guest blogger, Side Effects

6 Things I wish I knew before I started Chemo

By Taylor Eames

Most cancer treatment centers require you to go through a brief “chemo class” to learn about possible side effects.  However, having been through both the class and six months of chemo, there are some things you just don’t expect to happen.  Upon hearing that my treatment plan included chemo, I automatically pictured baldness and vomiting like it is in the movies and tv shows.  But it wasn’t how I imagined it at all.  Here are some things that surprised me.

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Chemo sucks.

Think car sick, morning sickness, and a hangover all in one.

The nausea is constant and it’s pretty debilitating at times.  But in my experience and from what I’ve heard from many other survivors, vomiting is rare.  You just feel crummy all the time.  Anti-nausea meds help for some patients.  Others just find the feeling to become a new normal.  But I’ll remind you, and I’ll say this again later on, this “new normal” is temporary.

When they say, “You’ll lose your hair,” they mean all of it.

Chemotherapy targets fast growing cells in your body in order to kill the growing tumors.  Hair, nails, intestinal track, and even brain cells are all collateral damage along

the way.  One of the most noticeable side effects is hair loss.  I went from having a thick, full head of hair down to my shoulders, to nothing at all.  But what I didn’t expect was that the hair on top of my head was only a starting point.

It will happen later on in your chemo cycles, but soon you will lose your leg hair (yay, no more shaving!), your pubic hair (this one was kind of weird), and even your eyebrows and eye lashes (more noticeable and somewhat sad).  Don’t forget, it’s all temporary.

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Bye bye, eyebrows and lashes.

 

Chemo hurts.  (And so does Neulasta.)

I remember my chemo class nurse saying these exact words, “Some people experience some discomfort and bone pain during treatment.”  It was so nonchalant that I blew it off thinking it wasn’t very common, and if it did happen, it wasn’t really serious.  But, oh my gosh, I was wrong.

Chemo is attacking white blood cells just like it attacks hair follicles.  Neulasta is an injection used to boost white blood cells development during chemo so you aren’t as susceptible to infection.  The battle that ensues is painful…seriously painful.  It feels like pin pricks but deep in your bones. The pangs of pain come and go all over your body.  For me, my feet, ankles, shins, ribs, and jaw hurt so bad that I couldn’t walk at times, and I ended up on heavy opioid pain meds for the 3-5 days that I experienced the pain.  Do not be afraid to tell your doctor that you need something to help you through this.  If one med doesn’t work, ask for something else.  And remember, this is only temporary.

You will take more naps than you did as a child.

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Sometimes when I couldn’t get out of bed, my daughter joined me.

The fatigue is real, and it’s something you just need to give in to.  As I said, chemo is attacking your body while fighting off the cancer cells.  As in any battle, your soldiers get tired. You need to allow your body to rest so this battle can be won.

I spent a lot of time sleeping.  There was one day in my third cycle that I slept for almost 21 hours in a day.  I remember calling the chemo nurse concerned that I had slept so much.  They did blood work to make sure nothing serious was going on, but when it came back as normal, she said I just needed the sleep.

Even when you are awake you can feel how exhausted your body is.  There were times when simply getting up from bed to walk to the bathroom tuckered me out.

You may gain weight.

When I first heard chemo, I remember saying, “This will be the most expensive weight loss plan I’ve ever taken part in.”  I was wrong.  While doing chemo, you also have to take steroids.  Steroids make chemo more effective, help reduce allergic reactions, and can be used as an anti-nausea medication.  Steroids also make you ravenously hungry.

Unless your doctor decides to use steroids for your nausea, you will most likely have to take it the day before, the day of, and the day after infusion, and you’ll probably get one in your premeds before the chemo is infused.  Because of this, you will feel great for the first and second day of your cycle.  (The nausea, fatigue, and pain will start on the third day.)  During the steroid bursts, you will experience sweating, insomnia, and as I said, veracious hunger.  I remember the day after my first chemo infusion we went to Red Lobster to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and I wanted to eat everything on the menu!

It’s only TEMPORARY!

Chemo sucks. I’m not going to lie about that.  But it’s doable.  You have to keep remembering that the cruddy feeling you are experiencing for 3-6 months is not going to last forever.  You may be scared, you may be thinking the worst, but you are stronger than you think you are.  Each cycle will fly by and soon your new normal will become part of the past.  I look back at it and remember the side effects—nausea, fatigue, pain—but it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be, and even knowing these things, I know I would do it all over again because it helped me kick cancer’s ass.  If you are facing chemo as part of your treatment program, you can do it!

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I did it! So can you!

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Taylor Eames is a single mom of four living in Yuma, Arizona, who was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in January of 2016.  She openly chronicled her experience during treatment and continuing through the aftermath on TaylorTough on Facebook.  Taylor is one of the founders of Breast Cancer Sisters along with her dear friend, Kristy Irizarry.

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Breast Friends Forever

By Kelly Nemecek

This is a reboot of a blog post, Boobless in NJ, I wrote from last summer.

I believe that sometimes life can deliver blessings amidst what feels like an apocalypse. In my case several positive things came out of my breast cancer experience. I had a worrisome weekend wine habit that I kiboshed. I lost 40 lbs (still have some more to go). I learned how to appreciate life again and realize how precious it is. It’s like I have developed a force field against negativity in my life. I take care of myself and listen to my body. No, it’s not all unicorns and sunshine, but I feel a peace I haven’t known in years. But the biggest positive takeaway has to be hands down, the amazing friendships I’ve cultivated because of breast cancer, three in particular.

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Last August I made my first visit to New Jersey and the circumstances surrounding that trip are pretty freaking cool. I belong to a Facebook breast cancer support group, “Breast Cancer Sisters,” which I also help moderate. There are two admins and one other moderator of this group, and I met all three of these kickass ladies for the first time at Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. One actually lives in New Jersey, one lives in New York, and the other lady and I are from Arizona. The four of us talk all day every day about anything having to do with the group to what’s going on in our lives.

Mary’s Place, where we were able to meet each other for the first time, is a spa/retreat for women undergoing cancer treatment or are recent cancer survivors. It resembled a cozy but modern Bed and Breakfast. We each had our own rooms with our own bathrooms, common areas for recreation and dining, and vegetarian breakfast and lunch were provided. The food was excellent! For dinner the four of us went out partying, raised hell and painted the town pink (which is actually code for walking to the local pub and taking Uber back to Mary’s).

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During our stay we were offered complimentary treatments such as gentle yoga, oncology massage, reflexology, meditation and others that escape my memory just now.

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Just steps away was the ocean where we hung out on the beach and talked. There were other ladies outside of our group staying at Mary’s for the weekend and all but one were breast cancer survivors. This is how prevalent breast cancer is; it’s disturbing and sinister.

Besides having the opportunity to visit this incredible retreat and meet my three group admin counterparts, we conducted a Facebook Live Q&A and prize giveaway session for our group of 7,000 members (that has since grown to over 10,000) while we were there. One of the interesting aspects of our collective experience, is all four of us had varying diagnoses and treatments. All four of us have undergone bilateral mastectomies, three of us have had chemotherapy, one has had radiation and three have had reconstruction surgery. So even though we are all not necessarily boobless anymore, we did lose our breasts. The ones God gave us. The ones that showed up at puberty and later fed our children. They were perky and saggy, big and small and somewhere in between. We might have loved them or hated them or a combination of both during our lifetime but one thing is for certain-we never wanted to lose them to cancer.

We now have each other to lean on, to lift up when we are down, to understand how much of our lives are affected by this disease. I cannot imagine my life without these ladies in it.


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Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, one dog, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015. She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog.

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This Is Cancer, Too

by Kathy Foushee

When most people hear the words “breast cancer” they think of a thin, flat-chested, bald woman with pale skin. For many, that is the reality. Chemotherapy can rob a woman of her hair, make many food tasteless, or worse, impossible to keep down. A mastectomy removes one of the most obvious symbols of femininity, the breasts. These Pink Warriors go through hell but somehow find a way through to the other side, to their “new normal.”

For others, though, the signs are subtler. They may look “healthy,” appear “normal.” They may go to work, tend to their families, and go about their daily lives with no one the wiser. Women with a lower stage of breast cancer often choose lumpectomy over mastectomy. Some require radiation alone, instead of in conjunction with chemotherapy. For these women, the outward effects are almost unnoticeable. But they suffer the same pains, insecurities, and fears as their sisters in cancer.

When I was diagnosed, the nurse said, “This is not bad.” At the initial consultation, the surgeon said, “This is not fatal. This will not be what kills you.” They meant to be reassuring and kind. And at first, I took comfort from them. After all, if medical professionals were telling me it wasn’t horrific, no matter what I thought, it must not be. Their seemingly casual dismissal of my condition made it seem…not terrible?  Something like the flu, perhaps.  A thing to be treated and forgotten. A co-worker, on hearing the news said, “But you look so healthy.” She meant it as a compliment, I think. Instead, their words had the opposite effect.

My treatment plan didn’t consist of the usual chemotherapy regime.  Instead I had a lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone blocker therapy.

A lumpectomy involves the removal of the tumor and the small amount of tissue surrounding it as well as some lymph nodes to determine whether the disease has spread. Pain, swelling, limited motion of the arm, and nerve damage which may take months to heal are common with this procedure. Lymph node removal increases the chance of lymphedema, a painful condition caused by a buildup of lymph fluid. To reduce this risk, patients who have had lymph nodes removed are cautioned not to have blood draws or blood pressure done on the affected side.

Radiation is usually done after surgery, to help prevent recurrence. The procedure itself is painless and quick. Many women have said getting undressed takes longer than the treatment. Side effects include redness similar to a sunburn, sometimes resulting in open sores. Women are cautioned not to wear underwire bras as they can make this worse. Fatigue, lasting weeks to months after treatment, is frequently reported. Radiation also causes tissue shrinkage. For breast cancer patients, this often means the treated breast is smaller than the other. Healing from radiation therapy can take a year or more.

In addition, women whose cancer is hormone driven, whatever their diagnosis and treatment, are often advised to begin a regimen of medication to suppress the production of the hormone that feeds their tumors. For younger women, this results in premature menopause, with the attendant hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and insomnia. Many of these women, on the advice of their doctors, choose to have their ovaries removed, to further reduce the hormone levels in their bodies. Those who have gone through “the change” report other side effects, most noticeably joint pain and bone loss, although these can affect younger women as well

As I began to go through treatment, I started to see those words in a different light. I began to feel guilty. If this was “not bad” and “wouldn’t kill me” why did I feel so awful? Why was I in such pain and discomfort? Why was I so scared? Guilt set in. So many women had it worse than I did. I wasn’t going to DIE from this. A little extra makeup and some loose tops meant my appearance didn’t even change noticeably.

I started to question myself, my feelings. If it was “not fatal” did that mean that I shouldn’t be worried? Did “non-aggressive” indicate that I wasn’t entitled to be a part of the support group I had recently joined, a group that has given me unconditional love and encouragement and patiently answered my many questions? When my husband took me in his arms, were the tears that soaked his shirt unwarranted because I “looked healthy”? Should I be happier, less depressed, less angry? No, no, a million times no. Because I HAVE CANCER.

While I kept my breasts and my hair, I still had over a dozen medical procedures in a span of three months, not counting radiation. We have thousands of dollars of medical bills. My skin is still discolored and sensitive a month after treatment. My breast is swollen. The scar is still tender four months post-surgery. Because my cancer was hormone positive, I will have my ovaries removed later this year, which will cause me to go into full menopause at the age of 46.

I only had two lymph nodes removed, but even that low number increases my risk of getting lymphedema, so I will have to get all blood work and blood pressure done on my left arm. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’m left-handed, and my veins move. Having blood drawn, necessary to monitor my continued health and hormone levels, leaves me sore and bruised. For the next five years, I will have to see an oncologist every three to six months. I will have annual check-ups for the rest of my life.

None of these things are news to any woman who has had breast cancer. They’re routine, part of what must be done to monitor our health and ensure we remain NED (no evidence of disease – the best we can hope for). There is no cure for breast cancer. There is only treatment, monitoring, and hope that it won’t return.

Most people think of breast cancer patients as flat-chested and bald. And for way too many of us, that’s the case. But some of us “look healthy.” Some of us have a “non-fatal” form.  But ALL breast cancer survivors, no matter their diagnosis, go through hell. Our lives are turned upside down and inside out. We work very hard to discover our “new normal” – whatever that may be. We are all Pink Sisters, members of a club that no one ever wants to join. So the next time you see a woman wearing a pink ribbon, don’t assume that she’s supporting a mother, sister or friend, just because she fills out her shirt and has a full head of hair. She may be one of us, too.


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I am a 45 year old wife, cat mother, and university library employee. On December 5, 2016, I also became a breast cancer survivor. I wrote this partly as a rebuttal to all those people who feel the need to tell me how fortunate I am that my cancer isn’t worse, and the ones who look at me and don’t see a cancer patient because I still have both breasts and all my hair. This is my journey so far. 

guest blogger, Side Effects

It’s Just Hair

By Taylor Eames

Facebook memories are a wonderful thing, aren’t they?  A few days ago, it reminded me that I lost my hair a year ago.  I reread what I had written that day, and tears came to my eyes as I remembered the emotional impact this moment in my life had on me.  Let me share what I wrote on April 8, 2016:

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“Last night, kind of suddenly, my hair started coming out in fist fulls.  I went from having a firm grip on my hair to it coming out so easily almost within minutes. It hit me hard. The thought of waking up and finding clumps of hair on my pillow gave me an anxiety attack. So we did what most do during this phase in chemo and shaved it off. It was a very heartbreaking moment in this journey. I never expected it to affect me that greatly. Yes, it’s only hair and it will grow back. But I feel a huge part of my femininity was taken from me. Also, everyone’s looks change drastically when their hair changes. I wept as my mom took the clippers to my head. Actually we all did. My mom cutting my hair, my sister on skype [in San Francisco], Annie [my daughter] (who’s in Michigan visiting her dad) also on video chat. We all just cried. We had joked about the shaving of the head being a fun occasion, but it wasn’t. It was like mourning a loss. Yes it’s only hair, yes it will grow back. But it still hurt me to the core. It will take some getting used to. Eventually it will be the new normal. Maybe later, after I get up for the day, shower, put some makeup on, and don a cute hat, I’ll shar
e a picture. But I have to allow myself to feel the full gamut of emotions or I’ll implode.”

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I remember after the shave, I went to my room and cried some more.  Then I didn’t want anyone to see me for a while.  I hid in my room as my family continued their lives.  Finally, the next day I was forced to emerge from my solitary sanctuary and rejoin society.  This time as a bald cancer warrior.  Now I wore my badge, now everyone knew I was fighting cancer, I was getting chemo.  Now people looked at me differently.  Some with pity, some with admiration, and some with wonder.  Some stared, some purposely would not make eye contact.  And then there were the ones who boldly asked where I was in treatment and how I was taking it.  I didn’t know how to react to that.  Was it rude of them to ask or was it nice of them to make conversation with me and treat me like a normal person?  I guess I didn’t have anything to hide, so I was glad to talk to people instead of getting strange looks.

Later on in treatment, I was at a waterpark with my family.  I wore a cute floppy bucket hat for the most part because chemo makes you more susceptible to the sun, and my bald head was sensitive.  But we live in Arizona and this was the end of July where temps average 115 from day to day.  At one point, I was laying in a wading pool watching my kids play, and I decided to take my hat off because it was making me sweat.  (Don’t worry, I was slathered in sunscreen!)  It only took a few seconds for kids to start looking at me strange. Eventually, one little girl splashed up to me and said, “Why your hair like that?”  My daughter protectively said that I have an illness and the medicine makes my hair fall out.  She looked at me with concern and said, “You ok?”  I smiled and said, “Yes! Thank you!”  That satisfied her curiosity.  She smiled back and she happily splish splashed away.

I lost my hair in April, and it barely started growing back in September.  I kept my head covered in public with hats or bandanas until December.  Like I said, I didn’t think not having hair was going to affect me so much, but it does change everything about the way you look and the way people look at you.  I wasn’t comfortable braving the bare look outside of the home, but others are.  Some do just fine with the shaving of the head, some even celebrate it.  And some mourn the loss, like I did.

Whatever the reaction to losing your hair, it’s yours.  No one can understand what you are going through unless they have experienced it themselves.  Yes, it will eventually grow back, but the fact is your look is changed for at least 2 years.  It’s not just hair.  Regardless of how you handle it, just remember you are braver than you know.


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Taylor Eames is a single mom of four living in Yuma, Arizona, who was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in January of 2016.  She openly chronicled her experience during treatment and continuing through the aftermath on TaylorTough on Facebook.  Taylor is one of the founders of Breast Cancer Sisters along with her dear friend, Kristy Irizarry.

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It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

By Taylor Eames

When my psychiatrist said “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” I was kind of stunned.  There was not one major, impactful incident that had happened in the last four years that could cause what I was feeling.  In fact, there were several things that happened–a painful divorce, moving, caring for my mentally ill son, a cancer diagnosis, moving again.  I didn’t realize that these life events had compounded together to cause some deep depression episodes and debilitating anxiety attacks.

I finished treatment in August of 2016 and had surgery in October.  I got the glorious news that my path report said “no evidence of disease” shortly thereafter.  My hair was growing in.  I was no longer constantly nauseated, and I was gaining my energy back.  It was over.  Now it was time to move on and be healthy.

But I couldn’t.

The moment the surgeon read the path report as no evidence of disease, I thought I would be elated.  But the truth was I barely believed him.  I didn’t smile, I didn’t cheer.  I just didn’t care.  It was reminiscent of when I received my diagnosis actually. “I’m sorry to have to give you this news, but the biopsy indicated malignancy.”  I stood there staring into space, not feeling a thing.  It took several weeks for me to even cry.

The same happened here.  The cancer was gone. but I couldn’t feel any joy.  I couldn’t find it.  I had shared my journey so far on Facebook pretty openly and often in real time updating almost immediately when something would happen.  I hesitated to share this news.   It was like there was a wall in front of me, and I couldn’t step forward.

Then the nightmares started.  Scans that lit up like Christmas lights.  Phone calls from doctors saying they made mistakes.  Chemo again.  Nausea again.  My hair falling out again.  The pain.  I’d wake up covered in sweat, then I’d be unable to sleep.  I’d spend hours in the middle of the night occupying my mind with fluff online just to get the obsessive thoughts out of my head.

I began having deep depressions.  No one really knew about them though.  I have always been able to hide them from everyone else.  I’m a single mom so when I fall, the whole family falls.  I was sick for the better part of a year so I could’t let the depression overcome and disrupt my life, their lives.  I’d go to bed when the kids went to bed, and I would cry. I’d just lie there and cry.  I couldn’t understand why I was so scared now that I was well.  I didn’t know how to move on. I was stuck.  And it hurt.

I got a call in January that my oncologist was referring me to the survivorship program at the Cancer Center.  Survivorship.  So they were going to teach me exactly how I am to be a survivor?  Good, I needed that.

I went to the appointment and the nurse practitioner asked me how I was doing. I said my normal, “I’m fine.”  And she just looked at me.  I knew, she knew I was not fine.  I cried.  I told her everything.  She just sat there and listened intently for a good 20 minutes I’m sure causing her next appointment to run late.  She knew I desperately needed help finding my way and just let me sit there and get it all out.  The best part was that she didn’t interrupt me.  She just let me go and go.

When I was finished, she said she was proud of me.  She said this part is almost as hard as the treatment.  Moving on afterward, facing the future with doubts and fears, not knowing what to do next, it’s difficult.  Everyone expects a cancer survivor to be glad it’s over and see joy in a future of health.  But when those feelings don’t come, it’s common for the survivor to struggle in surviving.  Survivors don’t know that it’s okay to not be okay.

The nurse practitioner decided to send me to a psychiatrist.  I have a history of bipolar disorder and already take psychiatric medication so adding on to them was something she wasn’t comfortable handling.  I agreed.  In fact, changing or adding meds scared me quite a bit.  I had been on the same med regimen and been stable for the last 6 or 7 years.  I felt like this was more an environmental problem than a chemical problem.  But the fact was I was drowning in my own emotions and needed some help, even if that meant adjusting my medications.

I talked to the psychiatrist about what was going on.  He asked me questions about my life before cancer and how I coped with everything going on in my life.  She said that the amount of trauma I had experienced in the last four years is more than many face in their lifetime, and he wasn’t surprised I was now falling apart.  He said I tried to be strong too long, and it was time to give in.  I breathed out a sigh of relief.  I was keeping myself to a standard that was clearly too high for anyone, not just me.  And I needed someone to actually say that.  Again, it’s okay to not be okay.  My new mantra.

He ultimately ended up adding an antidepressant/anxiety to my medications.  It’s a low dose, but within a week or so, once I got past the initial adjustment period, I felt a difference in myself.  He also referred me to a psychologist for therapy.  He said it wasn’t healthy to keep it all in the way I had the last several years.  He said that it’s okay to be strong for my children, but I need to be weak for myself every now and again.

This is a part of treatment that isn’t really talked about.  But your mental health is as important as your physical health.  It is okay to be scared of the future.  It is okay for you to fear that the cancer will return.  You are not the only one feeling that way.  You need to let your doctor know when you are struggling, when you can’t get past those feelings.  Your mind is part of your body.  You need to take care of it too.


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Taylor Eames is a single mom of four living in Yuma, Arizona, who was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in January of 2016.  She openly chronicled her experience during treatment and continuing through the aftermath on TaylorTough on Facebook.  Taylor is one of the founders of Breast Cancer Sisters along with her dear friend, Kristy Irizarry.

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Cancer is such an ugly word…

By Anna Rathkopf of CzechMomNYC

Swp-1490826994133.jpgaturday, December 17th. It’s snowing, everything is white, calm and clean, I am playing with my little guy outside. It’s been a day since I learned that I have breast cancer. The snow is falling. I am exhausted, the same goes for my husband, our little guy is laughing and playing.

No, I am not going to pretend to be tough and say that the next days were easy and fun. Did I fall apart? Probably. I don’t remember much. There is a feeling of this big black hole that opened inside of me, and I had no idea how to close it. That feeling didn’t last long, an hour or two, and then an exhaustion and a feeling of breathlessness.

I cried. I cried twice. Once because of the English word cancer. The next day I told myself the horrible sentence in Czech, my native, mother tongue. I told myself: “I have a cancer. Cancer. I got cancer.” That really got me. I am bilingual, a brain split into two. I cried and cried.

My in-laws shopped and cooked. My mom-in-law slept at our place.

Sunday night I decided to do something. To do something small so that I could take control over it. I started to research good food for fighting breast cancer. But I found stories of breast cancer survivors, and I realized that I don’t know anything about this disease. And then the questions popped up. “Is it only in my breast?” “What type of cancer do I have?” There are so many types and possibilities and all look positively shitty. Wow that was definitively on top of my idiotic ideas. It has to be up there with my idea of showing off my backward hanging ability on a ten inch high bar when I was seven.

I panicked. Simply and clearly panicked. I couldn’t breathe and felt that the cancer is everywhere in my body. Panic grows inside of me. “This is what I have to live through every day.” Tried to cheer up my husband with his anxiety streak.

My in-laws and husband are cleaning up. My mom is looking for a flight ticket.

One thing changed during this horrible never ending weekend. I found my own path out. When the panic gripped me and wouldn’t let go I started to imagine my son’s sleeping face. That innocent face calmed me down, it transferred me into a different much nicer realm. I started to change my thinking from “I don’t have this” into “I’ve got so much, and I am so grateful for that.”

No more internet research but my mom-in-law still sleeps at our place.

The results came. We decided that my husband will be the person to deal with the doctor’s office. He will be the person who will know the results first. I admit that after the initial shock of learning that I have cancer I cannot deal with it. I am a wimp. My cancer is estrogen positive. “That’s the cancer you wanted.” Says my doctor. Skipping the idea that it’s cancer and that I never wanted to have it, I guess when it’s here I will take this one over another. My sister-in-law, an amazing cancer doctor herself, is ecstatic. I still cannot muster the excitement in me.

Estrogen positive is the most common type of breast cancer. The one that they have the most successful results from. Easy peasy, no problem here. My husband is so happy he almost cries. He did some internet research and was terrified. I feel a little better at least I can name it. They are still running some additional testing.

My mom is packing.

Wednesday. My MRI test day. This will show if more cancer is detected in my body. I am scared yet again. Again? Or still? My husband is there with me – he calms me down. “It’s not important what you have. We know its estrogen positive. That’s the most important thing.” Says my amazing husband with such a certainty that I completely believe him.

Again, that striped robe and half an hour without any movement. Of course five minutes32019327300_372ab8bfd5_z into the MRI I have a horrible urge to move. I made it. My husband is waiting for me in the waiting room. He is so calm and reassuring so positive he makes me feel so good. Two days later he told me he was so nervous there he almost passed out.

Our household is full of new words. Chemotherapy, radiation, mastectomy, lumpectomy, biopsy. I heard that they can do reconstruction from my own fat. “Liposuction and breast enlargement in one.” My mom cheers me up over the phone. My friend who had a mastectomy two years ago is showing me her amazing breasts. “Like a twenty year old.” Yes, I always liked dark humor. When the situation sucks at least you can still laugh.

At night we are holding each other – my husband and I. We are hugging and he says:

“Don’t do anything stupid. I love you. We need you. Don’t think about leaving us.” Our little guy comes in our bed and we don’t complain about his kicking us. Not this night or the next one, or the one after.

The results from the MRI came. It’s only in the lump. I will believe it once it’s out of my body. I am scared to jinx it.

My mom finally arrives. She holds me in her arms. I am responsible for her new wrinkles she says. The next morning our little guy cannot believe that his grandma finally stopped flying and came back to him. I think that explains my mom’s new wrinkles. Who wouldn’t age flying nonstop for a month and half. I just hope she didn’t fly Delta.

We feel better. We are getting used to our new “normality.” I have an amazing family, friends, people around me. I need all their support and love. And I think about people who are fighting this bitch and don’t have anybody around.


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Anna is a 37 year old mother of three year old boy. She is originally from Prague, Czech Republic, but has been living in NYC for the last 10 years together with her Brooklyn born husband. On December 16th, 2016, she got the life shattering news that the lump she found in her breast is actually not nothing but something…something called cancer.  She decided to start a blog, CzechMomNYC, about her experience and about a life of a mother with breast cancer diagnosis. She and my husband also started a photo project of their lives as it is now, fighting this horrible hidden enemy.  Follow their project on Facebook.

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Scanxiety

By Kelly Nemecek

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Many fellow breast cancer survivors, myself included, freak out about scans.  This is actually a thing we call scanxiety.  It’s the anxiety you feel while waiting for a scan, during the scan, and waiting for the results of the scan.  Before I go any further I want to point out that not everyone needs the same scans and while certain scans are appropriate for one patient, they may not be appropriate for another.  Even among breast cancer patients with the same diagnosis, there may be factors that warrant a different approach to imaging studies.  Having scans is a double edged sword-you want the scan for your peace of mind but in the meantime you know you’re going to get all nerve wracked and distressed.

I remember the PET scan I had after my bilateral mastectomy.  I asked the technician when I might receive the results, and she said my doctor would probably want to meet with me to go over them.  I know these were the words she spoke but all I heard was “he will want to see you in person because the cancer spread everywhere and you’re dying and he won’t say that over the phone.”  Waiting for my oncologist to call with the results was like waiting for a clemency call from the Governor.  When he finally called with good news, I made him say it like four times.

During the expansion process last year, my plastic surgeon found a pea sized bump on the scar where my lymph nodes were removed.  An ultrasound was ordered which triggered an acute case of scanxiety.  The radiologist performing the ultrasound was even the same doctor who performed my fateful ultrasound in 2015.  As soon as that probe touched me, all manner of horrifying thoughts flooded my brain, and I had the worst déjà vu imaginable and then experienced flashes of my future with morbid thoughts of my funeral, my daughter growing up without me, taking my last breath.  In a matter of moments, I was in the depths of despair, imagining every macabre scenario.  Then I heard the radiologist saying something about a benign oil cyst, nothing to worry about and come back in six months.  After all that self-induced drama, it turned out to be an oil cyst/fat necrosis.  PHEW!  For now.  See, for those of us with breast cancer, or any type of cancer really, the anxiety is always there.  In my case, it’s been either all-consuming or bubbling just below the surface.  I will be headed back in a couple of weeks for a six month check of my oil cyst, so I decided I needed a plan to combat this fear.

There are methods I’ve found to deal with scanxiety and fear of recurrence so it does not rule my life.  When I’m feeling apprehensive about a doctor’s appointment or a procedure, or even a simple headache I’m convinced is brain metastasis, I go to my happy place in my mind.  Usually this is either on a beach somewhere with my family or a comfy hammock where I am reading my favorite book.  I practice deep breathing.  I blog about my thoughts, my reservations and my blessings.  I spend girl time with my daughter and appreciate the incredible young lady she’s becoming as she gets ready for high school.  I also found that focusing on helping others helps to distract me from my own worries.  I text my good friend whose husband recently went through Leukemia treatment and see how they are doing.  I check on my pink sisters and offer comfort and support.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not always easy and it is not something I learned overnight, but I have gained a measure of peace and that is something I wish for all my pink sisters.

Scanxiety happens to all of us.  Just know that you are normal if it happens to you too.  It’s ok to reach out to other pink sisters about your concerns.  They can probably relate and will help you through it.


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Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal.  She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015.  She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog

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Place of Yes

By Rebecca Weiss

As a writer, I’ve never liked clichés much, but there are a few that ring true to me as I get older, and one of them is “Coming from a place of Yes.” This really is a meaningful phrase for me now that I am a breast cancer survivor.

Because, as I can see now, I’ve spent most of my life coming from a place of “No.”

Growing up I was chubby and at times awkward, a kid who loved playing basketball but got embarrassed by my hot, red “sweaty tomato” face. Interested in the dramatic arts, but mostly relegated to the set crew. I often saw the world in terms of what was for me and what wasn’t. Eying girls in Seventeen Magazine who were waifish with long straight hair and perfect skin, I got used to thinking, “No, that’s not me.” “No” became my default setting after a while. No, I’m not pretty enough for the lead in the play. No, I’m not smart enough to join the debate team. No, I’m not popular enough to get elected to student government.

And, this thinking stayed with me as I went through adolescence and young adulthood. No, I wasn’t polished enough to land the job I really wanted. No, I wasn’t worth a second date. No, I wasn’t going to get a raise. And so on. This kind of thinking invaded my life to the extent that over time I began to experience a lot of anxiety. Among other things, I was a pretty bad hypochondriac, and I think that had a direct impact on my health because I became so used to combatting my panicked thoughts about my health that when I felt a lump in my right breast I told myself I was imagining it and put off seeing a doctor for much longer than I care to think about now.

I spent many years watching my friends and co-workers rise through the ranks, start their own businesses, go to grad school and travel overseas while I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get anywhere—in my career or in the world and I even developed a fear of flying. On a smaller scale, I would watch people dance at a wedding or sing karaoke and sit it out worried about looking silly on the dance floor or my not-so-great singing voice. I might have thought I had a long life ahead of me back then, but I wasn’t really living. I often saw my life as a waiting game. Waiting for things to change. Waiting until I lost weight. Waiting until my boss finally appreciated me. And, then, in May of 2014 at the age of 43 I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

wp-1490930844494.jpgAt first my anxiety took over, and I breathlessly and sleeplessly navigated through the dark fear of losing my life—of leaving my husband and children without me for the rest of their lives, of breaking the hearts of my parents and other loved ones. But, once I got into treatment and stared down the true risk of not making it through, I found my fighting spirit. I faced a hairless, breastless, potentially futureless me, and something shifted. It was gradual, but it was significant. Here’s what happened: I started to see the things I was afraid of before, the things I was so quick to say “no” to, as, just perhaps, being FOR me.

The only no’s I hung on to were related to giving up. No, I’m not going to go down without a fight. No, I’m not going to stop doing the activities I enjoy. No, I will not become a victim. And then, I decided to experiment with “yes.” I sought out what it would feel like to get on the dance floor at the weddings and bar mitzvahs I was invited to. I started interviewing for jobs at organizations and in fields I had always wanted to work. I took the honeymoon trip to London my husband and I were going to take in 2002 but put off. In short, I began to say yes to things big and small that I finally realized I wasn’t going to do if I lived my life waiting. Yes, I realize that’s another cliché. “What are you waiting for?” but, seriously, what was I waiting for?wp-1490930840700.jpg

Here’s what my life is like now that I’ve learned to say yes: I am famous—infamous perhaps—
for my crazy moves on the dance floor. I have a go-to karaoke song that I sing loud and proud despite my near tone-deafness. I’ve been to London—and Utah and Alaska—in just the past two years. I left a job I’d held for 12 years to pursue my dream of working in public radio. And, now the only downside is that I love my life so much I’m afraid to lose it. Yes, I want to be there for my kids and I want to make my parents and friends proud, but mostly I want to continue challenging myself and finding the joy that I never allowed myself before.

There’s room for you—for everyone—here at yes. But, there’s no waiting. Bring your dance moves, your favorite 80s rock song, and your travel itinerary. Then, let me know what you’re saying yes to now.


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Rebecca Weiss is a 46-year-old breast cancer survivor whose life changed completely when she was diagnosed as stage 3 in 2014. A journalist and corporate communications professional, in 2015 she started Bob’s Boxes, a 501c3 nonprofit that sends post-mastectomy care packages to women with breast cancer. Rebecca has appeared on the Today Show, was featured in Parents Magazine and the book Live Happy; and serves as a Model of Courage in Ford’s Warriors In Pink campaign. She lives in Rutherford, New Jersey with her husband and two young children. You can find Rebecca on Twitter and Instagram @BobsBoxes, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Bobsboxesorg/ and at www.bobsboxes.org
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Every Day

By Sheryl De Witte

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I survived something that could have killed me.  I made it through with the prayers and help from my family, my friends, and my co-workers.

I was consumed by the emotions of fear and shock after receiving my diagnosis; everything moved quickly and was a blur. First were the chemo treatments, followed by a Bilateral Mastectomy and finally reconstruction.  That was it; I was done: I was told “there’s no evidence of disease”.  I was beyond excited and relieved, I had done it, and I had survived! It was time to get back to my life the way it was before breast cancer; everyone around me had already moved on, so why can’t I?

Every day I’m reminded that I had breast cancer. When I walk out of the shower in the morning, I can’t help but see the scars on my chest in the bathroom mirror.  Scars from the port surgeries are sometimes visible to others, but the large scars that haunt me are big and only seen by me and my husband.  They run from my sternum to under my arms and are intersected by another scar that goes up to where my nipples used to be.  There are more scars under my arms from where the lymph nodes were removed and the drains inserted.  I can’t help but remember when I first looked at myself a couple of days after surgery and how horrified I was at what I saw.  I looked like something out of a horror movie.  My breasts were gone and in their place I had large, angry looking incisions that had been sewn together.   I had horrible bruising, drainage tubes coming out of me, and I had no nipples.  Had I made the right choice?  This decision truly had been mine, and I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t.

Every day I am frustrated by an increased anxiety which I do not understand and cannot seem to get under control.  It hits randomly and sometimes viciously.  I get apprehensive in groups of people, or when I’m waiting for something or someone.  It makes my stomach upset, so I never go anywhere without finding the nearest restroom and knowing my escape route. It limits me and makes me wish somedays that I never had to leave my house.

Every day I think about how I need to lose weight, how I should be eating only “healthy” foods and exercising.  But I’m tired, my energy hasn’t fully returned.  When I come home from work all I want to do is sit on the couch.  I try to not drink anything out of a plastic bottle, and I no longer use regular deodorant; instead I use the natural stuff because it’s supposed to be better for me.  I have no idea what caused my breast cancer; if I only knew then I would be certain to never eat or drink it again, or to never use that product anywhere.

Every day I get hot flashes.  My coworkers are all cold, and many have heaters on- not me, I’ve got my fan on, and I dress like it’s summer, even in the dead of a Minnesota winter.

Every day I try to get back to where I was before breast cancer, but I can’t.  You see my sister is dying from breast cancer.  Her cancer came back, even though she had done everything right.  She ate healthier, she exercised, and she had had Chemo, a Bilateral Mastectomy, Radiation and reconstruction.  Still, it came back with a vengeance.  She too had been told there was “no evidence of disease”.

I know I need to move on and not live with the fear of it coming back, but I don’t know how to do that.  I hope that over time my scars and anxiety will fade, and my confidence will come back just like my hair has.  In the meantime, I will do my best to carry myself like the warrior that I am.  I will strive to see the best in everyone and in every situation.  Most importantly, I will pray and rejoice that I have been given a second chance.  I will be thankful for every day that I have been given,  for every sunrise and sunset, for every bird I hear chirping, every flower I’m able to smell and for the time I spend with my family, my friends and my coworkers; because without them, I may not have made it this far.


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In Oct 2015, Sheryl was diagnosed with IDC.  Both of her sisters had previously had breast cancer, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to her, but it was.  She went through chemo followed by a bilateral mastectomy, and in July of 2016, she had reconstruction.  She did not need radiation as my cancer was Stage 1.

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When the breath stops for a while…

By Anna Rathkopf of CzechMomNYC

At the beginning of December, on my birthday I gave myself a very peculiar gift. I found a lump in my right breast. A little round, pea sized, lump. My breath stopped by the idea, by the feeling, by the enormity of it.

What did I do? I went on google. The biggest mistake a person could make? Probably, so. I went to my husband. His breath stopped.

Yank’s worst nightmare? His mom had breast cancer, 23 years ago. Nightmare, shitload of it, the feeling of the biggest fear and a nightmare in one package. My husband was 12 years old at that time. Yes, he is not that scared boy anymore. He is now a father and a husband, scared.

The internet wasn’t enough. So I decided to have it over with and set a doctor’s appointment.

The week after the peculiar gift was given to me by me I was with my husband and his mom in the hospital to begin this story.

wp-1490826997375.jpgIt started with the American classic, the financial and the health insurance. Even after ten years living the American insanity of the health insurance system or un-system, I still find this absolutely crazy. My European brain is still unused to the idea that a sick person needs to clear with the financial side first and then maybe deal with the sickness.

The activation of my “Cancer resource services.” I admit I left that for the last minute. I didn’t want to deal with the word cancer, it scared me. Sorry, my husband, I left it on you. I had to. I was too sick in my stomach. Too scared by that word.

After the stroll to the financial department I had to fill around 30 pages of my family history. To the question on page 28, “No, I don’t have the Alzheimer’s. If I had that I would have forgotten, what to fill by that time.” “But thanks, that question definitively uplifted my mood.” The words around me: “Last radiation,” “my chemo,” all that was making me giddy with my nerves.

First examination: “It looks good. The lump is nice and round.” The doctor’s calming voice sounded in the background to my heart beats in my ears. “The risk is minimal, you are young and healthy, no background of breast cancer in your family.”

Second examination: Mammogram, one floor up, changed into a pink stripe standard robe. I entered the realm of pink, pink for the breast cancer ribbon? All the women around me, dressed the same. My husband sitting with his mom in a different waiting room. Divided but nervous the same. I have my book with me. I can read and not think. Mammogram, what a strange machine for women with small breasts. I have to hug and hang on the monster, my legs wrapped around it just to be able to have my breasts squeezed in it.

Third examination: The same floor, a little bit further in, it seems that the further I move in, the further I am being sent into that special club. The club I don’t want to be a member in. My sister-in-law came in, to cheer me, to lift my mood. Yes, it helped. Every cheer helps, even if it’s just for that moment, that second, your brain moves into a different realm. An ultrasound, the last time I had an ultrasound done I was pregnant, I heard the heartbeat of that tiny worm growing inside of me. The heartbeat made me so happy, the last time I had an ultrasound done. I am the only person now who can hear the heartbeat, the heart beat in my throat.

“Somebody cancelled a biopsy. We have time in half an hour.” “Sure, I want that.” I answer while thinking about the woman who cancelled hers. Why would she do that?

Fourth examination: A biopsy. I am scared, a little, not much, a little. The doctor describes every move she does. I prefer to look at the blank ceiling. A pity, some nice picture on the ceiling would be nice. “You are right, the TV behind your head, they installed recently is kinda for nothing.” Agrees that nice nurse. “I gave you, inside your lump a little mark. Just so that we can find it in a case of surgery. Don’t worry you won’t set any airport security.” “The results? Tomorrow, maybe Monday.”

Fifth examination: Mammogram, yet again, just that breast, now with a mark and a bandage.

Finally outside. My husband and my mother-in-law relieved, hugging, ready to go. The doctor again: “It looks good. We will know everything after the biopsy but it looks good. It’s so small the mammogram didn’t find it. Sleep well.”

Relieved? Sure. Exhaustion more like it. Waiting.

The day after: Friday, December 16th at work, my phone is ringing. “Sure, I have time.” “Unfortunately the biopsy shows invasive cancer cells.” My breath stops, but this time it doesn’t want to start again. She talks and talks, and I cannot breathe, my throat is tight, so tight. Why am

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How do I tell Jesse?

I crying? Nobody died. “What? No, I don’t need anything. I am fine, just fine.” Breathe in and out, in and out. Just get her to stop talking. I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t want to hear her.
I call my husband. He is not picking up. I am shaking. I call my mother-in-law. “Oh, God, God.” I am going to her. I need to hug and hold somebody. I tell my coworkers something about bad results. On a way out I call my mum. “Oh God, God.” It’s not even funny that they both said the same thing, in different languages, two mothers. I will never forget their voices. The same breathless responses.

I am sick in my stomach. I am in shock. My mother-in-law is waiting for me at the door. She holds me. It helps. Breathe.


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Anna is a 37 year old mother of three year old boy. She is originally from Prague, Czech Republic, but has been living in NYC for the last 10 years together with her Brooklyn born husband. On December 16th, 2016, she got the life shattering news that the lump she found in her breast is actually not nothing but something…something called cancer.  She decided to start a blog, CzechMomNYC, about her experience and about a life of a mother with breast cancer diagnosis. She and my husband also started a photo project of their lives as it is now, fighting this horrible hidden enemy.  Follow their project on Facebook.