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Survivor Stories: Stephanie Johnson

StephanieJ

Survivor Stories:
Stephanie Johnson

 

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

I had a lump growing in my left breast over the summer of 2011. I got my mammogram and biopsy in August of 2011 (I was 38 years old) and was told by the physician who reviewed my biopsy results

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

Honestly – I was in shock. It’s crazy to think about it because I had anticipated that it was cancer and have even tried to prepare myself for it to be true. I know my family history (a lot of breast cancer) and the lump was just not something normal. It had grown quickly and to a good size by diagnosis. Still, even with the logical mind understanding these things, when she said “It is cancer” I became quite winded – as if I had been punched in the stomach.

3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I had to do 4 months of the strongest chemo for my type – Triple negative breast cancer is a rather angry beast. Also, I’m positive for the breast cancer gene (BRCA1) and that made a difference in all that I had to do. After 4 months of the super chemo, I did a complete, bilateral mastectomy (both breasts) with reconstruction to come 6 months later. I also did a full hysterectomy (uterus), oopherectomy (ovaries) and even the blood lines leading to those areas were stripped out. I wrapped it all up with final reconstruction nearly one full year after diagnosis. Radiation was an option for me but I declined.

4. What most surprised you about your treatment?

I think just how my body reacted to the treatment. My oncologist and the team of doctors were all wonderful and very informative so I always knew the reasoning and the procedural. Watching how my body took to certain elements was always a surprise. Little things, too… For example: We all know that the hair is lost but we don’t think about the hair inside of our nose. All of your hair goes away so that goes to. That means I needed a lot of tissues because there was no little hairs to hold the natural mucus the nose produces. Thankfully another survivor had just walked that road and warned me while bringing me boxes of tissues. Side effect surprises were always a gamble. From “Oh, okay… I can’t taste anything but metal now” to “Oh… look at that.. my skin on my fingertips is sloughing off”. Most of all, I was really surprised that I made it.

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

I believe that knowledge is power so the more knowledge that I had of my disease, the more power I felt I had over the upcoming results. Sure, there were a lot of surprises but my knowledge and thirst for it helped a lot. I talked to my doctor about everything. I mean, absolutely everything. I kept a notebook for questions or thoughts because chemo brain is real and I knew I’d forget before my next appointment. Be sure to have a team of doctors who are on board with the knowledge and are willing to be informative. Also, this is a marathon – not a sprint… don’t push yourself beyond what you should be doing and don’t take anything personally because there will be changes within your circle of friends. Some people just don’t know how to handle cancer.

6. How long have you been cancer free?

3.5 years

7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?

I learned to change my priorities in life. Facing your own mortality is rather eye opening. I changed my life and career to follow a path I always admired from afar. I learned that we are all a lot more strong than we realize. I learned to let a lot of things go and to ride this journey out.

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

Take care of yourself. Please don’t be afraid to check yourself and to get medical help for it.
Give yourself a break from the perceived expectations of the world around you and breathe. This journey of life is a roller coaster ride that, ultimately, ends for everyone so you might as well put your hands up and laugh with it.

 

Dallas-based beauty pro, trained educator, photographer, blogger, wife, mom, breast cancer survivor – tired.

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