Michelle and Dr. Hartog

Survivor Stories 2013:
Michelle Hartog

How did you first find out you had cancer?

I had a routine mammogram just before my 51st birthday. I had a baseline mammogram at 35 and continued to have mammograms regularly.

How did you react when you heard the news?

I was upset. I had no risk factors. I had no family history, I don’t smoke and drink little. I eat organic foods and exercise. I wanted the cancer gone immediately.

What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I underwent chemo using the routine route of medicine: adriamycin, cytoxan, and taxol (ACT). I had a bilateral mastectomy because I feel it is easier to reconstruct. My primary site was the left breast.

What most surprised you about your treatment?

I was surprised I didn’t feel worse. I felt bad, but there were times I knew it could have been worse. I’m a nurse, so I’ve seen people vomiting from treatment. It wasn’t as bad as I expected.

What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

Take a deep breath and relax. For the most part, it is going to be okay. It might be a rough road. One in eight women get breast cancer and the five-year survival rate is currently promising. Don’t be afraid to get a mammogram because the earlier you catch it, then the better the treatment options available.

Learn your treatment and your reconstruction options, including fat grafting, implants, or the flap. Find out what option is the best for you and your family and what option makes you feel the most like you. So many women don’t know their reconstruction options. For me, it was part of the healing process.

How long have you been cancer free?

I had my mastectomy on October 1, 2010, so three years.

What lessons did you learn from the experience?

It is important to accept help and kindness from others, including friends and family. Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t do any good. Exercise and work if possible.

If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to get a mammogram because the earlier you catch it, then the better the treatment options available. Find out and know your options in fighting cancer and in reconstruction. My husband is a plastic surgeon at the Bougainvillea Clinique, so he rallied many of his friends to develop the best treatment plan for me and they were there to guide the way. I want to be a resource to other women.

I found that fat grafting was the best option for me for reconstruction. Fat is taken from one area of the body and put in small droplets into the breasts. The breasts are left looking natural looking and feeling and you can even regain skin sensation. Finding ways to feel like yourself again mean a lot.

Michelle Hartog, RN, is the Director of the Aesthetic Technologies division of the Bougainvillea Clinique. A lifetime health and fitness fanatic, Michelle has studied ballet since childhood, later on dancing jazz and tap. Michelle was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in September 2010. She is a member of an all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team, Warriors on Water (WOW).