Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I found the small lump myself on my monthly self-exam, which I was a few months behind in doing – but only a few months! I am a physician and I knew the little lump felt worrisome though I have had dense breasts with a lot of cysts and numerous biopsies over the years. I received the news about my biopsy by telephone from one of my doctors.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I collapsed, literally and emotionally. The doctor said “it’s not good and it’s high grade” and I knew that was really bad and I collapsed. I had a good friend of mine with me. We were waiting for the call since I knew it would be coming that afternoon. She had to pick the phone up and take the rest of the information while I began to sob. I really thought I was dead and that my death would be horrible and soon.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Very aggressive treatment because I had the most aggressive and lethal type of breast cancer called high grade triple negative cancer. I actually had two cancers, one in each breast. It was really bad. The tumors were small but having two was much worse than just one and they were fast growing.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
That I survived it, am still myself and did not find my life and vitality destroyed by the treatment process. Because my cancer was so aggressive I needed very strong and intensive chemo called dense (intensive) chemotherapy. The drugs are hard to tolerate and I needed high doses for 4 months followed by a double mastectomy. Because I was also found to carry the BRCA gene for breast and ovarian cancer I also needed my tubes and ovaries out and had a risk of ovarian cancer too. It was a stressful time. I had 5 surgeries (15 hours of anesthesia) in addition to 4 months of chemo in that year.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
That in this day and age cancer is very treat-able and we do get through it. It’s easier to get through it when you are not alone though so ask for help and support. Reach out and ask. Let your family, friends and medical team know what you need. Also, take the time you need for yourself too. These two things will really soften the shock and trauma of it all and help you keep your spirits up. For me it included taking time off of work and setting up an online calendar through Caring Bridge for my friends to help me.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
This is my first year and I’m doing really well!
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
To ask for and receive help. This is huge because I’m usually the caregiver and historically I never asked for help. For example, I really needed someone to visit and take me on a daily walk-and-talk to keep my vitality and emotional spirits up. I also needed to become very gentle with myself and not do things that sapped my limited energy. I have healed quickly and had minimal serious side effects and I know this is why. Frankly, I’ve never been so kind and patient with myself and I think my self-care was a really important reason that I have done so well in spite of such intense chemo and big surgeries. It’s a good self-care “muscle” to grow.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Let people help you. The first part of that is letting people know what help you need, that it’s ok for them to offer, and that you will graciously and gratefully accept their help. Know that this can actually be a silver lining to the horrible and shocking diagnosis of breast cancer.
Cynthia Bailey, MD is a wife, mother, practicing dermatologist and 50 something breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed with two high grade triple negative breast cancers and the BRCA gene mutation for breast and ovarian cancer in 2013 she just finished her “Breast Cancer Year” of chemotherapy treatments and surgeries. Before The Breast Cancer Year she practiced dermatology full time in her private medical practice located in the California Coastal Wine Country north of San Francisco. Dr. Bailey is personally an avid healthy lifestyle enthusiast. She has a large organic vegetable garden from which she has fed her family for over 25 years. She practices yoga, walks or lap swims for exercise every day. She and her husband of 35 years enjoy ball room dancing and traveling. An empty nester, she admits to now shamelessly doting over her dog, much to her children’s relief. She returned to her medical practice just this October and considers it a triumph over breast cancer and an appropriate coincidence for her first Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a survivor.