It’s hard to believe how quickly 2020 is moving…at least in my world. Every year in October since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2016, I write at least one post about my breast cancer journey. The days seem like a blur since teleworking for more than half a year now. Just like I don’t want COVID-19 to define my life, I don’t want breast cancer to define me either. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my progress.
As of today, I’m cancer free and have been for almost 5 years (January 2021). My initial treatment was a lumpectomy, followed by breast reconstruction surgery on both breasts, followed by 3 weeks of daily, intensive radiation treatment, and followed by oral medication, which I will continue to take for possibly another 5 years. I started the medication almost 5 years ago.
I continue to meet with my oncologist every 6 months in addition to visiting with my primary care physician and endocrinologist annually. I also get a 3D mammogram annually. My lab results (drawn every 6 months) on my blood continue to be within range with some markers being impeccable and some below range. My oncologist likes to say all of my numbers are “right in the middle”. My glucose even decreased by 10 points at my last visit. All in all, I’m healthy.
For me, breast cancer came into my life with a BANG, turned it upside down for only a period, but then turned it right side up again. I was very intentional about adhering to treatment so I could heal faster. I was intentional about self-care. Being physically fit prior helped my recovery tremendously. Though it was a difficult experience, particularly the 4 months post diagnosis, I’m amazed I got through it. I suppose that’s part of the reason why they call us ‘survivors’.
I thought I’d be one of those people who participated in all the breast cancer walks, marathons, etc., but I haven’t participated in any walks, marathons, etc. I’m not sure what that is about but it’s not a requirement for a complete experience. I think one factor is that I like to keep my world small. It’s more manageable that way. Also, I don’t want breast cancer to occupy so much space in my life. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I can best support the breast cancer community.
In the fall of 2019, my husband and I attended a conference for cancer survivors and I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve kept up with the group that put on the conference, the Texas Oncology Foundation, since then. I’m a person that enjoys learning new things. That format was more in line with what I’d continue to participate in.
Since breast cancer entered my life, my outlook is generally positive as it was before. I’ve been feeling more exhausted in 2020 though. It’s no wonder why with everything going on with COVID-19, the political climate, and racial unrest. My sleep could be better. I could stand to lose about 15-20 pounds. I need to reduce my work stress. Of the three, the last is what I want to focus on the most because stress can negatively impact health in so many ways. I’ve been setting work boundaries. I’m constantly refining how I manage.
Once you have cancer, there’s a nagging fear that it will return despite treatment. In some cases, it does return as the same or a different cancer. I’ve mostly heard of cases being more aggressive upon cancer’s return. I’m at higher risk for other cancers since cancer appeared. Those thoughts are not at the forefront of my mind, but they show up when it’s time to get my annual mammogram, at other medical appointments, or at other random times.
I have scars from my surgeries. Although mostly faded, I can still see the circle on each side of my body by my ribs from where the tubes were placed after breast reconstruction surgery. I had to keep the tubes in for a week post surgery. Yup, long tubes were hanging from my body. My husband drained them several times a day for that whole week.
My left breast has a significant dent which you can’t tell too much from the picture of me in the cover photo. The dent is the result of the location of the tumor and my first surgeon removing the tumor along with extra tissue to be sure he got it all. The plastic surgeon completed the breast reconstruction surgery and I also received a breast reduction. I went from a double D cup to a C cup.
Breast cancer has changed my life but it doesn’t define me. No question it has made a huge impact on my life. I’ve learned and am still learning from it. I have moments where I’m laser focused on how finite life is. I have moments where I worry about my kids risk. I have moments where I worry about putting on weight because I don’t want to increase my risks. There are moments where I succumb to stress.
Overall, I think I’m doing a great job of moving on with my life post diagnosis. I have struggled at times like others with keeping things in perspective. I’m grateful for access to tools and resources to help me navigate life.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, get tested with a mammogram early. If you’re at least 40 years old, get tested with a mammogram. I was aware that my breast looked different so I made an appointment to see my doctor. There was no pain or lump. I had already been getting regular mammograms since the age of 35 due to family history. I was due for another.
Pay attention to your body. See a doctor regularly. Eat healthy. Exercise often. Reduce stress. Surround yourself with loved ones. Get a pet. Spend time with God.