This year’s challenge involved answering 10 questions. I found myself linking back to blog posts. My research involves analyzing my posts for the first 8-months, so I am very familiar with what I wrote in that timeframe. I’m looking forward to this being done, so I can do the analysis for the first year post treatment, as I learned a lot more in that timeframe. Anyways, here are the challenge questions and answers.
1. Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis (or your loved one’s). Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing.
The day I finished unpacking boxes, having just moved from Ottawa Canada to California, I felt a lump, except I didn’t realize it was a lump. I felt something and at first thought it was a muscle strain. After a week of feeling it, I went to my Primary Care Physician (PCP) who sent me for diagnostic mammogram (my first ever). The radiologist told me I had cancer, June 12, 2014. I had my first biopsy the same day as the mammo, and while I was having the biopsy the radiologist found a second mass, which was biopsied the next day (via ultrasound). The MRI found a third mass, which was also biopsied this time by MRI. I had three tumors and cancer in both breasts, each with slightly different pathology, but all ER/PR+/HER2-. I recount my diagnosis story several times on my blog, this is one of the better posts: Auspicious dates and my diagnosis story.
2. What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your (or your loved one’s) cancer?
“If I had cancer, I would not do chemotherapy”. An AirBNB host suggested that I got cancer because I ate meat, but also said that she would not do chemotherapy. Writing the blog post about it actually turned into an epiphany for me, and helped with my mental health, as I realized that my reaction after diagnoses was not at all what I thought it would be before I was diagnosed – so now, I don’t catestrophize as much about getting METS, because I know I cannot plan how I will react.
3. What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?
My biggest pet peeve is around diet – which is in part why the above angered me so much. I now know that I have celiac disease, so most dietary advice doesn’t apply to me. I just get bothered when people suggest that diet has any link to recurrence.
4. What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?
That a lump doesn’t feel like a lump – that what you are looking for is actually a change – so get to know your breasts. I checked mine every time I showered, so I noticed the difference quickly – see Breast cancer pet peeve – it is not a “lump” (public service announcement)
5. If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?
I worry a lot less now, but about once every 2-3 months I spiral down hill and am convinced it has spread. I usually need to see a breast oncology person (nurse practitioner, surgeon, or oncologist) in order to convince myself that I’m OK.
With each new pain I wonder, and when I don’t get enough sleep my anxiety gets the best of me. I’ve learned to recognize when this happens and how to manage it (usually taking something that helps me get a good nights sleep).
6. Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question. If you do, specifically in what way?
Cancer has made me a different person. I am much more empathetic than I was before cancer. I much prefer to say that cancer has afforded me opportunities. Arthur Frank says it well “illness is an opportunity, though a dangerous one” (Frank, 1991, p.1). Cancer helped me find meaning in my PhD studies, which I had lost just before diagnosis.
7. What is your favorite cancer book? (No, I’m not fishing for mentions of mine!)
I loved Teva Harrison’s book, In-Between Days: a memoir about living with cancer, which I received thanks to Nancy’s Draw on her Book Review Post. She is amazingly talented, but it also gave me a little insight into the diagnosis experience in Canada. I got a lot of insight reading Arthur Frank’s At the Will of the Body. I have also read Audre Lorde’s The Cancer journals, and Cancer in two voices, by Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum.
8. Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?
I have some online friends who I can text or chat with at almost any hour of the day, but also my hiking buddy, Lori Wallace, who lets me unload my crazy thoughts while we walk in the woods.
I also I have a great onc-psych nurse practitioner that manages my meds and has introduced me to cognitive behavoir therapy which really helped me.
9. How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?
I wish I had more time to read them, but right now I’m mostly focused on writing my dissertation. I follow Becky’s blog, in part because I know her from a face-to-face support group, and I follow Marie’s weekly roundup which is how I found this challenge.
10. Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?
Yes. I realized that I really like helping young survivor’s navigate through treatment – mostly helping them learn what it means to live with breast cancer, but also how to make decisions about treatment. My experience helps me know how much information to provide at the various phases of the breast cancer experience. I listen and provide support at the time when everything is chaos. I also like helping women navigate the first year post treatment and all the mental daemons that pop up during that time. I’m not a medical professional, and I have no interest in training in that area. I do have expertise in living with breast cancer, and it is that expertise I want to share. When I’m finished my dissertation, I’ll be looking at ways I can do that work and still make a living.