Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I felt a lump during a breast self-exam in the shower. I always shake my head when someone asks me this because that day I was really upset about something else and I decided to do my BSE to take my mind off of the fact that my father had just had a brain aneurysm. And while I was in the shower trying to calm down, I felt a lump and instantly started crying again. Even though I instantly assumed that I had cancer, I really hoped that I was wrong.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I got the call from the pathologist at work. I was on a new job – had only been there a couple of months – and I already felt like the “problem child” because my father had been so sick. I listened to the pathologist tell me the results of my biopsy with no expression. And as soon as I hung up the phone, I ran into the bathroom and burst into tears. It was all so surreal. I was only 39. Never married. No kids. Women like me… aren’t supposed to get breast cancer.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I was diagnosed stage 3. I had multiple tumors in one breast and several of my lymph nodes were affected. My oncologist had me do chemotherapy first, a mastectomy, then radiation and breast reconstruction. I also did a year of Herceptin as well. It was a very, very long road.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was surprised by how much I grieved through the process. I was able to keep a pretty brave and smiley face for my friends and family, but I wept and cried uncontrollably most days. Those tears flowed for over a year. It was just so heartbreaking to me. Not just the breast cancer, but the total experience and situation. I felt like breast cancer was a thief that was robbing me of so much of my life. I didn’t have kids before and chemo was likely to push me into menopause, so no kids after. I wasn’t married before, and I couldn’t imagine dating or getting married after. And so on. I felt robbed. And I didn’t even have anyone or anything that I could blame. It seemed so unfair.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
My honest advice is to cry when you need to, if you need to. Take the time to care for yourself and more importantly, allow people to care for you. Focus on healing. Women tend to put themselves last and to try to prop up the people around them… you need to conserve that energy for yourself. And also… try to be easy with people. A diagnosis of breast cancer is not just difficult for the patient. It is difficult for everyone that loves and cares for the patient. In some ways it is harder for them because they feel even more helpless than you do. Don’t over do it trying to do everything yourself, but acknowledge that they too are grieving and afraid.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
It has been 5 years since I’ve been NED. (no evidence of disease)
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was a faker. LOL. I learned that I had a lot of bravado about my life… but I wasn’t as happy as I thought I was and I was timid and afraid to really go after my dreams. I learned that I wasn’t as good with saying no as I thought. I learned that I was a whole lot stronger than I thought. And I learned that embracing my sensitivity and my tears wasn’t a bad thing. I learned to love myself… really and truly love and appreciate myself. I came out on the other side of breast cancer much more sensitive, more empathetic, and more resolute to follow my dreams. I am a lot softer now, than I allowed myself to be before. And I like it more because it feels true.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
There is no right way to handle this. All of those beautiful, perky, eternally happy survivors that you see in the media… you don’t have to be that to get through this. However you need to do it, that’s how you get through it. I cried and wrote. Some people work out… other people read or knit… whatever you can do that brings you peace and lets you heal emotionally… do that. Don’t worry about being strong for others. Be strong for yourself, in whatever way works best for you.
Nicole McLean is a survivor of stage 3 breast cancer. Diagnosed under the age of 40, she is a young adult survivor of cancer. Her award-winning blog, My Fabulous Boobies, started as a way to keep family and friends updated on her progress through her cancer treatment. Her blogging hobby became a freelance writing career and opened doors for her to become a breast cancer advocate, an author and an entrepreneur.
Thanks to her blog, Nicole has traveled internationally to discuss breast cancer advocacy, appeared on BET and has been published in several publications (both domestic and international).
Nicole has consulted with various cancer organizations, pharmaceutical companies and other Fortune 100 companies, providing social media strategy for health advocacy. She is vocal in sharing concerns from the breast cancer community to pertinent stakeholders and influencers. And… after all of that, she is now launching a subscription box service for breast cancer survivors and completing a memoir about her journey with breast cancer.
Nicole continues to blog about life after breast cancer to help other survivors know that they are not alone and to provide tips and insights into navigating life in the “new normal”. Nicole’s mission is to provide inspiration that life can continue and be just as good, if not better, after a diagnosis of breast cancer. You can also find Nicole on Facebook and Twitter.