Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
After several years of dealing with thyroid disease, I discovered that I had thyroid cancer in 2006. Over the years, my doctor strongly recommended that I get tested for the BRCA (breast cancer) gene mutation because of my family and personal history. In July 2012, I met with a genetic counselor to get tested. After two very long weeks of waiting for the result, it came back positive for the BRCA gene mutation. I decided there wasn’t another option but to have a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgeries and an oophorectomy.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I was somewhat mentally prepared for the news, but nothing really compares to the actual feeling you get when your doctor calls and tells you the result. I was shocked and numb for several days, if not weeks, but I ultimately knew I had to be proactive and have a mastectomy.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
When you have surgery like this, the recovery process is long and very painful. My surgery was no exception. My treatment consisted of pain management and limited activity after having the mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries. The reason I created the Billow was due to the breast pain that followed these procedures and my inability to get comfortable. I also realized other women were experiencing similar issues with breast discomfort, including nursing mothers, and wanted to offer them a product that could help provide some relief as well.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I wasn’t prepared for not only the pain that followed having a mastectomy, but also the emotional impact the surgery would have on my life. It was very difficult to accept the fact that I had lost my breasts as well as the ability to naturally have children. I am still working on gaining back the self confidence that was lost and understand the importance of what it means to feel beautiful again after having this procedure. That is what inspired me to work on the Billow Beauty line, which are products for women to help heal and fade stretch marks and scarring post surgery.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Breast cancer comes in many shapes and sizes. Talk to your doctor and get as much information as you can for your specific situation and discuss treatment options. Do your own research as well. Form or join a support group and don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family. There are also incredible organizations for survivors nationwide that can be found by doing an Internet search.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I’ve been cancer free since 2006.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
What I learned during this process of being absolutely exhausted night after night, is the importance of BEAUTY SLEEP, the importance of sleep in general and how important it is to healing.
I look at my diagnosis as a gift in some ways. Without knowing, I would have never had the option to take the necessary measures to prevent cancer from potentially taking my life and finding the passion to take something completely out of my control and turning it into a positive result.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Breast cancer touches everyone’s life in one way or another. I would encourage every mother, every woman, to make time to check themselves for signs of anything unusual in their breasts, to get mammograms as often as your doctor recommends and get tested for the BRCA gene mutation if you have a family history.
Marnie Rustemeyer is the founder and CEO of Billow Pillow – conceived, designed and created following her diagnosis with the BRCA (breast cancer) gene, a mastectomy and subsequent reconstructive surgeries. The Billow was developed as a sleep aide after more than a year of research and development.