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The faces of breast cancer

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Black woman with a mastectomy scar

Today, October 1st, 2020 kicks off the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we thought it would be helpful to share the stories of the real people faced with breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t only impact one group of people, it does not discriminate based on age, race, or gender. Meet and read the stories of Jenna, Angela, Dana, Ivania, and Karen, just some of the many faces of breast cancer.

Headshot of Jenna

Jenna’s Story
I’m 33y/o, mother of one sweet little boy, who was diagnosed with TNBC Stage IIIB July 25, 2019. I have no genetic predisposition per my genetic testing so just crappy lucky I guess. Very quickly my husband and I chose to preserve an embryo before I started treatment because it would most certainly effect my fertility. I had a port inserted and egg retrieval while continuing to work full time in the 3 weeks I had prior to starting chemo. I had AC-T regime and then had a DMX with DIEP Flap reconstruction. While my nodes were clear and I had clean margins at surgery, I did not have a complete response to chemo. I had 28 rounds of radiation and I’m currently on Xeloda as a “clean up chemo”Fear and anxiety have dominated much of my thoughts since diagnosis and therapy has been helping me tremendously with this. Its definitely a work in progress…I am still working towards accepting this is my life and current situation. I have learned to embrace the things I have and I have re-evaluated my priorities in a big way. To those newly diagnosed, I would say let yourself feel however you’re feeling, don’t run from it. In the beginning it’s almost unbearable and so overwhelming and living in survival mode is ok for a bit but eventually it will settle. Seek help wherever you can, use every resource available and know you’re not alone.

Headshot of Karen

Karen’s Story
When I was diagnosed with Breast cancer, I reacted like many do; first thing came to mind was “a death sentence”. However, I found out later it was truly “an awakening” for me, especially when I received bad news again. I was diagnosed with “colon cancer” a few years later, yet I am still here to tell about them both. I first began asking God, why, why me? But suddenly, I knew that I was going to be OK.I also realized that I was about to face a new beginning with a whole new prospective on life. When I think of the “gift of life” that was given to me twice over, I know that I will develop and gain strength from all my experiences. I would never say having or going through cancer is a gift, surviving it, receiving a second and third chance at life, is the gift. Yet I did not allow the disease to take away who I am, or what I stand for. Even with all the current complications I now must live with, I still feel truly Blessed. For a while, I was not happy with the way I looked after my surgery, nor the pain and complications I still must live with daily. But one day I decided to snap out of it. I thought about the individuals, especially children, who at times cannot leave the hospitals due to all the treatments, they are so young and have not quite lived yet, and others who no longer among us. I also realize that there will always be someone worse off than I am, so who am I to complain, “I still have my life”. Through my tragedies and all that I had to endure, it all became an awakening for me, in which I received and gain all the strength and encouragement I needed to conquer. I truly believe when you survive a horrific tragedy or a horrible disease as cancer, it’s for a reason. I am a true example that you can survive cancer, not once, but twice, if you get to it in time. I am not saying that it will be easy, and I am certainly not saying all will survive it, but just have faith. God Bless!

Headshot of Dana

Dana’s Story
After 20 years working as a biomedical breast cancer researcher, I was diagnosed with ER/PR+ HER2- IDC in 2018 at the age of 45. The irony is not lost on me. Thanks to Oncotype DX tumor genomic testing, I was able to forgo chemotherapy. My initial treatment involved a large lumpectomy with oncoplastic reconstruction (breast reduction and lift) followed by radiation and estrogen suppression therapy. I didn’t do well with aromatase inhibitors, but am managing medically induced menopause and tamoxifen quite well. In February, we found residual disease in my left breast and I will have a single mastectomy in a few weeks. Because of Covid, my reconstruction will be delayed, but I have opted for an autologous TUG flap reconstruction using tissue from my inner thighs. The most emotional moments were those when I was first informed of diagnoses – initial and residual disease. I was shocked, devastated, and afraid. There are days when I still worry – I worry about if and when the cancer will metastasize, I worry about whether I’ll be around to see my kids graduate from high school/college, I worry if I’ll be around to meet my grandchildren and grow old with my husband. But then I remember that I’m lucky. We caught the disease early, and in spite of residual disease, my prognosis is still really good. what I would tell someone who just got diagnosed is this: knowledge is power. Ask about all options. What are the pros and cons of mastectomy versus breast conserving surgery for you? Are you a candidate for tumor genomic testing? What are the pros and cons of different reconstruction options, from flat closure to autologous reconstruction to implants? There are no right or wrong choices – only informed choices. The other thing I would tell someone who just got diagnosed? It gets better. You get better. Your life will change, but it can still be full of joy and hope. It just takes time.

Headshot of Angela

Angela’s Story
My names is Angela. I’m 25 years old.I started having a nipple discharge a year ago and I didn’t think too much of it but I still went to the clinic to have it checked out but no assessment was done they just gave me antibiotics with the hope that it would stop. A few weeks later I was at a work event where i met an angel in disguise who I approached when i saw her wearing a breast health foundation t shirt. She then referred me to the breast clinic and I went the following week and booked for my first ultra sound. I went for the ultrasound but still nothing alarming was detected so they suspected it could be an infection and would go away. I went back months later because the bleeding did not stop and they booked me for an operation..my first ever operation but still cancer never crossed my mind. As i was waiting for the day of my surgery i developed lumps and when i went for my ultrasound, still no cancer was detected and they went ahead with the surgery. I went back to get my results thats when i was told the most devastating news of my life. I am 25 and i have breast cancer how can that be? I felt a lot of emotions all at once and all i could see was death. The next month I had to go for my left breast mastectomy. I had sort of made peace with the fact that I was going to have one breast but it was a painful acceptance to the new situation. A few weeks ago my doctor called me to tell me that they removed all the cancer and I don’t have to do chemotherapy or radiation which was my worst nightmare but I will be put on a hormone block treatment and take it from there. With the corona virus taking over things have changed a lot because we don’t have access to our doctors and I fear for the cancer coming back. The biggest challenge I am faced with now is not knowing what i can do to prevent it from coming back…What i would tell someone who just got diagnosed is that “surrender to the situation and know that you are not alone” I would love to be an advocate or an ambassador for young women one day because we think cancer is for old people, that’s what I thought too but now I know that cancer does not discriminate against age or gender. I would love to be a beacon of hope to other women battling with cancer because I believe there’s no better person to do it than a cancer patient.

Headshot of Ivania

Ivania’s Story
When I was diagnosed 14 years ago, my life was apparently “perfect”. I was married to a nice guy, we had good health, and we made a good living together. Getting breast cancer at 31 brought my world to a crashing halt and forced me to reevaluate my husband, my job, my life and what I wanted out of it. I guess a dreaded part of going through chemotherapy for many women is losing their hair. It is pretty easy to understand why. Hair is a sign of femininity. Losing your hair makes you look vulnerable and easy to label as someone who is sick.

Buying a wig to regain what you’ve lost is not a simple, straightforward solution – it’s not the same as the real thing. I got fitted for a synthetic wig, which I only wore once. Instead I wore scarves, which I found to be very easy and versatile. I lost my hair a few days after my second treatment. Honestly, losing my hair did not faze me. I was more concerned about reaching a chemically induced menopause at 32. My periods did stop after my second treatment. My doctors were not sure if they were ever going to come back. For the first time in my life, I wanted to get my period. I started to despair about the idea of ever having a biological family.

I understood that I deserved to be with someone who shared my joie de vivre, my craziness, my laughter and my essence. I also learned that life is too short and that my wish was to share, in an unconditional way, a life project with a person with whom I could be myself with – a partner, not a boss.
Sometimes I can’t help but I wonder what went wrong in my marriage and if breast cancer had something to do with it. Interestingly enough, going through that ordeal made me understand that we were not right for each other. Breast cancer brought us together and distanced us at the same time. I am at my best moment as a woman, because I’ve learned to love myself.

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