My Journey to Find the New Me after
The New Lorraine
“Not again! Not another type of cancer 11 years after the first! I met my benchmarks! I did everything I was supposed to do to stay cancer free and be healthy,” I cried out loud. “I eat well, exercise daily, and I don’t drink or smoke, never have. My BRCA test was negative. How can I have aggressive cancer now?!”
I was crushed under the weight of it all. How could this be happening again?! My first round of breast cancer was DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in the left breast. Through two lumpectomies and 37 rounds of radiation, I never missed a day of teaching at elementary school. After being on tamoxifen for 6 years, I was cleared by my oncologist in February 2016.
I felt great. I felt healthy. So, I planned a vacation for the summer of 2016. But in July 2016, my world was turned upside down again. During my routine mammogram, I found out that I had stage 2 infiltrating carcinoma that had metastasized. There was a mass in my left breast, several cancerous lymph nodes and a spot on my pancreas that was suspicious.
I was determined to fight this just like I fought the DCIS until I learned that the chemotherapy regimen, twice a month, was going to be too aggressive and teaching that year was not going to happen. From that point on, I was an emotional wreck. Ordinarily, I’m a very strong person; a person who is a fighter rather than someone who gives in to tears and negative thoughts. For over a week, all I could do was cry.
That July, I had a surgical biopsy, appointments with breast surgeons, plastic surgeons and my oncologist. After interviewing several plastic surgery practices, I chose Dr. Peter Korn and the Aesthetic Plastics Surgery, PC group to perform bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction using the DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap approach. At this point, I wasn’t even thinking about getting my mind around how to deal with cancer. I was just going about life as a robot, going from one appointment to the next, and following my trusted doctors’ advice.
It wasn’t easy – the physical and emotional pain, the surgical drains and constant doctor visits. Aggressive chemo needed to start immediately after the surgery. Now my entire life was different because I couldn’t work, I had a new, different body and a cancer I had to fight. I would not be able to do my job and have the chemo that I needed because there was a good chance that I could get sick from the children and wind up in the hospital.
As the numb period of just doing what the doctors said passed, I got out of my pity party and started being angry at cancer and this crappy situation I’m in. “I’m taking my life back,” I screamed out loud. “Cancer is not going to beat me or change me into someone I don’t like!” Step one was, and is forevermore, to follow Mollie’s mantra of, “dealing with what I know to be true at this moment.” I can conquer anything if I deal with things as they come and not add to the situation with what ifs.
Due to this second diagnosis, I’ve adjusted my philosophy. It’s time to put myself first; an approach that is completely foreign to me. I’ve always put myself last on my “care for list.” I’m a caregiver to everyone but myself. This simple statement is so important to my recovery and how I feel about myself. I’ve found people respect my efforts to put myself first. It has given them an opportunity to care and help me; to show they care and love me.
I’ve learned if I let others step up to the plate to help me, it’s a grand slam for all of us. They appreciate me more and want to help me. It makes them happy to be part of my recovery. Age isn’t a factor. Your kids know when you’re not okay and asking them for a glass of water, for example, makes them feel less helpless.
Part of reaching out, another first for me, was attending Mollie’s Sisterhood of Support meet ups. I would never had attended but Mollie suggested one visit. She knew what I needed to help me in this cancer fight. I needed people to talk with, listen to and learn from who are in different stages of their cancer journey. Their empathy, love and caring are truly remarkable. So is Mollie. She’s a true inspiration.
Reflecting now, a year since my diagnosis, cancer did change me and for the better. I’m glad it happened because the new me is MUCH improved. My journey through my cancer fight included 7 surgeries, 4 months of chemo, and not working one school year. I am still fighting with semi-annual infusions for at least the next 3 years, and daily preventive oral chemo. I wish it never came back but I can’t change that.
What I could change was to make myself more empowered. To take the toxic behaviors out of my daily routines. The new person it has made me is wonderful! I live for today, enjoying family and friends. I don’t do it all. I have empowered others by having them take responsibility over things they can do. I don’t think about tomorrow, although I still save and look forward to retirement. I spend money to enjoy my life knowing how unexpectedly that can change. I let people in, secrets only hurt yourself, and I let things go. Every so often when things get tough, I say, “This too shall pass,” or I think of the Frozen song and sing in my head “Let it go, let it go.” It works for me and you need to find what works for you. Cancer will only destroy you emotionally, if you let it. You can be the victor if you use it to make you stronger.
My new body is gorgeous! Thank you, Dr. Korn and the entire staff at Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, PC.
I’m cleared to return to work this September. I’m not keeping the cancer a secret, maybe I can help someone else through their difficult journey. Cancer, you LOSE!