Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I had found a lump in my right breast in August 2000. For the next couple of months, I saw a few different doctors who all assured me that I had nothing to worry about.
I was 38, and had no previous breast cancer history in my family, so my risk was thought to be extremely low. I wasn’t convinced, so I persisted and saw a breast surgeon. He shared the opinion of the other doctors.
I asked him to test the lump seeing as how I was there anyway. I remembered that he had trouble getting a sample when he aspirated it. That was on Friday afternoon. On Monday, I got a call from the surgeon asking me to go back to see the doctor.
But this time it was November and happened to be my mum and niece’s birthday. The doctor calmly told me that they had found “evidence of cancer” and that surgery was in 36 hours so he needed me to go directly to the hospital and register.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
To be honest, it took a little while to register what “evidence of cancer” meant. I was stunned, shocked, and drove home in a daze, cars buzzing by me without me really registering.
By the time I had reached our home, it was all feeling very real. My husband asked one simple question, “How bad is it?” I calmly told him, “It’s really bad.”
I then relayed what the doctor had told me, which was in reality I had 36 hours to prepare for what would be an onslaught of doctors, surgery, treatment, and learning what a cancer experience was.
The following day, I went to tell a girlfriend and could no longer fight holding in the tears or emotion of what was a life changing experience already.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
The surgery took place 36 hours after I got the news and I have to pay homage to my surgeon, as he was amazing. He left me open on the table while they tested the tumor so that he could reduce the number surgeries I might require.
The testing revealed that the cancer had spread significantly as 18 of 21 nodes had tested positive, and that it was a very aggressive form of cancer.
A couple of weeks later, the gravity of the diagnosis hit home and I was given a one in 10 chance of surviving it. My medical oncologist suggested that being very aggressive with the treatment would give me the best chance of survival.
My treatment plan was four doses of AC chemotherapy, 30 doses of radiation therapy, three doses of CMF chemotherapy and five years on Tamoxifen. The treatment took 10 months in total and finished in September 2001.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
The side effects of the treatments were quite overwhelming. I expected the hair loss, mouth ulcers, nausea, and radiation burn.
What surprised me most was going into menopause after the first chemotherapy. I was 38, we had been married for six months and were planning a family. Most of all I never know that this could happen.
I was also surprised at how my body was able to respond to everything that was thrown at it over that 10 month period. I was able to continue working through it all, but at times that was really tough but was the distraction I needed at the time.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Spend time understanding the true and full impacts of your treatment plan.
By understanding what other women “wish they had known” can help ask the right questions of your medical team, get a realistic understanding of the full impact of the treatment and help you make informed decisions about your treatment.
You should be a partner in your health care rather than just a participant. Being a partner can enable you to stay informed and stay empowered through what can be a very disempowering experience.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I was diagnosed in November 2000, so I am coming up for 14 years this year. While my life has changed enormously during the last 14 years and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to experience post cancer life as a healthy empowered women.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
In the beginning, I really just wanted to be alive at the end of the treatment and expected that life would go back to “normal.” As it turned out, for me and for so many women, finishing treatment left me at a loss as to how to reclaim my life again.
My focus had been staying alive, then had to become not just surviving but really then stepping beyond survivorship and reclaiming my identity and life from the disease.
I learned that it is possible to live without fear of recurrence when you focus on living a healthy lifestyle across eight key lifestyle areas.
I also learned that it is possible to emerge from survivorship. I had fought so hard to survive through the treatment but it was hard and I didn’t want to merely survive for the rest of my life I felt I deserved more from life than living that way.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
I am pleased to say that I was able to find that path which has not only help me, but others as well, through a cancer experience and many other survivorship experiences as well.
My message is that it is possible to live a life being true to how you are that will enable you emerge from survivorship.
It’s been a wild ride, which has lead Gai Comans around the world. Now the topic of conversation with her family and friends is about is her adventurous life as a speaker, author, interviewer through her community presence with “Empowered Living After Breast Cancer” and “Emerging Experiences.”
Gai had survived many things in her life, and a cancer diagnosis at the age of 38 rocked her world, then finishing treatment proved to be more difficult than the diagnosis when life didn’t automatically shift back to “normal.”
Not content to live with the “labels” that went along with survivorship she was determined to find a way to empower herself after treatment and then emerge from survivorship. Gai now provides an avenue for you to Elevate your spirits, Empower your lifestyle and Emerge from survivorship. Join Gai to reclaim your identity and leave the labels of the past behind you . . .