Thriving After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Quite a few people don't have some of the problems I had. Just like everyone's treatment is different, everyone's response to it can be different, too. What made it all possible for me was to never lose sight of the fact that the treatment had a purpose, and the purpose was to help me get back to my life.
"It was one of those good news-bad news situations."
I've been real good about getting my regularly scheduled mammograms and everything had been fine over the years. But this time there was some concern with the results and my doctor wanted me to get more information from an ultrasound test. That led to a biopsy of both of my breasts. Next thing you know there's one of those "good news- bad news" situations. The good news was that the mass they detected in my right breast was not cancerous. The bad news was that the one in my left breast was.
I cried and was thinking the whole time that I have every right to cry. I consider myself to be a person of deep faith and I knew this was a time when that faith would be put to the test. But I also knew that God didn't bring me so far along to just leave me at this point. I talked with my family, with the people closest to me, and I told them that I was ready to move ahead, to take the next step toward getting well again.
My Experience with
My surgeon was Dr. Ron Post, a Riverside doctor at Hampton Roads Surgical Specialists. Dr. Post spent a long time talking with me and answering my questions. It was clear that he had a lot of experience and that was reassuring to me. He and Yvonne Pike, the Riverside Breast Cancer Patient Navigator, walked me through each step of the procedure. I first talked with Yvonne when I was diagnosed and then met her on the day of the surgery. It was great having her in my corner now and she proved to be very helpful throughout my treatment and recovery.
Just as Dr. Post expected, they had to remove quite a few lymph nodes during the lumpectomy. At this point, I was convinced that I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself. Two days after the surgery, I got dressed up and scheduled my chemotherapy.
My medical oncologist, the physician specialist who managed my care during the chemo, was Dr. Guy Tillinghast and I had a positive feeling about him from the beginning. That was good, because the first chemo session was tough. I got really sick. In fact, I strongly considered stopping the treatment at that point. But I fought through it. The sessions that followed turned out to be quite a bit easier and after the chemo I also had radiation treatment.
The Impact on my Life:
"I couldn't interact with people the same way."
There's no other way to put, so I'll just say it … I hated being sick. Although like I said, the chemo got easier over time, it was never any picnic. I found that I couldn't interact with people in the same way. Everything seemed to be just a little more difficult. I felt like some people thought about me in a different way now. My 11 year old grandson, who lives with us, noticed a lot of the changes I was going through including the wigs I had to wear because of the hair loss. When my hair started coming back he told me that it looked prettier than ever.
The way I felt also affected my work. I've been at the school district for quite a few years and I had to take some time off during my treatment. Yvonne Pike was very helpful in providing the medical documentation along with some guidance I needed during that time. From what I see and hear, quite a few people don't have some of the problems I had. Just like everyone's treatment is different, everyone's response to it can be different. What made it all possible for me was to never lose sight of the fact that the treatment had a purpose, and the purpose was to help me get back to my life.
The Value of a Strong Support System:
"You get a lot of comfort hearing other people share their experience."
One thing I can say without a doubt is that I never felt like I was going through this alone. My daughter was, and continues to be, my rock. She was part of every decision I made and my grandson was included, too. I have a large and very close family—four brothers and two sisters—all in this area. During my treatment we got together for dinner like we always did and each of them in their own special way was there for me. And I got a lot of powerful prayers and support from my church family.
I also go to breast cancer support groups. We talk about our individual journeys, how they are different and how they are similar. You get a lot of comfort hearing other people share their experience.
I know that everyone isn't as fortunate as me to have so many people to rely on. The support groups do a good job in that area, though, and anyone can be part of them. And along with all the other help she gave me, Yvonne Pike is a great listener. If anyone else out there is going through the experience my advice would be to take advantage of those kinds of resources. Because believe me, when you have breast cancer, you have a story. And one of the most important things you can do during your treatment and after is to just talk about it.