I'm a 6-year breast cancer survivor.
My first scare with breast cancer was when I was 27.
I found a lump in my breast doing a self-exam. After a lumpectomy, I found out it was benign and I had a sense of relief. That is until at 37 I found another, larger lump during a self-exam and the intense fear for the unknown began.
After multiple tests, scans and biopsies, I was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive ductal and invasive lobular carcinomas.
I was taught at a young age to do self-breast exams by my mother who worked as a registered nurse for an obstetrician/gynecologist and she made me aware of the history of breast cancer in our family.
The thoughts of, “I'm too young for breast cancer” and “How can this happen when I've been very diligent about breast exams and mammograms,” started running through my head. Then I wondered, "Am I going to die?"
The fact is, no one is too young, too healthy or too safe from this disease. You have to be faithful to your self-exams and medical checkups.
I've had over 20 surgeries the most intense being a bilateral mastectomy with the beginning of reconstruction.
I went through six months of ACT chemotherapy; ACT is the strongest chemo that was available for the types of cancer that I was diagnosed with. Side effects included but were not limited to nausea, hair loss, bone pain, muscle aches, weakness, blisters in my mouth, taste buds change, everything tasting like metal and infection.
And six weeks of radiation; with the side effects of extreme exhaustion, blistering of the skin, and a feeling of just a constant sunburn. For six weeks after that there where multiple physical therapy sessions and continued medical follow-ups.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Life in remission
Once you hear the words, “You have cancer,” your life is never the same; your body is never the same.
Over the last five years I have met a lot of people that have become friends, even closer than some family, and have lost too many to count. You realize how precious life is and the smaller things remain small issues, instead of allowing them to be blown out of proportion. The saying "Don’t sweat the small things" really hits home. If you want to travel, travel. If you want to learn a foreign language or try new foods do it because tomorrow is never promised and you don’t want there to be any regrets.
The best way to beat it is to catch it early. Don’t waste the opportunity to know your own body and save your own life. Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer other issues have arisen and I’ve gone to the doctor immediately. I have had tumors removed from my ovaries with a complete hysterectomy and they are currently monitoring a small tumor on my thyroid. You can’t just hope that nothing ever happens.
One Day at a Time
If you have been recently diagnosed with cancer the advice I can give you is to take it one day at a time-- one foot in front of the other. Try not to fix anyone else’s problems and focus on you. There are various support groups either through the American Cancer Society, some hospitals and even social media such as Facebook where you can find others who are going through the same thoughts, fears, feelings and changes in their body. It is not easy but it is something that you can get through.
If you are a supporter of someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer I will tell you to be there for them and listen. Listen only. Don’t try to give your input if you have not been there because you can’t fully understand and we would never want you to have to find out.
For me losing my hair was not a huge issue but for other women it is their identity. Just listen and maybe grab them some dangly earrings to make them smile. Small things mean the most like ice cream on a bad day. Helping with laundry, cleaning and tasks around the house can be a relief since they become almost impossible to complete as weakness sets in. The mental exhaustion on top of the medications takes its toll so being there for someone even if it’s just to watch a movie and bring them ginger ale will make a difference.
Presented by: Leigh Winner
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