A year ago I sat with my mom by my side in a small room that seemed dark. The nurse had walked us back and then said it would be a few minutes while the Radiologist finished up a procedure. Those were the longest minutes of my life – just waiting to hear the confirmation that I did have cancer. When the Radiologist came in, he confirmed that I did have breast cancer. I remember the room feeling that much smaller and darker in those moments. I had no idea what my future held at that time. Luckily, I continued to have both my parents by my side to help me make decisions in those following weeks. For me, this only resulted in a bi-lateral mastectomy and now some drugs that I’ll be taking for ten years.
While I knew I had the support of friends and family, I definitely remember feeling alone. Through my journey, I reached out on MeetUp to a Young Survivor’s group and ended up meeting someone to talk me through things and she has now become a great friend. Even through meeting others who have been through the process, I can say for myself, that it’s an emotional roller coaster. There are days where I’m absolutely fine, which I feel like is the majority of the time;but, then there are days where I still feel alone, days that I feel less than worthy, days that I look in the mirror and just start to cry.
Through this year, and thanks to my MeetUp friend, I volunteered on the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer committee. And, I even spoke with my mom at the kick-off breakfast. I was honored and met so many very special women.
The past year has definitely made me do a lot of reflection – I’ve learned who my true friends are, who I can count on no matter what, made new friends, made me realize what’s important and of value to me. I’ve also realized that a cancer diagnosis affects your whole life, not just the treatment periods. This has made me realize I need to check in with others (even if they haven’t been diagnosed with cancer), you never know what someone is going through – just a brief text message could change someone’s day (I know it has for me!).
Here’s to the next year, to the other survivors, thrivers, and fighters!
I wrote this post back in April while sitting in a coffee shop and I thought to myself, I’ll keep adding other thoughts I have and get it posted in the next week. Well, life got the best of me and here we are months later.
It’s been exactly 4 months (well, now it’s been 10 months – crazy) since I heard the words, “You have cancer.” I’ve learned a lot in these short few months, but I know I will learn more as this journey continues. I don’t want this blog to become about cancer, nor do I want my life to become, “She’s the girl who had breast cancer.” With all that said,I do want to be able to help. Whether it’s someone who has just been diagnosed or if it’s a loved one who doesn’t know how to support someone going through this.
Everyone’s experience is different with cancer. To update you all about my experience, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy on December 5th, 2018, and had tissue expanders put in at this time to start the process of reconstruction. On January 7th, I met with my oncologist and learned that I did not have to have radiation and that my Oncotype scoring came back at a 0 (which means it’s unlikely for a reoccurrence). It was the first time I could say I got a 0 on a test and be excited about it! With my Oncotype score being a 0, I learned that I also would not have to have chemotherapy. I am extremely lucky and grateful that I don’t have to have either of those things.
I’m one that wants to know what is about to happen or how bad something is going to hurt. I had heard that tissue expanders would be the worst part. I had heard this from nurses, other bloggers, and others I met who had had them. I’ll be honest, when I heard these things, I thought maybe I have a higher pain tolerance, maybe it won’t be so bad, but they are no joke. After having my first fill in December, I was absolutely fine and I foolishly thought it would continue to be an easy process. I found out on probably the 5th fill of saline that I was wrong. For those that didn’t know, 30cc’s is equivalent to one ounce – ONLY ONE ounce. As my plastic surgeon said, “It’s not a lot.” Well, my chest would beg to differ. But let me tell you, you can get through this! Looking back, it’s just a blip on the radar and all is well.
There’s no order to how I have put these, but these are my recommendations of things to have before/during/after surgery:
Have a million pillows (seriously, have more than you think you need), including a husband pillow (or some may call it a reading pillow).
Mastectomy pillow – I found the template for this on Pinterest and then had a dear friend make it.
Buy cheap camisoles (think Walmart, Old Navy, etc.) – mine have gotten grease stains from Aquaphor, but you’ll love being able to step into these and wear them under shirts.
Install a hose shower head
Make sure to have a step stool (lightweight)
Go ahead and move things you frequently use to low spots
If your toilet paper is behind you, make sure you can move it to a place beside you (I have a short foam roller that came in handy as a toilet paper holder, thanks to my mom – get creative!)
Go to Goodwill or somewhere and get several button downs or zip-ups. (This was something I didn’t really think about, I promise you will want to exert the least amount of energy and for awhile you won’t be able to lift your arms above your head, anyway).
Before surgery, clean – you won’t feel like doing it for a long time, and you won’t be able to. Clean out your fridge and freezer – for food that you will get from friends and family bringing items to you.
Now, for the honesty, and maybe TMI – if I had known and had time to do it, I would’ve gotten my armpits waxed – I’m almost 9 weeks from when I could take my first shower after surgery and I still can’t fully shave my armpits – you just can’t get it all.
Once you are able, start massaging the tissue expanders – I use Cerave lotion and it’s amazing. This is about the only thing that I’ve found that helps to relieve pain. If your Plastic Surgeon let’s you, go get a professional breast massage. My PS has a spa portion where they offer them for a discounted price.
Have photos taken before surgery – Whether you get professional ones done or you take them yourself, you will want these to look back on, especially if you want to get coloring of nipples the same, etc.
Make sure you have Kleenex around – this is emotional. I am emotionally a pretty strong woman, but you will cry. It will be at unexpected times and you can’t prevent it, so just be prepared to go through the emotions.
Have body wipes – especially after surgery, you’ll use these.
Gauze, tape, and Neosporin/Aquaphor (listen to what your PS tells you)
A cup for your bathroom (This may seem dumb but I wouldn’t have thought of it and didn’t until it was time to brush my teeth and then you can’t lean over to rinse your mouth out – the things you learn…)
Water Bottle – I kept my Contigo water bottle by my side throughout this -well, it’s never far; but, I was drinking so much water to try to flush the anesthesia out of my body and just to stay hydrated in general.
Disposable Nursing Pads – I didn’t know this until NOW and let me tell you, I probably would’ve used them a lot more had I known about them. I got these and they’ve worked fine but I hear there are other brands that might be better.
Heating pad – during those days when the fills for my tissue expanders was really painful, I would put the heating pad on my back and it was the most relief I experience. (DO NOT put a heating pad on your chest – your doctor should tell you this!)
If I think of other things that were helpful, or if you have something that was super helpful for you or someone you know, please let me know!
*Disclaimer – I am not a doctor. Please only take advice from your medical professional when it comes to what you should/should not do regarding your health*