I know it has been such a long time since I have been able to blog (so this may be longer than normal), but I am so excited be back! Let me catch you all up on some things. I had a mastectomy with reconstruction at the very end of June. The cancer originated in my right breast only, but I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy. For those who don’t know, a mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast. Breast reconstruction surgery is used to rebuild the shape and look of the breast. There are various types of breast reconstruction. After the surgery I started having complications. Fluid started to build up in my left breast. Unfortunately, this made my recovery process even longer.
The good news is that the chemotherapy along with the surgery worked and I am now OFFICIALLY CANCER FREE!!! I still remember the day I found out. My husband and I anxiously went to see the doctor and find out my results. My oncologist told us that I was in the 15th percentile. What does that mean? I am glad you asked! 85% of women with my type of cancer diagnosis still have residual cancer left in their breast tissue after completing their chemotherapy treatment. The remaining cancer is usually removed during the mastectomy.
When the breast surgeon went to perform my mastectomy I had NO RESIDUAL CANCER LEFT! This only occurs 15% of the time!!! Let me just pause right there. Hearing that proves to me that my healing was nothing short of a miracle. This is also how I know God’s hand was involved in my complete healing. My oncologist literally said to us that this is very rare and that someone must have been praying for us! So thank you to all of you who have supported and prayed for us. All the prayers and positive vibes truly made a difference and I am beyond thankful! I just had to share that with you!
After taking the necessary time to recover, I recently returned to work full time. To be honest, it was very stressful. For the past year I’d felt like I had been in this bubble. Life on the outside for everyone else still moved on. Meanwhile, I had been stuck in this cycle of appointments, sickness, treatments, medications, and surgeries. I had to slowly become accustomed to the “real world” again. To be completely honest, I am still putting the pieces of my puzzle back together. I like to call it, “Finding My New Normal.”
Whenever you experience a major life changing event like a major illness, a death in the family, a divorce, maternity leave, a termination from a job or anything else substantial, allow yourself the time to figure things out. Eventually everything will fall into place! Until then here are a few ways to ease your way back into the swing of things:
1.) BE PATIENT
This was a hard one for me! When I received the good news that I was CANCER FREE I thought that it was my chance to jump back into my normal everyday routine. That’s not always the case. There were still a lot of things I needed to recover from besides the actual cancer. Figuring out insurance, medical leave, childcare, and familiarizing myself with the changes that had occurred once I returned to work, to name a few. Phone calls have to be made and returned. The appointments don’t magically stop. I really had to focus on not getting frustrated and channel that energy into making a plan to move forward. I had to divide tasks up and realize everything doesn’t have to be completed within a day. When I exercised patience I found myself in a more confident space!
2.) PACE YOURSELF
This can mean different things depending on the situation. In my case I had just overcome 16 rounds of chemo and a major surgery. On the outside I may have looked fine, but on the inside my body was working around the clock to repair itself at a cellular level. Chemotherapy does not only damage the cancer cells in your body, it damages the healthy cells too. I was told by my doctor it could take up to a year for my body to completely regenerate itself and for the fatigue to subside. Hearing this was overwhelming. Before all this, it would have been easy for me to walk 5 miles or to do an hour cardio workout class. Now things have changed. I am now working on regaining my strength and that takes time. I have started with short walks around the neighborhood with my family. I know it’s not much, but it’s a start. My current goal is to walk 5 miles for a breast cancer fundraiser this October! In due time, I know I will be at 100% capacity again and you will too!
3.) MAKE “TO-DO” LISTS/ USE A CALENDAR
This one’s a biggie! After I returned to work I realized I didn’t have as much down time as I used to at home. I felt flustered and I was having a hard time remembering things. I started to lock everything in my calendar. EVERYTHING…. Even goals! I set reminders on my phone to help me with my foggy “chemo brain.” lol It has made such a difference! I also started making “To Do” Lists. I still have post – it notes everywhere! Lol Trust me, it helps. Keeping up with your own schedule, a work schedule, kids schedule, and a household schedule is a lot to pick back up all at once. You can use an app on your smartphone or simply buy a calendar you can write in and take with you. They come in a variety of styles and sizes. Utilize the lists and calendars to make things a little easier for you!
4.) ASK FOR HELP….. AGAIN
Just because the chemo and the surgery were in the rearview mirror, did not mean that I no longer needed support. Yes so many loved ones have been there for you throughout the process, but sometimes additional help is needed. For example, after my surgery my mom moved in with us to help around the house and with the kids. It was originally supposed to be for 2 weeks. After I started having complications, my mom ended up staying for nearly 2 months! I realized we needed the help because I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 15 lbs. for 6 weeks! That meant I could not even pick up my own children. Often times, I found it challenging to multitask. I also realized that I could not complete the typical work load that I was used to and our household had to go on a budget to be able to compensate for the incoming medical bills. It was a very difficult time.
When you return to work there’s this big misconception that “everything’s fine” or “the hardest part is over now.” Those assumptions are the furthest thing from the truth. Research shows 80% of women suffer from PTSD after a breast cancer diagnosis. Seeing this number literally blew my mind! Side Note: I definitely want to address this topic via blog in the near future, but these things take time. No one can just jump back in and pick up where they left off. Life changing circumstances can affect you in all areas. They key is that you don’t have to go through it alone. Never feel like you are a burden and don’t be afraid to ask for help in the areas you need it most. This includes financial, physical, AND mental health.
5.) YOU ARE WORTHY
If you’re not careful during this time of restoration, major body changes, fear of the unknown, and uncertainty of the future, it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and even your identity. It’s crucial that you surround yourself with positivity in all areas. This includes people too! Show yourself some love. If you’ve had a mastectomy or will be facing one in the near future, embrace the changes that are coming. A mastectomy does NOT make you less feminine or less of a woman. If anything it shows what a woman is able to endure and still come out strong. You are gorgeous inside and out. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Even that pesky thing called “self-doubt” that tries to sneak in and sabotage our thoughts every now and again. Lol I know how hard it is. I know how much pain you’ve endured. I know how annoying the drains are after the surgery. I know the expanders feel like two huge rocks until you get your implant of choice, but you will get through it. Keep reminding yourself that this is all temporary. We are going to speak positive affirmations from this point forward. My prayer for you is that you will go forward feeling validated. Whether you’ve chosen reconstruction or not, I pray that you see your scars as the marks of a warrior. A beautiful person who is taking it one day at a time, doing the best she can, and staying fabulous in the process!
I love you all to life and I hope this encourages someone who is trying to bounce back! I am still in my process and I have one more surgery still to face, but every day I have continued hope that it will only get better and better!
Thanks for reading, until next time!