You Are A Breast Cancer Survivor

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!

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Life As A Breast Cancer Survivor – Adjusting To My New “Normal”

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.

 

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