See above. This is exactly the process I am right in the middle of! December 16th of this year, will be 4 years since being diagnosed with Breast Cancer. After all of this time I am finally “Blossoming into a badass woman with more faith than fear”.When I sit and think about just how much I have overcome I surprise myself with just how much I have been through. This journey will never be over, it is a part of who I am and the life I have been given.
Over the summer I finally went back to my oncologist after shutting them out for almost 2 years. Why would I do such a thing? Thanks for asking, I’m happy to explain. The oncologist I was seeing was not listening to me, he would respond to my questions and concerns with comments like ” You have PTSD and that is very normal for all breast cancer patients, and even more so with you being so young” or ” I would like to give you a referral to talk to someone about depression and PTSD because they are a very real part of being a survivor”. Needless to say, I was angry and defeated. Do I have PTSD? Do I struggle with Depression? Abso-fucking-lutely! Do I deserve to have a care team who listens to my concerns, orders the diagnostic tests I need, helps me work through the side effects and pain, and doesn’t treat me like what I feel doesn’t matter? Yes. We all do. We all deserve to be listened to, to not just be a statistic, to be taken care of, and to matter.
When I broke down and went back, I saw a new oncologist. She listened to me, she cared, she agreed with my concerns, ordered the tests I needed, changed medications I was on, referred me to physicians I needed to see, and in that 30 minute visit she turned my confidence around. Fast forward, I feel better on the new medications I am on, my symptoms have been explained, and I am healing. I have learned and accepted that I do have PTSD and I struggle with Depression. I work on these things everyday, and some days are harder than others. The medication I am on now has given me less side effects and the side effects I do have don’t make me as miserable. I started a new infusion that I have to do every 6 months for 3 years. This medication should help prevent bone mets and help strengthen my bones. I have been surgically post menopausal since I was 29 years old. One of the biggest side effects from this is emotional. Emotionally accepting that I was unable to ever have anymore kids. We are lucky enough to already have our 2 incredible kids, but never ever being able to have kids if I wanted to, and not being the one to make that decision was a big emotional blow. I thought working through this was going to be the hardest part. I’ve accepted this the best I can, and for the most part hold myself together. Other than the random meltdown from time to time. But, I’ve recently figured out how damaged my bones are from lack of hormones. My DEXA results showed Osteopenia borderline Osteoporosis. We are hopeful the infusions I am on with help my bone strength. I had my first infusion and it literally KICKED my ASS. I ended up in the ER and admitted for pain control. With all the pain I have been through in this journey, this infusion is what put me in the ER? I cannot explain the pain, and with the pain came uncontrollably high heart rate, pouring sweat, and inability to stop shaking. I am scheduled for my next infusion December 27th. My good Ol’ PTSD is peaking its head out and giving me quiet a bit of anxiety about it, but I know I will get through it just like everything else! We are going to start me on steroids when I receive the infusion and I will begin pre-medicating with ibuprofen and Tylenol for the pain, in hopes that it will make this infusion easier than the last.
Enough of that, let’s talk about my bad-assery!!! As you all know I attempted reconstruction and went through literal HELL during the process and ended up without reconstruction. I’ve been waiting to let my body heal before making the decision to reconstruct again, but have just not been able to do it. That’s a little of my Ol’ friend PTSD, and a lot of refusing to go through that amount of pain again. I know most of you think I shouldn’t feel like I need to reconstruct and that I am beautiful the way I am. I appreciate that more than you know, but I am the person who has to love my reflection in the mirror. I don’t want to re-hash all of the changes my body has experienced but just know its a lot. When I would look in the mirror, having no breasts is not the problem. the scars from my mastectomy, the burns from radiation, and the remnants of infection took over my mind and emotions. I’ve hated the image in the mirror but refused to even think about attempting reconstruction again. I was reading through some of the breast cancer survivor groups I am a part of and someone had an amazing mastectomy tattoo which prompted my research. I came across P.ink Denver and filled out the application to receive a mastectomy tattoo from this incredible non-profit. I received a call from Karen who is truly such an incredibly beautiful soul, and she gave me the news that I had been selected to participate in the P.ink Denver day! First of all, I never ever get picked or “win” anything other than being the lucky person diagnosed with Breast Cancer at 28 years old! The few weeks I had to wait felt like months and I couldn’t sleep!
P.ink Day arrived! That morning my alarm went off, but I was already up because I didn’t sleep from all the nerves and excitement. The snowy drive in my stomach felt like the entire butterfly pavilion was in my stomach. What an amazing experience. I was surrounding by warriors and survivors who all had different stories and battles, but regardless we were all there together to lift each other up and cheer each other on. My artist, Sal Tino is truly a gift. I am so grateful and appreciative of his heart, his talent, and motivation to give and help me heal. His artwork left me speechless, he is so amazingly talented. My fears of pain were true, I cannot explain how much it hurt. We started with my cancer side which has experienced so much trauma. Cancer, surgery, radiation, and multiple infections. I knew the pain was going to be intense, but have to admit I was envious of the women there who were lucky enough to still be numb from their mastectomies. I may have been green with envy, but the green in the leaves of the peony Sal created on my chest is far more beautiful and left me with nothing more to desire. This piece of art is beautiful and took away ‘cancer having the last word’. Towards the end of my 6 hour tattoo session the combination of the physical pain and the emotions erupting inside of me created a massive teary meltdown I could no longer control. As my body uncontrollably shook and the tears poured down my face, I ugly cried in the presence of the some of the most beautiful people. The reveal of my tattoo brought more ugly crying and tears of gratitude, appreciation, awe, thankfulness, sadness, happiness, and pretty much every emotion you can imagine. P.ink helped me heal, helped me love the image in the mirror, restored my confidence, and has introduced me to this new confident bad ass woman I am developing into. For those of you reading this who have asked me how they can help me, to let them know if there is anything you can do, please support and give to P.ink. The gift they give to survivors is truly incredible. I could go on and on about this amazing organization, but there is likely a better platform for that where maybe it would make a bigger impact and difference. P.ink needs the support from all of us as the gifts that us survivors receive are priceless and help our healing more than words can explain.
In addition to my incredible P.ink experience, I finally made the decision to take time off for me, before I start on a new adventure in my career. Let me repeat this, I. TOOK. TIME. OFF. Yes, you read that correctly. One of my biggest regrets is working so much and not allowing myself to catch up and heal through all of my treatment. I am currently enjoying time with my husband and kids and taking a nap every single day. I’m healing physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I am loving every single minute.
At the start of 2020 I will be embarking on a new journey in my career that I am very excited about. I believe this move will be my forever home and I am eager to start this adventure! I am also very thankful for my oncology nurse who approved my infusion to be completed 2 weeks early so I can start my job after recovering from the infusion. I am also scheduled to complete my tattoo with Sal on December 2nd which I cannot wait for! 2020 is a New Year that holds so many bright things, I can’t wait! I’m on the road to finding me and I am grateful for every blessing.