my office, took the phone, and talked to the doctor.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
It was recommended that I have a mastectomy on the right side. I had invasive ductal carcinoma and significant ductal carcinoma in situ so there was no possible way to preserve my right breast. After finding out that I am a BRCA2 gene carrier, I opted for a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Though radiation therapy was not initially recommended, they could not obtain clean margins during my surgery so I was recommended for 30 rounds of radiation therapy. I was given the choice of whether or not I wanted to undergo chemotherapy because my Oncotype Dx test came back in the moderate range for recurrence and there isn’t much data that shows whether or not chemo is beneficial for that population. I did find out that there is a research study being conducted to determine the effects of chemo on the moderate range group, so I opted to participate in the study. As a result, I was randomized to Tamoxifen for five years rather than a combination of Tamoxifen and chemotherapy.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was most surprised by the impact of radiation. From what I had been told, it would be like a “walk in the park,” but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was completely exhausted during the treatment. My eating habits changed and I lost weight because I had a metallic taste in my mouth. To this day, the damage to my right implant continues to be an issue and I have had to undergo multiple surgeries to fix the damage. Radiation is what I like to call the gift that keeps on giving.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Educate yourself and become your own best advocate. If you feel that something isn’t right or you don’t like a particular doctor, ask for a second opinion or get a new doctor. Remember that you have cancer, it does not have you. Do not let it consume your soul or your spirit. Live no day but today.
How long have you been cancer free?
I am a six-year survivor. I have never been told that I am cancer-free, nor do I think my doctors will tell me that because of the BRCA2 mutation.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I have learned so many things through having cancer! I have learned that I am much stronger than I ever imagined. I learned that sometimes the people you expect to be there for you will not be, but those you least expect, will be there. I have learned that the most precious and important things in life are not things and do not come with a price tag. I have learned to take every day as it comes, to not focus on the past or the future. I have learned to live life to the fullest, to take chances, and to never stop chasing my dreams, as none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
I am not a mother but if I had one piece of advice to give to mothers, it is to be honest with your children about the cancer. Take time for yourself and let those around you take care of you. Don’t worry about all of the things that are not getting done. Tap into the resources that are available to help you through such as Cleaning for a Reason.
I am a School Psychologist and Certified Brain Injury Specialist in a suburban school district near Pittsburgh, PA. I am a graduate of Edinboro University of PA and George Washington University. I live with my husband of 2 years and our two furry babies (cats), Olive and Bella. I enjoy exercising and am training for my first half marathon, the Disney Princess Marathon in February 2014. I enjoy reading, hanging out with family and friends, learning, cheering on my favorite football team, Pittsburgh Steeler, and photography. I am a 6-year genetic breast cancer survivor. I am the CEO and co-founder of Cancer Fighting Princess, which provides social, emotional, and physical support to young women through their cancer journey. I am one of the SCARProject models. I have volunteered for Susan G. Komen, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, and Gilda’s Club of Western PA.