May 09, 2023
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Welcome to Faces of Bezzy, a series spotlighting members of the Bezzy community. There’s nothing like hearing and learning from others who’ve walked in your shoes. Chat with other community members, learn something new, or maybe even make a lifelong friend.
I’m a late riser because I’m usually up late reading or watching HGTV. (My husband’s hoping that I’ll stop doing that, but I’m always looking for ways to improve the house.) When I wake up, I text my husband, and he kindly brings me a cup of tea and some Emergen-C to our bedroom. He’s such a sweetheart!
After that, I get cleaned up and get dressed to work out. Exercise is really important to me. If I have a bad moment, when I get up and start moving, things change pretty quickly. I’ve put together a half-hour program based on exercises that an occupational therapist and a physical therapist taught me. I either exercise with hand weights, take a walk in the neighborhood, or work out in the swim spa in my backyard.
I’m also actively volunteering in the breast cancer community.
Because I’ve had no evidence of breast cancer for almost 5 years, there are no restrictions on things that I want to do.
I was first diagnosed on April 30, 2018. I didn’t have any symptoms. I had no idea that my breasts were harboring cancer.
I had a routine mammogram and was informed that I needed more testing. An MRI found additional hotspots that were biopsied and tested positive for cancer. My diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ in the left breast and invasive lobular in the right breast.
I decided to go ahead with a bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders, and then in September 2018, I got implants. In August 2018, I began hormone therapy, and I’m getting pretty close to finishing it.
I wish I had known that the medications that are prescribed for women after breast cancer have so many incredibly awful side effects. Two of my friends decided just to stop hormone therapy altogether because of the impact on their quality of life.
I jumped around from aromatase inhibitors and then finally to tamoxifen before I could tolerate the hormone therapy, and that’s been a godsend for me. I’ve met so many women on breast cancer support sites who talk about side effects, including insomnia, weight gain, hair loss, moodiness, night sweats, and joint pain. I didn’t research that enough as I was recovering from my bilateral mastectomy. So, when we started experimenting with hormone medications, I did a little more digging.
I also wish I’d known that I had unrealistic expectations of what breast implants would look like. When I took the surgical bra off after my surgery, my boobs were huge. I thought, “Good Lord, I look like Dolly Parton!”
I didn’t know that implants take about 4 to 6 months to finally settle into their positions. It’s a whole different profile because I lost both nipples, but my breasts are perky and round. I found a masterful 3D nipple tattoo artist, Kerry Soraci. She’s amazing and did a beautiful job.
Tissue expanders are the worst torture device on the planet, but they do the job. I was extremely uncomfortable for almost 4 weeks. Once I could get back to working out and got my arms moving, the discomfort dissipated a little bit.
The nerve damage after the exchange surgery, coupled with my time on two hormone meds, was really a challenge. The hormone meds were both aromatase inhibitors to slow down the production of estrogen in the body. This caused joint pain, and I experienced really frightening depression.
I’ve never felt so out of control over my own life. I woke up every morning crying, and it got to the point that my husband called the oncologist and said, “We have a problem here.”
I needed to switch hormone meds and get the nerve pain under control. In January 2019, I started gabapentin as prescribed by my reconstructive surgeon. It worked amazingly well, but I had to wean myself off of it because quitting cold turkey causes nasty side effects. I was finished with gabapentin by November 2019.
Stay off Dr. Google and find resources that offer quality information. Two sites I recommend are the American Cancer Society and Breastcancer.org.
I now volunteer for three breast cancer support groups that I wish I’d known about: American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery, After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, and Firefly Sisterhood.
I kept a journal from day one. Early on in my diagnosis, I was writing in it almost every day. I still keep one to record what I call my “cancer-versaries” and opportunities like this. It helps to get experiences and emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up.
Another thing is to avoid toxic positivity. People encourage you to just stay positive, but there will be days when that’s just not feasible. Let those days happen. Maybe write about it in a journal, and work toward the next day.
Take pictures of yourself along the way and how you change. I have pictures from right after my exchange surgery and 6 months later. It’s just an incredible difference. The photos show a lot of progress and what your body can put up with.
The further I get from my diagnosis, the less I think about breast cancer recurrence. Early on in that first year, every little ache or pain can make you wonder if the cancer is back.
In exchange for that fear that surfaces, I try to celebrate the cancer-versary dates of my diagnosis and my mastectomy and how far I’ve come.
I also call a group of people whom I consider my cancer angels. They’ve been with me the whole way. Every time I message them about one of these anniversaries, it’s like a parade shows up on my phone. They’ve been really pivotal in helping me get through this.
In 2017, I was teaching at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. I planned to retire at the end of the 2018 academic year. When I got the diagnosis in April 2018, I thought, “OK, I know how I’ll be spending the summer.”
One good friend organized a group from Lindenwood to donate money. She drove around my neighborhood and bought gift cards for restaurants in the area. For that first month, maybe even longer, I didn’t cook dinner. I still see four of those people, retired colleagues from Lindenwood, every other Friday.
My husband and sisters-in-law are also part of my support system. They are always thinking of me. Just last week, one of my sisters-in-law surprised me with a thoughtful care package.
I was already recovered by 2020 when I found Bezzy. I was prowling around reading people’s comments, and I thought I could make some suggestions to offer support. I’m grateful and humbled to get to be a Bezzy ambassador.
When I message women and share comments, it’s also emotionally healing for me. These groups show me how far we can go, how much we can do, and to keep moving on.
A group of around seven of us from Bezzy (at the time, BC Healthline) started meeting up on Zoom calls in November 2020. In 2022, we decided to make plans to meet each other face-to-face. Last December, four of us met at Logan International Airport in Boston, and we drove up to Kennebunkport, Maine, to spend a long weekend there. It was a great time to visit because the town goes all out for the holidays, and we saw the Christmas tree lighting in the town square.
We could finally just sit and talk to each other in person. We shared so much and got to know more about each other. It’s not just about our cancer diagnoses. We’ve got real friendships.
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