How did you learn of your breast cancer?
My initial diagnosis with cancer was Hodgkin’s disease, which is a lymphatic cancer, Feb. 14, 1995. People tend to remember Valentine’s Day. I was diagnosed then. I went through about two years of treatment and spent nearly 19 years cancer free. Then back in 2015, I found a lump and that began my breast cancer journey. From there, there’s been a whole lot that’s gone on. I could probably write you a book.
How did you approach treatment?
I initially had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy as part of my treatment. A big deal for me during that treatment was the Breast Cancer Foundation cold cap therapy that kept my hair.
There have been lots of surgeries. There’s been some radiation and there’s been a lot of pain. But today, I’m stable. I’m in the treatable, not curable, phase of cancer, which can sound bad or sound good, depending on how you look at it.
What would you like others to understand about cancer?
One thing that a lot of people love to say is, oh you look great, and while it’s a compliment and I appreciate it, sometimes it hurts because I might feel horrible. Last Breast Cancer Gala, I went and was pretty thin. That was the result of all the meds – not a lot of Cross Fit – and I was in a lot of pain. But, you know, people see those photos of me at that event and they say, you look great and they just assume I’m OK.
On the flip side, there is eye aversion or the staring when there are things that are different. Like after a double mastectomy and you no longer have your breasts, it’s easy for someone to stare.
I think the best way is for someone without it is to stop and check yourself for a second. Do you really need to ask about it? I think if they wanted to tell you about it, they would.
What advice would you give other breast cancer patients?
To definitely not hide away on it, to reach out and take those resources. When I was a teenager, I hid away from it. I didn’t talk about it much. I didn’t do things like this to educate people. I kind of slid it under [the rug].
I think the best thing you can do is surround yourself with people that really care about the actual fight you’re in.
How has cancer changed your perspective?
That’s a tough one to answer because it changes every day on how you live with it. Some days are great, some days are horrible. I can sit here and say lots of positive things. On the flip side, there are days where I’m just pissed off. You lose a friend to it. You watch another friend fighting it.
For me, doing things like this and talking about it usually makes me feel better about it and helps me get through. For everybody it’s different.
Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience?
I think the one thing I would add is to look after the family and the kids or the spouses of a person going through it. No one purposefully neglects them but it’s just as hard, if not harder sometimes for those persons. So, if you are going to talk to a friend who has cancer and you ask how that person is doing, don’t forget to ask how the partner or the rest of the family are doing. Caregivers, they need support too.