Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I was in the shower and the soap slipped out of my hands as I was passing over the side of my breast and I felt a lump. It was definitely out of the ordinary, and something I had never felt before. When I went in for the mammogram to check it out, they couldn’t see it even though they knew it was there, so they did an ultrasound and took a lot of pictures. I knew it wasn’t good because they were spending so much time with the ultrasound and even brought in the radiologist to take a look. After that, they called me in and told me I needed a biopsy. I could see the tumor and the “satellite sites” around it showing that it had already spread within the breast, and the enlarged nearby lymph node. I asked her opinion of how likely it was that it was cancer and she said “I’d be really concerned about this one.”
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I had not had a biopsy yet, and so the results were not confirmed, but I knew it wasn’t looking good. I cried. I tried holding it back, but it came in hard, wrecking sobs. My mom was there, and she started crying too. She came over to me and gathered me up in her arms like she was trying to hold all of me like she might have when I was little and we just cried. By the time the biopsy results came in I was prepared for the news that I really did have cancer.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I did 8 rounds of chemotherapy first so we could see how the tumor responded to the treatments. After chemo, I had a double mastectomy. Because I was only 36, they strongly recommended I have both breasts removed, even though it wasn’t absolutely necessary. We decided it gave me the best chance of remaining cancer free down the road. My doctor said “Whatever predisposition you have that caused you to get cancer in the 1st 36 years of your life puts you at greater risk in the next 36 years – both for recurrence and a new cancer altogether”. I did 28 radiation treatments and reconstruction as well.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I had a lot of people tell me the nausea of chemo wasn’t as prevalent as it had been in the past because the medications they have to combat it are so good. So I wasn’t expecting to be hit hard with feeling sick, but I was. Within a few hours of the end of my 1st treatment I was lying on the bathroom floor, lights off, face down in a pool of sweat, nausea and vertigo. I was also surprised at how quickly my hair began to fall out. Just a couple days before my 2nd treatment I noticed my hair was coming out in clumps.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Stay positive. Let people help and let go of everything beyond your control. Take care of yourself and spend time with your family and friends. Cancer is scary – decide now to fight with everything you have – for your life, but also for your soul. I have a very strong faith in Jesus, which I believe makes a huge difference. If you’ve ever wondered about faith – now is a great time to check it out for yourself. If you have a Christian background, cling to it more than ever.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
So much that I can’t possibly fit it all in here. Some highlights:
Feel all your feelings. Don’t hide a single one. There is so much freedom in this… But feel it, and release it when it is bad. Never dwell on the negative feelings. Acknowledge them and let them go.
Don’t allow others expectations dictate your life. Let go of relationships that bring you down.
Find the silver lining. There is always a silver lining. So often we focus on the problem at hand and don’t look around enough to see the good that can be found. Stay positive!!
Feed your soul – whatever that means to you. Really take the time to discover what brings you joy. For me, my family, a few close friends and the discovery of a passion for ballroom dancing has reinvented me post cancer. Letting go of the little things – REALLY letting go… Letting go of things out of your control. Letting go of the “this is how its supposed to be done” mentality and embracing life and all your own quirkiness to really become the person you were created to be is so important. We all talk about this.
But I think walking through cancer really helps you understand what this means. When you can genuinely smile through the tears and the fears that come with a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, you are on your way to discovering JOY that is greater than anything.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
You absolutely ARE good enough mothers! Don’t let anyone else define your worth.
You are valuable just the way you are. Give yourself grace. You are more than good enough… every one of us brings something unique and wonderful to our families and remember that God entrusted YOU with your children. If you spend all your time doing for others and never doing anything for yourself you may find yourself feeling lost or depressed. Don’t be afraid to say no, but also don’t be afraid to say yes to something new, or something that is just for you. Please don’t forget to take care of your own soul. Doing something that brings you life and joy makes you a better mother. I neglected that part of me for a long time, and it almost killed me. Take care of you so you can be your best you as a wife and mother!
Robin Schwarz is a dancer at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in South Barrington, IL. She is proud performer in Dancing with the Survivors, a fundraising gala featuring breast cancer survivors paired with professional dancers from Fred Astaire Dance Studios for an evening of music, cocktails, food and ballroom dance. All proceeds benefit The Pink Fund, a national organization that provides individuals in active treatment for breast cancer with up to 90 days of financial assistance to cover non-medical expenses, such as health insurance premiums, housing, transportation and utilities.
To learn more, visit www.thepinkfund.org.