Our WhatNexter of The Week is SusanK. Susan is a Breast Cancer Survivor and shares her story with us.
My journey with breast cancer began in October 2011 with a routine mammogram. The next day I went to my daughter's home 150 miles away for a visit when my cell rang. Could I go in for a second mammogram? I could do that in a week or so, I said. A few minutes later, my family doctor called. Could I maybe go back tomorrow for another mammogram and possibly an ultra-sound? I knew my "routine" mammogram had been anything but that.
So began the myriad of tests--mammogram, ultra-sound, needle biopsy and tissue biopsy. Then introductions to breast surgeons and plastic surgeons. The worst was having to make decisions when I was still in a sort of daze. I believe all the doctors must have explained their procedures. I vaguely remember watching videos and even looking at real pictures of breast reconstruction. What did it all mean to me? Was this really happening to ME?
The bi-lateral mastectomy was done on Nov. 29, 2011. My decision was easily made when I learned my cancer was triple negative, a very aggressive kind. My tumor was fairly small but the look of concern on my usually-affable breast surgeon's face told me more than her words did. I started some research and scared myself a little more. I had to be aggressive in this fight, so having the mastectomy seemed right for me, even though all the doctors told me my chances were the same with a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. I chose bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction using tissue expanders. Additionally I would have to undergo chemotherapy.
The procedure went according to plan. Chemo was difficult but I had so much encouragement from family and friends. The nurses were wonderful, so knowledgeable and patient. I had been told initially four treatments would likely be enough, so I had X'd them off my calendar as I went. Then came the news that the oncologist would like me to have two more. By then, I felt miserable. I was in a daze again. I blindly went where I was led. Somehow I managed to get through those last two treatments, and within two months, my reconstruction was finally done. Then I could see my hair starting to come in. Soon I wasn't wearing a hat anymore, and I was starting to feel stronger. By mid-summer, my plastic surgeon gave me the go-ahead to start playing golf. Life really was getting back to a new "normal" for me.
I was a little skeptical when the invitation to join WhatNext came along. I'm not a huge fan of Facebook and at first I believed it would be much like that. One day, however, I had a question about the last phase of reconstruction and I was very concerned about it; it was the weekend, and I didn't want to disturb my doctor, but I was losing sleep, fretting over it. I posted my question on WhatNext, and within hours got a half-dozen responses from women who all put my mind at ease. What I was experiencing was absolutely normal, part of the process, they all told me, based on their experiences. I then realized the value of this website. These women had helped me by simply telling me what they had gone through themselves. I could do that much, if someone asked a question I could answer.
It is now 14 months or so since my journey started, and just this last week my oncologist told me I am doing great and he doesn't need to see me until the summer. He doesn't use the term "Cancer Free," but he tells me to "live a normal life." I visit WhatNext every day. It is a kind of therapy for me. My family and friends rarely ask about my cancer anymore; we have all gotten on with our lives, you know, and I'm glad; I don't want anyone worrying about me. But I think about my cancer at least once a day. Sometimes I worry about recurrence, sometimes I ponder how I got through it all in the first place, and sometimes I just remember the kindness of so many as I did it. Being able to connect with others by sending an encouraging note or answering a question on WhatNext reminds me not only of of the battle I fought, but also the battle we are all continuing to fight.
Stop by Susan's profile page and tell her thanks for sharing her story.