Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
In December 2006 I went in for a routine mammogram. Christmas came and went, and I travelled to Florida for a vacation. It was during my trip that I received a call from my doctor’s office telling me there was something suspicious on my mammogram and I needed to return for another screening. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought maybe the film was bad or something. So it wasn’t until three months later that I returned for a repeat mammogram which led to an ultrasound, a biopsy and then my diagnosis – I had breast cancer.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I was in shock to learn that there was a growth and it was malignant. I was in a fog, going through a range of emotions without really feeling any emotion at all. I thought “I’m a nurse, a mother, a wife. This happens to others, it can’t be happening to me.” Everything seemed a bit surreal. I kept trying to be a strong person and thought I could go through treatment on my own. My daughters knew something was wrong and confronted me. That’s when I shared my diagnosis.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Initially, I had a lumpectomy. Following my surgery my medical and radiation oncologists told me I was a good candidate for radiation treatment with the TomoTherapy System. My doctor explained that this method delivers very precise, targeted doses of radiation while sparing healthy tissue and critical organs around the tumor. I experienced a little fatigue and chills, but otherwise I had no side effects. I was extremely pleased to find out that I would not require chemotherapy.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was pleasantly surprised I didn’t experience any skin irritation or scarring. Because of the time it took to set up the machine for each treatment, I was able to build wonderful relationships with the nurses and technicians involved in my care. I was not just a “cancer patient,” I was a person. I came to view my treatments as “me time,” a spiritual time for me to say the rosary while I lay cocooned in a warm blanket.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
One of the first things I would tell someone is to share your news with family, friends and your support system. Don’t try to go through it alone. Ask your doctor(s) questions. I believe anything and everything is worth asking, especially when it comes to learning about treatment options. I was fortunate because my doctor proactively told me about TomoTherapy. I encourage people to do their own research and to be fearless when it comes to asking their doctor about what might be the best treatment for them.
I also suggest bringing someone with you to your appointments to take notes or record the sessions. It’s not uncommon when listening to your doctor to feel like you’re hearing the Charlie Brown voiceover saying “wha wha wawha wha.” That extra pair of ears in the room can make a big difference in your understanding of what was discussed during your appointment.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I’m thrilled to be able to say that I’ve been cancer free for 7½ years; it will be 8 years next February.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I hope women reading this article will agree with me on the importance of having mammograms on a regular basis. Self exams help too, but I believe mammograms are critical. I can’t stress enough the value in making family and friends aware of your diagnosis early and involving them throughout the treatment process.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
The message I would send is to pay it forward. Do a random act of kindness for someone who needs your help. My daughters and I started a foundation, Hugs for Healing, to “pay it forward” by offering comfort and support to those undergoing treatment. We want people to know that they are not alone – they are part of a family. It is our way of giving thanks for my treatment and continued good health.
Christine Behan, a married mother of three, founded Hugs for Healing Foundation with her two daughters. Hugs for Healing is a charitable organization created to “pay it forward” by offering comfort and support to those undergoing treatment for cancer. Prior to starting the foundation, this Easton, MA native worked as a nurse and owned and operated a convenience store with her husband, Paul.