My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer one month before I was. Other than that, we had no family history. I felt like I was sucker-punching my Mom and my Dad, knocking the wind out of them so soon after my sister’s news. Mine was found through a routine screening mammogram in January 2014. Initially I had a lumpectomy but since it had spread to the lymph nodes, rather than stage 1 it was stage 3. I had chemo then a double mastectomy, radiation, and reconstruction.
Throughout treatment I attended a support group and in addition to that had incredible support from friends and family. My mother came out for my surgery, friends came to be with me, and the people at HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) were flexible and accommodating for my schedule. And once we figured out what I could eat during chemo, my significant other John made sure we always had those foods ready. That was mostly what I called the “white diet,” … mashed potatoes and mild things.
I love to read and to garden and kept that up during treatment. Now that I’m feeling better I like to travel. This summer I went to Romania with a group from HACC. A colleague teaches a course looking at child development in Romania and the students learn about our system compared to theirs. I was able to join them as the second faculty member. It was really powerful for the students, and for me. I was glad to be healthy enough to go.
One interesting thing is that when all my hair fell out, I didn’t really mind being bald. I had wigs and hats and everything but I actually thought being bald was kind of cool. Usually a wore a hat outside because I didn’t want my head to be sunburned but I didn’t feel like I always needed to be wearing a perfect wig. I wasn’t prepared for losing my eyebrows though!
My advice to other women is this: The doctors are doing their job and you have to do yours as a patient. Eat healthy and exercise even if you don’t want to. I made sure I walked and even ran a little bit. Some research has come out indicating that the chemo might even work better if you’re exercising. Going through breast cancer treatment taught me that I’m stronger than I knew I was. When you’re looking at surgery, radiation, more surgery, you can think there’s no way I can go through all that. Now it seems like a long time ago. I’ve learned to value my time and how I spend it.