Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I found out during a routine mammogram just before my 51st birthday; I was diagnosed on Sept. 29, 2010. To create a baseline, I had been going for mammograms regularly since I was 35 years old.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I was shocked. I had no risk factors and no family history. I don’t smoke and drink very little. I eat organic foods and exercise regularly. After I was diagnosed, I wanted the cancer gone immediately.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
My doctor and I decided that chemo was the best treatment plan for me, which was the adriamycin, cytoxan and taxol (ACT) plan. My primary site was my left breast, and I decided to do a bilateral mastectomy because my husband and I felt it was the easiest way to reconstruct my breasts.
4. 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. The overall treatment, for me, wasn’t as bad as I expected.
Reconstruction did take about a year; however, I went with a natural, virtually scarless procedure known as fat grafting. My husband is a plastic surgeon and the director of The Bougainvillea Clinique. He is dedicated to helping breast cancer survivors naturally regain their breasts with the use of their own fat. The reconstruction option I picked helped me to maintain an active lifestyle as a nurse, fitness instructor and member of a women’s breast cancer survivors dragon boat team.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Be open to accepting help and kindness from others. Have patience.
Don’t be afraid to learn about different treatment options your doctor might not be familiar with, especially when it comes to reconstruction. Options include fat grafting, implants or the flap procedure. Research and 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, reconstruction was an important part of the healing process.
6. How long have you been cancer-free?
I had my mastectomy on Oct. 1, 2010, so almost four years.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t do any good. No pity parties. Exercise and work, if possible. Being around other survivors helps. Your family is there to support you, as well.
Working with my husband, Dr. Jeffrey Hartog, at The Bougainvillea Clinique and assisting other breast cancer survivors with their reconstruction journeys helped me tremendously. I am able to be a part of the recovery process for so many different women and that process helped me in so many different ways. I also joined Warriors on Water, an all-female dragon boat team – each woman on the team is a breast cancer survivor. It’s exercise and a support group.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to get regular mammograms. The earlier you catch breast cancer the better the treatment options that are available to you.
If you do have a mastectomy, don’t be afraid to look into the different types of breast reconstruction like I did. Don’t just settle for what the doctor tells you. I went with fat grafting because it is scarless and, for me, it provided the most natural looking results. My recovery time was short and I had very little pain and zero complications.
Michelle Hartog is the mother of two and a breast cancer survivor. She is completing graduate school for the second time and leads an active lifestyle as a nurse, fitness instructor and competitor on a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. She has been married to Dr. Jeffrey Hartog for more than 20 years.