Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
In 1987 while in the shower I noticed that the skin of my breast would pull in as I raised my arm to wash. It was about 6 weeks later I called my doctor’s office expecting them to make a future apt. instead the receptionist asked if I could come in right now. After the doctor examined me, he started telling me the different options for breast cancer.
In 2010, I was called back for a second views for my annual mammogram. I knew it had returned when the doctor was doing the ultrasound instead of a tech. So I wasn’t surprised when the results of the biopsy showed that it had come back.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I asked—Don’t you need to do a biopsy first? He said that he just wanted to prepare me for the worst. At first I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it because I was only 32 years old. Then I was hysterical that it might be true.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
First time, I was scheduled for a radical mastectomy but two days before the surgery, I changed my mind and asked for a more limited surgery—I had a quadantectomy –a quarter of my breast removed. Followed by 6 weeks of radiation, 6 months of chemo and 10 years of hormone therapy.
For the recurrence I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction (I got a tummy tuck out of the deal—they used my belly fat to make my new breasts. I declined to go through chemo this time.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I had body issues after the first bout, I felt like I was “damaged goods” but the second time where I had even more extreme surgery—I’m very happy with the results and feel better about myself than I did before. Also I had a lot of scar tissue from the radiation and my breast hurt a lot, I don’t have that anymore. I am really surprised at how good plastic surgery has progressed over the years. I have had doctors think they were real instead of fake.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Get a second opinion or even a third, keep seeing doctors until you feel like you are going to get the best treatment. Don’t just take the word of the first doctor you see. Cancer is big business. The 2nd time, I felt like a walking dollar sign. I had to look out for my own best interests.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
23 years until a recurrence and now 3 years.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Join a cancer support community—I joined Gildas Club—it really helps to be able to talk to others who are going through the same experience. Plus the wisdom of the group is valuable.
Don’t expect the emotional journey to end when the treatment ends. During treatment you are fighting, doing everything to get rid of the cancer. Once treatment is over, there is a lingering fear—especially every time you have to go in for a test or scan—scanxiety.
Don’t be surprised when people say dumb things—they don’t know what to say and often just blurt something out without thinking.
Ask for help—tell people how they can help you, everybody wanted to do my grocery shopping but didn’t need help with food, I needed help with cleaning my house since I couldn’t use my arms for several months and couldn’t vacuum etc.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
You will get through this. Cancer is like a gift wrapped in barbed wire—good can come out of it—it can bring you closer together with family and friends—you will learn who is really there for you. You will learn how to live in the moment since during treatment you totally focus will be on the here and now.
VJ Sleight is an author and speaker on tobacco and smoking issues. She is a former smoker who quit after receiving a cancer diagnosis. She has been helping others become smoke-free for over 20 years with her program “Stop Smoking, Stay Quit”.
She has a Masters degree in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine and has been trained at the Mayo Clinic as a Tobacco Treatment specialist.
She is a Legislative Ambassador for the American Cancer Society, Chairman of the Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities, serving Riverside County.
Vice Chairman for “TURN”, Tobacco Use Reduction Now, Coalition for San Bernardino County, Member of The Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence (ATTUD)
“Tips to Win at Quitting Smoking: Finding the Missing Piece of your Plan to Stop Smoking and Stay Quit”
“Workbook to Stop Smoking, Stay Quit.”
“How to Create a Successful Plan to Become Smoke-free”
“Understanding the Psychology of Smokers to Help Motivate Your Patients to Quit.
Speaker for Breast Cancer
Twice diagnosed, 1987 (Lumpectomy, Radiation, Chemotherapy), 2011 (Bilateral mastectomy)
Member of Gilda’s Club
Member of ArmyofWomen.org