You’ve survived breast cancer twice—and had a scare with skin cancer. How (and when) were you first diagnosed?
I was first diagnosed with BC in December of 2008. I first felt a lump in my right breast in the shower.
It took me 5 months to get diagnosed. The gynecologist I was going to at the time only wanted me to go to one place and for a mammogram and they didn’t have an availability ‘til January the next year, and would not give me a referral. So I had to find a new doctor and that took another month and a half for a new patient appointment. Then another month for a mammogram and sonogram. This was 14 years ago when people were not talking about breast cancer as much. Thank goodness we know and talk more about it and the importance of breast exams and the urgency of getting the cancer out right away.
What was more difficult: the physical pain from all the surgeries you had to get, or the emotional toll it took on you?
The physical pain is not easy, especially when you have had so many complications and extra surgeries. because you end up losing so much time in hospitals and bound to your bed. But, I think in the end the emotional pain is much more difficult. There is the sadness, the anger, a mourning, grief and loss and the trauma that goes along with it; you go through all the emotions you would go through with a death. I feel I will never be the same person I was before cancer, for better and for worse; even with more gratitude and joy in being alive.
What’s the worst medical horror story you can share with us?
1. I remember when they were switching me from the recovery room to my hospital bed after having my mastectomy. There were several people by the rolling bed and a nurse dropped something right on my breast, on the side that was just operated on. It was very painful and she was in shock, as was I.
2. I was finally diagnosed with my second cancer, with a lump in the same place as the first lump we found of four in my mastectomy breast during my first diagnosis. After many—and I mean many different doctors—no one believed I had cancer in the breast I had a mastectomy in. I was in surgery having scar tissue and implants cleaned up and replaced after having implants put in five years prior. I went home to recover and went back in for emergency surgery less than a week later and they could not put the implant back in on my mastectomy side, so they had to put in another expander, which was the third time I had one. Most women only ever get one. I was in the hospital with round-the-clock care and then home with a round-the-clock nurse for five weeks! I thought I was going to die. I could barely talk or walk. It was horrible.
Can you describe any moments of humor or levity that happened along the way?
There is always humor. I try to find the humor in everything.
What surprised you the most about your experience with chronic illness? How did it change your approach to your work / fashion in general?
I used to be so obsessed about my body and looks. Right now I have to be grateful that this body that has been through so much is functioning. It doesn’t look the same and is always changing. But, I am learning to love it in the most imperfect way with scars and all.
What is the latest update (if there is one!) in your long battle with breast cancer? How are you feeling these days relative to what you’ve been through?
Today I am in remission with my breast cancer. Everyday is not perfect but each day is a chance for a new beginning and I am grateful for that.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about cancer and/or breast cancer specifically? Is there anything you wish you could make people understand better?
Yes, that all breast cancer is different and each case and length of time they deal with it is different.
Also, when people say that having a breast cancer reconstruction is a boob upgrade… It is not. It is so very different from breast reconstruction. I don’t wish it on anybody.
If there has been any silver lining to all of it, what would you say it is?
I honestly can say I am so grateful for my life that when I think about it, it makes me tear up.
What have you learned about yourself—and/or the human spirit in general?
We are not given more than we can handle. There are lessons and reasons for everything we go through even if we don’t understand them now.
How has Sollis been able to help you through your journey?
I have to tell you how much I love Sollis. I called to see if they could see me, but could not really take care of what is going on. But within half an hour they had referrals. Love! They helped me navigate a very difficult time several years ago. I could not have done it without their assistance and found the best doctors that are still helping me to this day.
Any good words to live by?
Please be your own advocate. Get second, third and fourth opinions. It matters.
The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.