This is the end of a very hard beginning.. MY BATTLE IS OVER AND I HAVE WON! This was an “incredibly hard” obstacle to overcome. Experience has changed me in such a way, that is not easily explained. However, I have become a better person because of it. I hope you can find some comfort in my story. I kept a journal, as it helped me to stay strong and focused. (I had other unfortunate women in mind as well.) Positivity helped immensely, from those I hold dear to my heart. However, I found the most strength from deep within myself. May this help you and gently guide your way. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. “I promise, you will be able to move on with your life!” (words from my plastic surgeon) Life is shorter than we often presume. Live freely, love deeply and don’t forget to breathe! I also suffer from multiple chronic diseases. This takes everything out of me. I always hold strong and manage to get through.. I started feeling worse, things were different this time. I was tired like never before and couldn’t shake it. I was physically ill and it was starting to wear me down. In time, I started feeling better. Then, my dentist told me that I needed my wisdom teeth extracted. (ouch!) My youngest son was beginning junior kindergarten. He would be gone during the day, I could do something for myself. I decided to register for school and started an online course.
(IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE DECODING ANNIE PARKER, WATCH IT IMMEDIATELY!!!)
(BRACE YOURSELF.. DO NOT WATCH THIS ALONE, AS YOU WILL CRY LIKE YOU NEVER HAVE BEFORE!)
(I WOULD GIVE ANYTHING TO REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE HER!)
On Jan 20, 2016 I had to face what I’ve always feared most. I found a lump in my left breast! I closed my eyes, and prayed that it be nothing. I put my head on my pillow and cried myself to sleep. I went to see my GP the next morning. She arranged for a mammogram and an ultrasound to be performed. I was feeling good, in hopes that it was nothing more than a cyst. I received a call from the hospital the day after the tests. The radiologist wanted me to go back. An ultrasound-guided core biopsy would be needed, as my breast were too dense and showed very little. I was nervous about this procedure. Thankfully, I had the love of my life by my side! During this test, I asked questions.. I was told that it was not a cyst, but a tumour that looked quite concerning. Now, I would have to wait six to ten days for the results. I was starting to fall apart inside. “Suck it up, bury it for your children.” (I thought to myself every minute.) The secretary called sooner than I had anticipated. She said “Hello, we need you to come in at 1:10pm today.” My heart started racing.. “The doctor has to talk to you about something. She has appointments set up for you!” In that moment, I had so many thoughts and feelings that I became lost.
(I COULDN’T POSSIBLY HAVE THIS IN COMMON WITH MY MOTHER, COULD I?)
(I’M ROMAN CATHOLIC AND HAVE NOT ATTENDED CHURCH IN DECADES.. THIS WAS THE DAY THAT I FOUND SPIRITUALITY AGAIN. I STARTED PRAYING IN MY NATIVE TONGUE. THIS SHOCKED ME, AS I REMEMBERED EVERY SINGLE WORD “IN FRENCH”)
I called my husband at work, to tell him about it. I think our vehicle grew wings, because he arrived home so quickly! We left to make our way to the office. We were seated in a room to wait. It seemed quite long and I could barely breathe. There was a knock at the door. The doctor finally came in the room. She said “Unfortunately it is exactly what we expected, YOU HAVE CANCER!” I started to get dizzy, as the air in the room seemed to thicken.. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I was only thirty six years old! I turned to face my husband, he looked as devastated as I was feeling. He immediately got himself in check. He began to ask the doctor many questions. I was so grateful for his strength that day. When we arrived back home, I couldn’t remember anything that had just happened. (I was in shock but didn’t know it yet!) Now, I would have to face my children.. We went to pick them up after school. We were halfway there when I started to have an anxiety attack! I yelled for my husband to hurry and bring me back home. While he continued to gather the kids, I made my way upstairs to my bedroom. I picked up the phone to call my Mother.. Then, I heard my Father’s voice! I was so distraught, my mind failed to recognize the fact that she was no longer alive! “I need my mom, I cried to him.” He apologized, not knowing how to console me. We lived hours away from one another. I will admit that it took awhile to get my head back on straight! (I honestly don’t think I could have done it without the help of a mild sedative.) My doctor had prescribed a low dose 0.5mg Ativan. When I started to feel anxious, I would put one tiny blue pill under my tongue. I don’t usually like taking any medication. I rarely ever use tylenol or advil. I received a wonderful book from the hospital. “see above” This helped a great deal, in explaining to my boys that I was sick! How would I break this news to my family? They would all be devastated. We had already lost my Mother to breast cancer! I attended a consultation, with the Breast Assessment Program. The nurse gave me a new patient binder. I was able to keep all my documents organized. She explained everything about my cancer care. She also lent me some books for my children. I was informed that her business card would give me a discount at the pharmacy. When it came time to purchase a mastectomy bra!
(GRETCHEN ALSO STARTED A “NON-PROFIT” ORGANIZATION, THAT MAKES CAPS FOR PEOPLE GOING THROUGH CHEMOTHERAPY ACROSS CANADA!)
(THANK YOU FOR SHAPING ME INTO THE WOMAN THAT I AM TODAY MOM) – I miss you profoundly!!!
My Mother was a very strong woman. she was diagnosed with breast Cancer in 1995 at the age of 38. Her battle was a long one! The tumor spread multiples times, during the next fourteen years. In the end, she fought with everything she was made of.. She was an inspiration to all. “Life is hard, grin and bear it” she told me. She also said “Never bite your tongue for anyone.” (All the strength I’ve ever had, it came from you mom) I am a very stubborn woman. I’ve never listened to anyone. I’ve always been my own person. This is how I knew that I would beat this terrible disease! (I’m no stranger to pain and suffering, as I also have Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Endometriosis. I met with my Surgical Oncologist. He gave me a quick examination. We spoke of my family history. My Mother was also a carrier of the brca1 mutation. He made arrangements for me to be tested right away. (My results ended up coming back positive!) I was pre-dispositioned to develop cancer in my breast and ovaries. I would have to get both removed, in order to save my life. My Mother also had (very agressive) bilateral breast cancer, this brought my percentage of recurrance over 100%! (I would later find out, that my cancer was being fed by estrogen as well.) He said that I would also need an MRI, to rule out any additional abnormalities. If nothing else was found, he would perform a lumpectomy and remove the cancer. I would also need a sentinal lymph node biopsy. This was done by injecting some radioactive material near the areola. This material is designed to travel in the lymphatic system and get trapped in the first lymph node. He would make a small incision in my armpit and use a small radiation detector. (Some people turn a tinge of “radioactive” blue) This would track the nodes, that would be taken for testing. Normally, between one and three are removed. My lymphnodes were compressed, so he ended up extracting twelve! This put me at a higher risk for developing lymphodema! The good news was that my story remained the same. The tumor was in fact small, it’s margins were clear of cancer and it had not spread to the nodes.
(WARNING – I STARTED WORKING OUT TOO SOON AND THE ARM I HAD THE PICC LINE IN SWELLED UP FOR WEEKS!)
(APPLYING MAKEUP AND TRYING ON A WIG REALLY LIFTED MY SPIRITS! – (Thank you so much, you know who you are!)
I was going to need chemotherapy, which would be around four months. Radiation would not be needed, as I decided on a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. (I could not keep my nipples or the cancer would have come back!) I was told that he would be performing my mastectomy. The plastic surgeon would be doing the reconstruction. I met with her prior to my mastectomy. She held a group conference and had a one on one appointment with me as well. I signed all the paperwork needed for my upcoming surgery. He read my pathology report aloud, while explaining everything. I had been diagnosed, with “grade 3” invasive ductal carcinoma. This meant that the tumour started in the milk duct, then spread to the outer breast tissue. However, I was happy to find out that is was stage 1 breast cancer and the tumor was very small. I attended all the programs that the hospital had to offer during my cancer care. I really enjoyed the “Look Good, Feel Better” Program. They were very informative and I even got to meet some really great people. My husband and I made a habit of buying things for the kids from the gift shops. The cancer centre also had a large collection, of very helpful pamphlets! I saw a Physiotherapist and Dietician as well. I learned so much about lymphedema and followed a healthy diet plan. I also got to visit the Chemo Room! This helped, knowing what it looked like ahead of time. Even though, my first treatment was delayed because my blood pressure was so high. Beyond the brave face that I held, I was terrified!
(I BLASTED THIS SONG IN THE SHOWER, THIS ALLOWED ME TO SING WHILE I WEPT!)
(I KNOW THAT I CAN SURVIVE, I WALKED THROUGH FIRE TO SAVE MY LIFE. AND I WANT IT, I WANT MY LIFE SO BAD.. I’M DOING EVERYTHING I CAN – YOU DID NOT BREAK ME!)
I met with my Medical Oncologist. He explained everything about Chemotherapy. I was told that the treatments would be every two weeks for four months. He warned me that it would age me ten years. He wasn’t kidding, because I look much older now! (Hydration is key, drink plenty of fluids and keep your skin moisturized!) He also said I would lose my hair and sometimes it grew back with changes or not at all. My hair used to be straight, very thick and chestnut brown. I now have very thin, lighter brown hair that came back curly. I’ve since cut all the ringlets away and it left a wave. I did not want to be poked and prodded, like I had seen my Mother go through. I spoke to the doctor, he arranged for me to have a PICC line put in my arm. I had to get an Echocardiogram done, to rule out any heart conditions. I also had to wear a Holter Monitor at home. Bloodwork was always needed, the day before my treatments. I also had to get a shot of Neulasta, after every treatment. I started off on Neupogen for awhile, as I had a reaction with the first dose! (I also had a brief consultation with the Gynecologist about the removal of my ovaries.)
(CHEMOTHERAPY MADE MY EYES BECOME EXTREMELY SENSITIVE TO THE LIGHT. THANKFULLY, I HAD TINTED GLASSES!)
(I PURCHASED A PAX VAPORIZER FOR MY CANNABIS. I USE IT AT BEDTIME, AS IT ALSO HELPS WITH MY OTHER DISEASES!)
This would prove to be one of the hardest things I’d ever gone through. Not only did I feel poisoned for the duration of my treatments. This went on for months after they were done. My vision was blurred, my bones ached and food tasted terrible. Then, my sense of taste vanished! I have not been able to taste anything properly since my treatments ended. (Most of the food I cannot taste at all) I was exhausted all the time. Truthfully, I feel older and tire so easily now! I was so heavily medicated, that I thought I had died one evening! I was watching my family enter the room, while waiting for them to find my dead corpse! Then, my husband asked me if I was alright. He picked me up gently and carried me up to bed. I never said a word, until just recently. He explained, how it had been just as hard for him. He felt like he had watched me die and come back to life during those times! Many complications had arrisen, from side effects of the medications. These took a toll on me emotionally, physically and sexually! I was thrown into “Medical Menopause!” I was completely miserable, irritable and wanted to be left alone. Unfortunately, I was not easy to deal with at all! I was already feeling angry from the steroids I had to take everyday. Thankfully, I found a solution with using medical marijuana. This iradicated my hot flashes within a week and my menstrual cycle came back. I held strong, made my way through and found victory in the end! I”m always fighting for energy and my mind has not come back to normal yet. However, I’m very thankful and blessed to be alive! I never had a fear of dying, only terrrible thoughts of leaving the people I loved behind!
(I HAD SEVERE MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS WITH 40-50 HOT FLASHES PER DAY!)
(I NO LONGER FELT LIKE I WAS GOING THROUGH THIS ENTIRELY ALONE!)
I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful BRA Day event. The entire medical team from the Cancer Centre took turns on stage. My plastic surgeon presented an explanation about Breast Reconstruction. Thankfully, this answered more of my questions. A few brave women told their personal Breast Cancer stories. Some were more difficult to hear than others, as I got choked up more than once. There was a beautiful spread of refreshments served for everyone. Finally, I met with a woman in the “Show and Tell Lounge” who had just recovered from breast reconstruction. We were in a private room, where she told her story and exposed her breast. This relieved so much stress for me, as my surgery date was coming up! I was able to see tissue expanders and samples of different breast implants with related items. I have finally decided that I am going to get tattoos across my breasts. For me, hiding the scars will finally allow me to move on completely..
(AUGUST 17, 2016 WAS MY LAST DAY OF CHEMOTHERAPY) – Oh wait, it wasn’t over yet..
(KEEP A LOG, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN – YOU WILL NOT REMEMBER MUCH AT ALL!)
I have since undergone, a Bilateral Mastectomy with Immediate Reconstruction. The worst part was the “jackson pratt” tubes. (I chose not to include my surgery photos, as everyone heals differently!) The tissue expanders were kept in for 9 months. (They are equal to Satan, in my books!) I had to go for tissue expansion every two weeks, until I was happy with the size. My doctor overfilled them, in hopes that a bigger implant would fit. We were aiming for bigger than 300cc. (When I woke up from surgery, she said “I was able to fit 340cc!”) They’re a very good size for my frame. I’m 5″3′ and weigh 110 pounds. Now that my skin has stretched out more, I do plan on getting bigger implants. (Go big or go home, right!) I’ve managed to find bra’s that SORT OF fit well. They are comfortable enough for me and give my chest a better shape. My plastic surgeon did an amazing job. However, I still cannot say that I love them. They do not look natural and I have no nipples. (The cancer “absolutely” would have returned if I had kept them!) Breast reconstruction is not “a boob job” because there is no tissue left in place. They are meant to make you look normal underneath your clothing. Yes, my breasts had been destroyed from nursing my four sons. (I still long for them everyday, as they were MINE.) I recently completed my last surgery, where I had my tubes and ovaries removed. Upon returning home, I was ready to rest and heal once again.. My husband ended up rushing me to the emergengy the next night. I was in such severe pain and started throwing up. Apparently my Crohn’s diseased bowels did not like being touched during the surgery. I was told that I most likely had an ileus, my intestines were paralyzed. I needed an x-ray done right away. The doctor wanted to be certain there was no bowel obstruction. Cancer didn’t really scare me, but this did.. I had almost died from a bowel obstruction when I was twenty years old. (I’ve worn that scar everyday to remind me!) My body took it’s time recovering. I am finally healed and almost ready to move past all this..
When exactly does this nightmare end? Well, I’ve been incredibly patient for a LONG time. I no longer feel like a woman. I will never carry a child again and that is a hard pill to swallow. Yes, I have four beautiful boys…. I LOVE KIDS and I’m a good Mom!!!! Of course we were not planning on having more. My husband already had a vasectomy after our son was born. I was willing to have my tubes tied but he wanted to give me a break. (I’m so lucky, he’s such a good man!) I already had scars from multiple past surgeries. I should also mention that my skin has wrinkles, my nails are brittle and my pants never fit right. I hate my hair and my bra’s always too tight! Anyway, that’s not the point. I’ve been through so much.. Sometimes I just need to vent, most likely because I have no ovaries and I’ve been thrown into fucking menopause AGAIN! I’ve been dealing with this HELL for the past six months now. This all started when I found the black cancerous life ruining lump! (January 20, 2016, 2017, 2018 – HAPPY NEW YEAR, today is January 1, 2019! As I am grateful to be alive, Cancer has taken almost three years of my life!!! Meanwhile, my children and husband have had to wait for me to be ME again! (Who exactly is she anyway!?!) My boys have grown, while I missed so much. I WAS SOMETIMES NEEDED AND COULDN’T SEE THEM TRY TO REACH OUT AND TOUCH. I’m certain that I’m entitled to bitch and complain all I want!!!! I’m angry.. I can’t even look in the mirror, without seeing a stranger looking back at me..
Don’t worry, I will be fine.. I am determined to make this year the one to shine!
My resolutions are to:
- follow a healthy diet
- workout 3 times per week
- take a writing course
- finish writing my novel
- LOVE MY NEW SELF!
©D.J. Woelders, 2019.