I have to stay alive. This was my first thought when I was diagnosed with Triple Negative, Stage 2 Breast Cancer, on my daughter’s 8th birthday. I had to do everything possible in my power to stay strong, healthy, and engaged during this process. I didn’t have time to think about much else. Now, in hindsight, there were a few other things it would have been helpful to know back then.
Implants are heavy, cold, immobile, and need to be replaced every ten years. I told my plastic surgeon that I wanted to be sized appropriately. Well, it turns out, implants weigh more than natural tissue. In my case, seven pounds more. Trust me. I’ve calculated this. That is a lot more weight on my back and shoulders. Also, they get cold! In winter, it feels as if two ice packs are on my chest at all times. And they don’t move. I don’t wear bras any longer because I can’t fit into one comfortably. The biggest of all the shocks was that I have to have them replaced every ten years, which is major surgery. Not one of my doctors told me this during the process. Knowing what I know now, I may have opted to skip the implants, or at least have them smaller. When I do go for my replacement surgery, I will be looking to downsize.
Wigs are hot and expensive. When I knew I would lose my hair, I chose to shave it off and wear a beautiful wig. I went to a great wig maker, who had made wigs for RuPaul. I wanted to look hot. Well, I ended up just feeling hot. RuPaul is absolutely fabulous, but RuPaul, I am not. Before you invest in a wig, make sure you will wear it. They can cost thousands of dollars. With my diagnosis being in the summer, I truly felt as if I were melting. That, coupled with chemotherapy, was just too much. I decided to walk down the street, proudly bald. And you know what? People loved it! I told them I did it for style. It was amazing how many younger women complimented me. Honestly, I would still be shaving it, except it makes my daughter worry that I’m sick.
Talk directly to your children and family. This is different for everyone. However, what we found was that my daughter imagined the situation to be much worse than it was. Thankfully, the school psychologist had talked to her and had shared her concerns with us. My daughter was young, but she had big questions that she wanted to ask my oncologist, such as, “Will my mom get better?” “What is chemotherapy doing to my mom’s body?” and “Will I get cancer?” We arranged for her to go to an oncology appointment and chemotherapy session with me. It calmed her anxiety. She found it to not be as scary as she thought and felt more comfortable with my being away for such a long time during treatments.
Exercise and diet do make a huge difference! My oncologist told me that I needed to “eat eight servings of vegetables per day and do two spinning classes per day.” I was already in good shape at the time of my diagnosis. I was and am an avid runner and had a diet far better than the average person. But two spinning classes and eight servings of just vegetables per day plus chemotherapy seemed excessive. She said, “Trust me, you’re going to do so much better during chemotherapy if you do this.” Note, she didn’t want me running because if I fell, I could hurt myself. Riding a stationary bike was much safer. I never did pull off the two spinning classes per day, but I did make it to one class per day during the three-month process. Yes, I did my very best to eat eight servings of vegetables every day, whether I felt like eating or not. The side effects didn’t last as long, I seemed to have more energy, and my brain fog wasn’t as bad. I could see how much better I was doing than other patients with other oncologists at the hospital.
Concentrate on what you have to do today, and only today. You can plan for the future, but you have to get through today first. This advice was given to me by a friend diagnosed in her 20’s with breast cancer. She is now in her 50’s and a mother of three. Knowing exactly what I had to do on any given day made the diagnosis easier to process. Yes, I planned for the future, but I kept a detailed calendar and followed it. Being able to check off tasks from my list gave me a sense of accomplishment and control over a portion of my life.