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Survivor Stories 2015: Cathy Fillis

CathyF

Survivor Stories 2015:
Cathy Fillis

 

1. How did you first find out you had cancer?

It was 2007, I was 34 and ready to get pregnant with my second child.  Because my mom died from breast cancer when I was 19 (exactly 24 years ago today and she was a month shy of 47) I was “allowed” to get a mammogram earlier than the recommended age of 40. I got my first mammogram in April and shortly after I was asked to come back for a second mammogram and possibly an ultrasound. I was diagnosed just 5 days before my 35th birthday.

2. How did you react when you heard the news?

I was crushed. I always thought I would get breast cancer, but I never thought I would get it at age 34 …and to be diagnosed after my FIRST mammogram. The only experience with breast cancer was with my mom…and she died.  Will I die too?

3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I had a lumpectomy, along with sentinel node biopsy. (1 out of 24 lymph nodes had cancer) I had 5 months of chemotherapy, with the first 2 months being every other Thursday and the last 3 months getting chemo every Thursday.  Then followed with 6 weeks of radiation, 5 days a week. Since finishing radiation, I have been taking Tamoxifen. At first it was recommended to take Tamoxifen for 5 years, but now 10 years is the goal. I am on my 7th year.

4. What most surprised you about your treatment?

Maybe it was my age, maybe it was my doctors, maybe it was my side effect meds or maybe I just was lucky, but…..I wasn’t the typical cancer patient.I always pictured people with cancer being sickly thin and always getting sick. The nurse told me to eat when I felt like eating…..well, I’m still eating. 🙂 I never got sick, there were some smells that made me nauseous, but that was it. After my first 4 treatments, which were the harshest, I got a shot the day after that increased my white cell count….that shot gave me flu like aches. I continued to work my part time job all through out my treatment.

5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

If possible, try to keep your sense of humor. I know it may depend on your diagnosis, but just try.  When friends and family offer to help, in any way, take them up on it. Don’t let your pride get in the way. And if you’re up to it, continue to work….keeps your mind off cancer and you get to see people that aren’t wearing white coats….unless you actually work at a hospital :/

6. How long have you been cancer free?

I personally don’t like to say that I am cancer free. How can you prove that there’s not cancer somewhere hiding in my body? I also don’t like the word remission. To me remission sounds like I’m taking a break from cancer and that it will come back. I consider myself a SURVIVOR since the day I was diagnosed May 30, 2007. So, 8 years and counting

7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?

The internet can be your best friend and your worst enemy. I used it to get information to know what questions to ask my doctors. The doctors don’t give you all the information, you have to be your own advocate. There’s a lot of negative experiences/information out there, you just can’t believe it will all happen to you. Use the information to be aware of what’s going on with your body and about the treatments.

8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

Make sure you are getting your annual screenings…and make sure your friends and family are doing the same. If we’re talking about mammograms…it’s only a few minutes of being uncomfortable…it’s worth the pain if it means it’ll save your life.

 

I like to think that my mom saved my life. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to get an early mammogram. When she had a mastectomy her tumor was over 8 cm. She had chemo and radiation and chemo again. My tumor was 1.4 cm, just imagine if it had been left to grow 5 more years. My mom has 3 sisters, one of which was diagnosed with in situ. Then just this year, my 48 year old sister was diagnosed with the same cancer as me, ductal carcinoma. She chose to have a double mastectomy and doesn’t have to have chemo or radiation, but is taking Tamoxifen, like me. Since her diagnosis, we both have undergone genetic counseling. Hers tested 17 cancer genes, mine tested 24 genes……all of which came back NEGATIVE! Crazy, huh?!

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