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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