guest blogger

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. 

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giveaway

Giveaway #20: Letters of Love Designs SURVIVOR and HOPE Signs

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Nikki Barr of Letters of Love Designs has donated a SURVIVOR sign and a HOPE sign.  Shipping is donated by Taylor Eames.

Visit Letters of Love Designs at www.lettersoflovedesigns.com.

Like Letters of Love Designs on Facebook HERE.  Follow Letters of Love Designs on Instagram HERE.

***ENTER TO WIN THE SURVIVOR SIGN HERE***

***ENTER TO WIN THE HOPE Magnet HERE***

About the company:  Nikki photographs things that look like letters and then uses the photos to make neat, decorative signs.

HOPE :  3 inches wide/long x 1 inch tall/high.
SURVIVOR (either color style) : 10 1/2 inches wide/long x 2 1/2 inches tall/high.

These signs can stand alone and also hang on the wall – metal hanger on the back.

Indoor display only.

Nikki is also offering a discount to the members of Breast Cancer Sisters FB group.  The discount code will be announced in the group.

guest blogger

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.

giveaway

Giveaway #16: EduCare Handbooks

Author Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN has donated a copy of each of her handbooks for our giveaway.  You are welcome to enter to win one or both!

To enter for Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook, CLICK HERE.

To enter for Breast Cancer Survivorship Handbook, CLICK HERE.

EduCare Inc., a dedicated breast health education company, was founded in January 1994 by Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN. For more than 20 years, EduCare has been a leader in providing the highest quality breast health educational materials for patients and healthcare providers, along with training healthcare professionals.

Read more about the company at www.educareinc.com.

giveaway

Giveaway #2: “Me-1 Cancer-0” Bracelet from Completely Wired

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“Me-1 Cancer-0″  Bracelet donated graciously by Completely Wired.  This bracelet is a custom made 1/4″ x 6” pure aluminum hypoallergenic handstamped cuff.

Trisha Meyers, owner of Completely Wired, creates custom and unique jewelry and accessories for both people and their pets.  Based out of NW Indiana, Trisha’s heart of gold extends past her jewelry making and into the community where she has participated in auctions to help raise money for those in need.  Trisha has donated this bracelet and shipping to our giveaway to make one of our lovely sisters smile!

Visit the Completely Wired website here.

Like Completely Wired on Facebook here.

Click HERE to enter to win this bracelet!