Dealing with Cancer is not an easy thing. The diagnosis itself is life changing, and your number one focus becomes getting through treatment and returning to a normal life. For me, I just wanted everything to be done and over with. The last thing on my mind was how bad my diagnosis really was. Sure I am alive and considered a “survivor” but my life has forever been changed by this horrible disease. While each day is a blessing, it is also a struggle as I work towards my new normal, whatever that may be.
As you battle Cancer, your primary focus becomes beating this horrible disease. You are aware of the potential side effects, but you do your best to block them out, so you can survive treatment and ring that bell as a survivor. What you do not realize is the effect that a year’s worth of treatment can have on your body.
As I woke up this morning, I am sore in places that I never expected could be so sore. Sure, your first thought may be that I overdid it at the gym, but my aches and pains are caused by something so many take for granted, running errands. Prior to my advanced Stage 3A Breast Cancer Diagnosis, carrying a basket full of groceries was something that I did without giving it a second thought. But a year worth of treatments took more of a toll on my body than I could have ever imagined.
While I was in the midst of my six rounds of chemotherapy that consisted of four different medications, Herceptin, Prejeta, Docetaxel, and Carboplatin. I received these treatments every three weeks and finished out the year with Herceptin every three weeks. Chemotherapy takes a serious toll on your body. Your sense of taste gets thrown out of whack, you deal with horrible dry mouth, nausea, and fatigue that makes you barely want to get out of bed.
For me, my treatments didn’t hit me hard until a few days after they were administered. This resulted in me spending hours either resting in bed or on the couch watching TV. I had very little energy to do much of anything, and even the almost mile-long walk to my desk was a struggle. I could barely think straight most days, and I seemed to lose all strength to do the simplest of things, like opening a new jar of pickles. I also developed the “dropsies”, a case where things would fall out of my hands unexpectedly like my brain no longer had control over my reflexes to catch something that was tossed to me or to maintain a grip on something I was already holding.
Climbing stairs became a struggle as just one flight of stairs would leave my legs feeling I had run a marathon. I knew I needed to rest as much as possible to allow my body to heal, but this is extended amount of rest had the same effects on my body as that of someone who has been placed on bedrest. Without physical activity, your muscles will atrophy, or begin to waste away. This is the number one reason why tasks that were easy prior to your Cancer treatment now seem like they are almost impossible to achieve. It also explains why a simple task like grocery shopping left my shoulders feeling like I spent the afternoon lifting weights, which I guess in some ways I did.
The path to regaining your health and muscle strength is not something that will happen overnight, but there are a few things you can do to get your body back in the same if not better shape than it was prior to your Cancer diagnosis.
One of the biggest changes I made was replacing my morning scrambled eggs and an apple with a protein shake. High-quality protein, like that found in my Isagenix IsaLean Protein Shake, helps support the body in retaining and building lean muscle mass. Items like beef, pork, and poultry are also good sources, but nothing can beat the 24G of protein a shake can provide. Soy is also another option, but if you happen to have been diagnosed with cancer that is Estrogen positive, it has been recommended to avoid Soy as much as possible as some say it can mimic estrogen in the body. There is still mixed information on this, so I do my best to avoid it as much as possible.
In addition to eating healthy, it is of the utmost importance to get your body moving. For me, this was the hardest thing to do because I was constantly paranoid that my body would not be able to handle any strenuous forms of exercise. My oncologist constantly recommends 30 minutes of strenuous exercise every day to help improve memory function, but my mind kept convincing me that she was wrong. While I would love to purchase a Pelaton Cycle and a NordicTrack treadmill, I started small by working out on my Total Gym again.
But then we got a snow storm last week, while my husband was at work, so I forced myself to go out and shovel, against the better judgment of the voices in my head that kept telling me I couldn’t do it. Surprisingly enough I was able to clear our whole driveway and front walk of a few inches of heavy, slushy snow, and it didn’t kill me. Of course, I am about four months out from my last Herceptin treatment, and a few months post-op of my reconstruction surgery, so my body has had a bit more time to recoup than someone who may have just finished treatments yesterday.
It is still very important to listen to your body, and rest when you know you need to, but you also need to challenge yourself from time to time. Take that walk out to the mailbox, or climb that flight of stairs. Sure it may seem difficult at first, but with time these difficult tasks will start to become easier, proof that your body is slowly regaining the strength it had prior to your diagnosis.
Just remember that healing will take time. Your body did not get this way overnight, so your path to health will be a long journey as well. Just be patient, and with time, life will return to normal, making your Cancer treatment a distant memory.
No matter what kind of Cancer you were diagnosed with, the treatments utilized to kill this life threating disease take a horrible toll on your body, both physically and mentally. The fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, and countless other side effects can make you long for the days when visits to the doctor did not consume your life.
I was diagnosed in September of 2016, and while my Chemotherapy, Radiation, and two surgeries seemed to go by in a blur, they were not without anger, frustration and sadness as every day was a constant struggle to adjust to what my new “normal” would be. There would be days where I barely had enough energy to get out of bed, others where I was in so much physical pain that it felt like my entire body had been run over by a freight train, and the tears when I would look in the mirror post surgery and be so upset by how Cancer had disfigured my body, making me wonder if I would look normal ever again.
It has been approximately four months since I finished the last of my Chemotherapy treatments for my Stage 3 Breast Cancer, and a little over a month since I had my reconstruction surgery, and I’m not going to lie, but life has been quite the struggle for me the entire time. With a lot of trial and error, I have slowly begun to adjust to my new “normal”, and while I know I still have a long way to go, these simple tips have helped me attack each and every day with a positive outlook, instead of a negative one.
Your brain may not function as well as it used to
More commonly known as Chemo Brain, there is a good chance you have noticed that your brain is not functioning like it used to. You may find yourself forgetting simple things, like, did I clean the litterbox today, or remembering to remind your significant other to complete a certain task. For me, there have been days where I have felt like huge gaps in my day have gone missing. I can’t remember for the life of me what I did, or if I accomplished what I needed to do.
One of my first struggles was trying to remember when all my doctor’s appointments were. Sure I had them on a calendar in our kitchen, but many times I would forget to remind my husband, which would cause problems, especially if it was an appointment that he needed to leave work early for. I began utilizing the calendar on my iPhone, which was shared with my husband, so he could check the calendar for any given day and know whether or not a doctors appointment was scheduled.
In order to ensure I accomplish everything that I need to on any given day, I have started utilizing a task list in my daily planner. Prior to my Breast Cancer, I could keep track of my to-do’s in my head, but my treatments took such a huge toll on my mind, that I could no longer accomplish what needed to be done without first writing it down. That way I had a reference that I could easily check off when the task was completed. This has helped me greatly in a few ways. It ensures I don’t forget to do something, and also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I can mark something as completed.
But by far the biggest frustration for me has been my inability to learn new things. This became quite obvious to me at work, prior to losing my job. My manager would show me a new task, and in the past, I could easily make sense of the task at hand and could come up with questions on what I did not understand or I needed clarification on. My post-treatment brain made me feel like a deer in the headlights on most days. I could hear the words, but I could not comprehend anything that was shown to me. I felt like a mess, and this is something I still fight with on certain days, especially after my monthly Zoladex shot.
In order to try and absorb new things, I do my best to take detailed notes on any new task that I learn. Prior to my diagnosis and treatment, I spent most of my professional life working as an IT Support Specialist, but my treatments robbed me of many of my skills that made me successful in that role. I have a hard time remembering processes that use to come to me like second nature unless it was something that was documented and easy to follow. Only time will tell if I am able to regain that functional part of my brain, or if those skills are gone for good.
Allow your body time to rest and heal
The biggest struggle with cancer treatment is that the treatments and the side effects that come along with them rob you of the life you have been so accustomed to living. Tasks you used to take care of on your own, need to be handled by a friend or family member because you just don’t have the strength or energy to do it yourself. This can make you feel useless and a burden to others, and it is one of the hardest things to come to grips with.
As you heal from treatment, it will take time for your body to heal and be able to handle the tasks that you used to do prior to your diagnosis. You so badly want to feel better, to feel like everything is back to normal, that you end up harming yourself, both physically and mentally, before your body is ready for it.
Like it or not, your body just went through one hell of a battle with itself, and if you’re reading this you won that battle and have kicked Cancer into remission, but the journey is still far from over. While the doctors may no longer be pumping you full of medications to kill the Cancer, the effects of your treatments will linger long after treatment has finished. You will need to listen to your body, and allow yourself to rest when you need to.
Even though I am approximately four months out from my last treatment, I am only now just starting to feel better, but I am in no way back to normal. Something as simple as a weekly trip to the grocery store will knock me on my butt. My entire body aches, and I feel exhausted, all from a task that I used to complete without any physical issues.
I still spend most evenings resting in bed, because I know I still have a long path of healing ahead of me, as you will as well. You need to take care of yourself, and that means resting when you need to. This may mean you will not be able to do certain things, but that is ok. Your health will improve with proper rest and care, allowing you to return to a normal life, whatever that normal may be for you.
These are just a few of the things that have helped me get through the day post cancer treatment. While I know there will probably be more as I adjust to my own “normal”, I hope that this information has helped point you in a positive direction so you can work towards a life that you will love, free from Cancer.
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With every Breast Cancer diagnosis, these simple words are what every single Breast Cancer fighter hopes to hear at their end of their fight.
Between chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and hormonal treatments, the targeted approach to kill the existing cancer while preventing a reoccurrence takes a serious toll on the body, both physically and mentally. For me, the term Cancer had become a household name, after my father’s diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer in 2015.
We did everything we could to help my parents during this very trying time, and no one can ever prepare you to lose a parent at the age of 36 years old. To watch first hand as your dad wastes away, not from the cancer but instead from the side effects of the Parkinson’s Disease he had been diagnosed with years earlier.
When my father finally passed in October of 2015, we thought we were done with the “C” word and tried to resume a normal life after being surrounded by death and illness. I tried my best to re-focus on my responsibilities at work, but it was a daily struggle, as a plethora of symptoms had become my constant companion.
I blamed it on all the stress we had been under while dealing with my dad’s illness, including the lump that had appeared in my breast during my dads last few months on this earth. A year later, and I finally decided to seek the assistance of a Naturopath to hopefully figure out what was wrong with me once and for all, and finally put me on my path to health.
Needless to say, I soon found myself faced with that hated word yet again, Cancer, except this time instead of dealing with someone else, I found myself faced with a very serious battle for my life. I was diagnosed in September of 2016, at the age of 37 with Stage 3A Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I was too young to let Cancer take me, and after everything our family had been through a year prior, I had to fight the tough fight that my dad was unable to.
Today I had my 3-month followup with my Oncologist since finishing my last round of Chemo. My reconstruction surgery was approximately a month ago, and I was finally able to kiss the port good-by. I thought I was finally on the path to regaining a normal life, whatever that may be, but instead, I found myself leaving the doctors office with both good and bad news.
The good was a pink folder documenting everything I had been through in the past year. My diagnosis, treatments and important informational resources which is the Oncology way of classifying you as a Breast Cancer Survivor. Of course, the bad news came when the discussion came to medications needed to keep the Cancer from reoccurring.
You see, my cancer was Estrogen positive, so in order to have the best shot at killing the cancer, you need to starve it, which meant throwing me into early Menopause with a monthly shot. Every four weeks I need to make a trip to my Oncologist to get a shot in the gut, literally, with an extended-release capsule that disables my estrogen production. I am also on Tamoxifen to target the estrogen created by other parts of the body, like belly fat.
So being someone that hates taking any type of medication, I was not thrilled with my current situation, but thought I would only need to be on the Tamoxifen for 5 years, and I could discontinue the Zoldadex after having a Hysterectomy. Well in a very short amount of time my hopes of being medication free were shattered. The 5 years I had sworn my doctor told me at my last meeting with her suddenly turned into 10 years.
Sure I understand they want to make sure there are no reoccurrences of Cancer, but in my head, I can’t help but wonder about the negative side effects of being on any medication for that long. She then advised me that it may be best to switch me from the Tamoxifen to a new medication called Aromasin. Evidently this pill works better at blocking Estrogen, but of course comes with its own side effects, like bone loss, which of course there is another shot to help counteract that, which I would need for two years. Then to make matters even worse, she told me that the hormonal therapies could also make my brain fog, and difficulty with concentrating worse.
I honestly felt like I had been punched in the gut. One minute I feel like I am finally working towards normalcy, only to find out that it has been all the medications I am on that has put me on what feels like an endless roller coaster each and every month. I go from barely being able to think straight or focus for about two weeks after my shot, which I got today, to approximately two weeks of somewhat normal functionality, only to start the cycle all over again.
I left my appointment with a mix of emotions. Sure I’m supposed to be happy that I am a survivor of a disease that has taken women younger than myself. Yes, at my office alone, they just lost a patient this week to this horrible disease, but I can’t help but be a bit self-centered as I still wonder what my new normal will be. Will I ever be able to work again? And if so doing what? I may be a survivor, but I will always have Cancer in my body, it just may be dormant, and I prefer to keep it that way cause I don’t want to fall down this rabbit hole yet again.
With Cancer, there are always good days and there are bad days. I need to remember to not let the bad days consume me, and instead focus on improving my health, and my morning Isagenix shakes are a step in that direction. I have felt noticeably better in the few months I have been using the products, and I have to remember that wellness is not a sprint, its a marathon, and each day is a little bit better than the last. I need to focus on healing my body and my mind, instead of focusing on things that I cannot control. In a year from now, I hope to be a healthier, happier and slimmer version of myself, who has kicked Cancer’s butt, and with the help of Isagenix, I know I can get there!
One of the hardest parts of the Breast Cancer journey is figuring out what exactly your new normal is. When you are first diagnosed with this disease, a plethora of thoughts and feelings go through your mind. Fear, anger, frustration, sadness, just to name a few, and that is completely fine, as well all deal with life-threatening illnesses in a variety of ways.
For me, when I was diagnosed in September of 2016, I was adamant until the day my biopsy results came back that this was anything but cancer. I had the lump for over a year and figured if it was something that bad, well then it would have taken me by now. Although it is still unknown as to how exactly my Breast Cancer came to be, was it a benign lump that had started to change, was it always cancer, and countless other questions, there was no denying the fact that I was now part of a club that I never wanted to be in. You know the pink ribbon club, the one that has a whole month dedicated to it.
It has been just over a year since I started my breast cancer journey, and there have been good days, and there have been bad. The good days where I can push through and deal with the pain, sickness and all the other side effects that came along with various treatments, and there are the days that few see, the days where the tears never seem to end, the days when you hate looking at yourself in the mirror, angry and saddened at what cancer has done to your body, as well as bit of fear at the unknown because you know you will never return to what normal used to be, but not knowing what you new normal will be.
As of September of 2017, I officially finished the last of my cancer treatments and was declared in remission. I will never truly be cancer free because I will always have the cancer cells in my body, they just happen to be dormant, or NED, which is no evidence of disease as my surgeon puts it.
I had my bi-lateral mastectomy surgery back in February 2017, and at that point, the expanders were put in to make a pocket for the implants to be put in. Six weeks after my surgery, when I was due to return to work, I found myself scheduled for five weeks of radiation. This was in addition to the Chemo maintenance I was still completing. I was hesitant about radiation, but it was a necessary step in my treatment, because there is no guarantee that all the active Cancer cells are “scooped out”, so to speak, during surgery.
At the end of radiation, I had a lovely burn, my underarm area was the worst, but I took the treatments like a champ, and was happy to have another stage in the process done.
Throughout my entire cancer battle, I still worked full time, not because I wanted to but because I had to in order to maintain the health insurance that was covering my countless doctor’s visits, as well as the much-needed income to cover our bills. Just as I was finally reaching the point of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, finally being done with all my treatments, with only my reconstruction surgery ahead of me, the rug was unexpectedly pulled out from under me in the form of losing my job.
During my entire battle, I expressed to management countless times that I needed assistance to ensure errors were not made in my job. Assistance was hit or miss because in the months leading up to my termination, management was rarely available, and began to be distracted by personal issues, which left me with little to no confidence that they would actually catch an error if there was one, as on more than one occasion I caught my own error, and when it was brought to their attention, I was told that was not something they checked anyways.
I walked into work one day and was told I was suspended, pending an investigation. In all my years, never had I been terminated from a job, and now I was being made to feel like I was the bad guy, because I had cancer. I always left on good terms, but now since I found myself battling a serious illness, with no accommodations made to assist me completing required tasks without errors, while dealing with both physical and mental side effects, like chemo brain, from all the chemicals put into my system to kill the cancer. While errors were made, they should have been caught by a review of my work, but instead, my errors made management “look bad”, so I was terminated.
While I will say that the loss of my job was a blessing in disguise as it has granted me the time needed to heal, both physically and mentally, there is still a part of me that will always hold resentment towards management and how things were handled. I should have never been made to feel like I was a criminal, instead I should have been given the support and assistance needed to be successful in my job, but in the end, I have come to peace with it, and know that Karma will have the final say.
After my job loss, I finished chemo, as well as the countless “fills” needed for the expanders to reach the maximum size that the skin would accept. Due to the amount of skin removed on the cancer side during my mastectomy, and the damage done during radiation, the cancer side was the limiting factor of how large of an implant I would be able to get.
I was told that I would more than likely end up with a B cup, my first struggle with the reality of what my new normal would be, as even with implants, I would never be the size I was prior to Cancer taking my breasts from me. I spent months living with the expanders, as we needed to give the skin sufficient time to heal before reconstruction could be done. So we “penciled in” my final surgery for November 6th.
Well, what seemed like months, suddenly flew by in an instant, and suddenly I found myself faced with the fears of surgery. Sure I wanted to get rid of the horrible expanders, which felt like rocks on my chest. They didn’t move and hurt like hell whenever you bumped into anything, so I was thrilled at the fact of getting rid of them once and for all, but at the same time the thought of another surgery, or the unknowns associated with it, scared me.
My surgery was a week ago from the writing of this post, and while surgery went well, additional damage was found, something which I would never have expected.
As I lay in the recovery room, my surgeons assistant came by to check on me. I was told later that I was apparently quite chatty, although I do not remember most of it, except for the size of the implants I ended up with. It was at my followup appointment, where the bandages were removed, that I was told about what was found.
Many know of the burns done to the skin from radiation, but never in my life would I have expected the damage it did to my bones. Apparently, as the expanders were filled, instead of it pushing outward against the skin, it instead pushed inward against my ribs, resulting in an area of my ribs that are now concave. The radiation softened the bones, so the pressure caused by the expanders took the path of least resistance, which in some ways now makes sense because some days the pain was so unbearable that muscle relaxers and ibuprofen didn’t touch it.
Needless to say, I was shocked at what radiation had done to my body, and this damage resulted in implants in two different sizes as a larger one was needed on the cancer side to fill the indentation caused by the expander. Other than that my incision sites looked good, and I was cleared to shower, the best news ever, and to come back in two weeks for another checkup.
I had taken every single step in this journey like a champ, and it was on Thursday night when all the sadness and frustration finally hit me. As I stood looking at myself in the mirror, I suddenly felt like I was mismatched, and that I would never look normal ever again. Keep in mind I was, and still am, bruised and swollen, but at that moment, none of that mattered. I felt like these lumps on my chest were not breasts, in my mind at that moment they didn’t look normal, and suddenly I was faced with a sadness that I would never look normal combined with a deep-seated anger at what cancer had done to my body, and what it had taken from me.
It was at that point that the tears started, tears of anger, tears of sadness and frustration. Sure I had survived, but at what cost? As women, our breasts are a part of our identity, and when those are taken from you, it is something that is very difficult to come to terms with. I know that this is probably my first of many breakdowns, and I have to remember that it is ok. It’s ok to feel sad, to feel angry, to feel frustrated, but do not let myself live there permanently.
With time things will get better, things will return to normal, but I just need to remember to take it one day at a time as I work on figuring out what exactly that new normal is.