Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
The first time, my doctor called me at work. He’d left a generic message about calling him back the night before, and honestly I heard it in his voice. The call was just a formality to confirm what I already knew – “unfortunately….” And we know nothing good ever comes after that word.
The second time, I already felt that the breast cancer had returned. I was headed to Nashville for a conference, and received the call from the nurse while waiting on an airport shuttle. It began with “I wish I had better news…”.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
The first time, it was surreal. I had an out of body experience and thought I was watching myself receive the news. I heard a bunch of words (breast cancer, treatment, staging, surgery) but none of them made sense. I cried, asked the doctor if I could call him back once I gained my composure, and called him back with a colleague so she could take notes.
The second time, I didn’t react. I mentioned it to the couple that was on the airport shuttle, and they prayed with me. I told a few more people at the conference, but pretty much kept it a secret until it was time for me to return home. I broke down in the airport and posted it on my Facebook page.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
The first time, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I had two lumpectomies (margins weren’t clear after the first one), removal of 8 lymph nodes, and radiation therapy. I was also prescribed Tamoxifen. I took Tamoxifen for about 2 years and took myself off after discussing fertility with my gynecologist. I don’t regret that decision because I really wanted to be a mother because I grew up without one pretty much.
The second time I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I received testing (the Oncotype and the Mammaprint) that reflected that I would benefit greatly from having chemotherapy and drug therapy. I had a bilateral mastectomy with failed reconstruction and six chemotherapy treatments. I am on Tamoxifen for the next 10 years and likely for the rest of my life.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I knew I would lose my hair as a result of chemo, but I didn’t realize I would be so cold all the time and my nose would run constantly. I couldn’t even sit in the house with my bald head uncovered, and because you lose ALL of your body hair, there are no nose hairs to help with the sniffles. I was also surprised at how painful the reconstruction process is when expanders are involved. I didn’t realize either that the radiation therapy I’d had during the first occurrence would ruin my skin so that the expanders wouldn’t take. Wearing a wound vac for 31 days after my expander burst was a horrible experience.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
To cry, vent, and say why me….to do all of that. And then once you are done feeling sorry for yourself, be done. Because then it’s time to FIGHT. You will need a positive attitude and a lot of prayer, but you can get through all of your treatment. I wore cute lipstick during every chemo treatment because I couldn’t control all of the other things happening to me, but I could control how I reacted and how my lips looked even with no hair. You will need a positive attitude and be able to laugh at yourself sometimes to push through, but you can and you will push through. And somebody will be inspired by you and your fight and you will draw strength from that as well.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
It will be two years in December.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I was left badly scarred by my failed reconstruction. I’ve learned that scars tell the story of the battles you’ve won. I’ve learned that at the end of every test, there’s a testimony. You can’t always see that when you are busy saying “why me”. But once you embrace it and say “why NOT me?”, you realize that out of that test is a testimony that is yours to share. That testimony will inspire others fighting a similar battle.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Fight like a girl (through any battle) and NEVER give up.
Through my battles with breast cancer, I’ve learned that scars tell a story of the battle you’ve won. I’ve learned that at the end of every test, there’s a testimony. That testimony is yours to share and should inspire others fighting a similar battle. Thank you for letting me share my story!