I was diagnosed with breast cancer when a lump was found in my right breast. Chemotherapy was not prescribed because my Oncotype was so low. It seemed it would be a simple case. But then a smaller, very aggressive malignant tumor was found in my left breast. It was a no brainer for me. I chose to have a double mastectomy and then implants, but I couldn't have radiation because I had already been radiated to treat Hodgkins when I was 21. So this isn't my first rodeo! I went along with my doctor, and I ended up having chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer.
At first I was scared because I didn't know if I could take care of myself. Then, I decided in order to get through this "temporary setback" as I began to call it, that I needed to make the best of things and being single would be fine. Hey! I could do whatever I wanted to, at any hour of the night, and no one would be at odds with me. So I changed my attitude and got myself organized. I created a book of doctor bills (so I wouldn't double pay someone) and a second book for notes. If everything was written down, I never had to remember anything. I could revert to my books for details. Sounds like a great idea, huh? Well, it wasn't mine. My sister had breast cancer six months prior, so I took her advice.
I must say I found that I have great friends. While I was in the hospital my best friend came with me and while I was sleeping she was busy cleaning my apartment. Many friends did surface, and I will be forever grateful for their love and support.
I was also really thankful to have a supportive boss and a good insurance policy! So on day one of being home, a neighbor mentioned that her boss went to a support group called SHARE.
I called the SHARE Helpline the same day I learned about it and was told about a support group. I went once and felt so good to be in the company of these SHARE women that I kept going. It turned out that my support group experience was phenomenal. The first day I went I had no idea what it was going to to be about. Marjorie, the support group facilitator, offered to go with me to my first chemo appointment when she realized I was single. I couldn't believe she made that offer, it empowered me to take care of myself. I couldn't believe she would be so selfless. I recruited my mom from Florida. My mom came to stay with me instead and accompanied me to my chemo appointment.
After the chemo, I had reconstruction, and then returned to work two weeks later. Going back to work was difficult. I felt like I'd had a lobotomy because I couldn't remember anything I had done from six months before. I was lucky that my colleague talked me through everything, and I was able to re-learn the things I'd forgotten.
Now, I see my oncologist every six months, and I'm on tamoxifen. I have side effects from it, including fatigue in my thighs The thing that reminds me the most of breast cancer is my reconstruction. I have felt very disconnected from my breasts because of my implants, which are silicone. It took me a year and a half for them to feel normal, and for me to be fully able to stretch and reach. I also had physical therapy to treat lymphedema.
My general approach to managing breast cancer has been not to take things too seriously, and to do everything in my control to have a positive outcome. That includes eating right, exercising, surrounding myself with good things, and laughing. I try to let things roll off my back.
What was especially helpful for me when I was recovering from breast cancer was to release myself as much as possible from responsibility. I got rid of my to-do lists and decided there were no due dates. Everything became secondary to the disease. I decided that expectations equal disappointment, and so I learned not to expect anything. I only watched happy movies, and I listened to my favorite album, which was Barry Manilow's favorite hits. I didn't watch the news. I would bitch and moan on Wednesdays at the support group about chemo brain and other things, but generally I created as happy a place as I possibly could.
Life will go on, so I'm trying to make the best of it.
Gina is a breast cancer survivor.