My Mom’s Story
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share my Mom’s story. She was diagnosed with stage 1, hormone + breast cancer back in June (once we found out some lymph nodes tested positive for cancer, it was classified as stage 2). Following the diagnosis, we decided to go on our planned vacation and schedule the surgery for when we returned. Doctors urged us to do so and ultimately it was a wise decision. It sure beat staying home and thinking about the emotional roller coaster we were in store for. We instead enjoyed the natural beauty and soothing spirituality Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks presented us with.
After careful consideration, my Mom made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy. To add to the lengthy recovery period, she opted to use her own tissues (flap procedure) for the reconstruction of her breasts. For those of you who have never heard of this procedure, skin and fat are removed from the lower abdomen, while preserving the lower abdominal muscle. We were told that using her own tissues would decrease the chances of an infection. My mom actually had these “screaming holes” (not a medical term, just what we call it) that kept appearing, a not so common occurrence. One appeared and was later closed up when the chemo port was put in. After that surgery, my mom got an infection and two more holes appeared. One closed on its own and the other is currently in the process of doing the same.
An initial test was conducted on her lymph nodes at the hospital and the results were negative. Further tests were done and cancer was indeed present. Unfortunately, after they removed more we were not in an ideal situation – 3 out of 5 of the nodes came back positive. At that point, we are all on board to get a PET Scan done as soon as possible, along with preparing for the start of the chemo and radiation journey. After waiting a LONG 3 days, we were beyond ecstatic to hear that the PET Scan came back clear! Before the removal of the additional nodes, my mom’s results came back from her MammaPrint. The results stated that the risk of cancer returning was low (also news we were happy to hear).
Although her cancer story may not be over (she has just started chemo and will continue to endure sessions for the next 4 months – continued by radiation), I firmly believe that sharing her story will help those struggling with breast cancer, or at least serve as a reminder to go to check-ups and take necessary precautions. My mom has always strictly attended all her annual appointments, ESPECIALLY when it came to doing her mammograms – and thank God for that. My great grandmother had breast cancer in her 80s; other than that, breast cancer was not believed to run in our family. Although, we later found out my Mom’s aunt had breast cancer in her 50s-60s and she also opted to have a double mastectomy.
I may not always find comfort in statistics (as in my mom’s case – she wasn’t always on the high end), but it does warm my heart to see how many breast cancer survivors there are (around 3.1 Million in the U.S.).
I must start by saying that what I did is not for everyone. I had recently graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree in communications, along with a certificate in global media. I got a job at a prestigious agency – worked there for 3 months and ultimately made the challenging decision to step away from the opportunity once my Mom was diagnosed. I knew what I had to do. I had to be there for the woman I love with all of my heart – the selfless woman who held me in her arms whenever I was sick – the always-compassionate woman who gives and gives without expecting anything in return. I know not everyone can feasibly do this, but I was in the position that I could. I got a job working from home and focused on studying for my master’s degree and caring for my mother. I never for a second regretted it. As I know, that not being with her during all of this would have hurt me extensively. I wanted to be the one to care for her and take her to all of her appointments.
- Do your research. Do your homework, so your loved one doesn’t have to.
- Be Positive. Always, ALWAYS try your hardest to be positive. There will be times that the devilish doubt will try to sneak in – do not let your loved one see it. Find your faith or whatever will help you stay in the best spirits possible. Easier said than done, I know, but you can do it.
- Be present. Just simply be there for them. Do things for your loved one without them having to tell you. Try your absolute hardest to make their life easier (grocery store shopping, laundry, caring for pets, communicating with family/friends for them, etc.). My mom is extremely codependent, so it was important for us, her family, to show her that we were okay.
- You know your loved one – be what they need during this difficult time. Show them they are loved and well cared for.
- Purchase essential oils! I bought peppermint oil and my Mom loves it. It has really helped with her nausea (from pain meds & anesthesia). I massage the oil around her temples, nose and the back of her neck.
- Don’t forget your sense of humor. Laughing is so important. When things are rough, make your loved one laugh.
- Stay organized – keep track of medication. There was a time my mom was on a bunch of meds. We kept track of it all on a whiteboard.
- Don’t hinder or baby your loved one. If they want to move around, let them (once they are healed, of course). I know, it is scary – you don’t want them to hurt themselves.
- Make them tea. Whatever tea they want, make it – whether it is green, ginger, peppermint, etc. My mom is a fan of ginger tea, especially when it comes to dealing with nausea.
- Go to your check-ups. Go to them ALL.
- Aluminum free deodorant. I did not know this previously, but aluminum in deodorant has been linked to breast cancer. I advise to check out amazon or your local pharmacy/super market for aluminum free deodorant. It may take a couple of tries to find a deodorant that suits you. I have even heard of women combining essential oils to ward off underarm odor.
- Check your breasts in the shower. I recently went to my Gynecologist and she stressed the importance of self-exams. I hate talking about doing breast self-exams, much less actually conducting them!
- Get a second opinion. If you can, see multiple doctors – especially if you are on the cusp or even for peace of mind. In my mom’s case, we did not need to get a second opinion, since the Oncologist agreed that chemo would be beneficial. If he aided us not to do chemo, then we would have pursued a second opinion.
- Join a group. Seek out friends/family who have gone through it. My mom joined a group and I think it helped her. If you or someone you know is diagnosed, please connect through Positively Pat on FB or on www.PositivelyPat.com.
- Read/learn about others’ cancer journeys. Positively Pat, AKA Patricia San Pedro, wrote “The Cancer Dancer”. The book highlights her journey battling breast cancer, along with offering tips and hope to those in need. I read it and so did my mom.
- Invest in a Recovery Robe with pockets for drains. A very thoughtful friend of ours sent the lovely robe linked above as a gift. It really did come in handy. It made the whole drains thing a bit more bearable.
- Purchase multiple comfy, button down dresses. The simpler it is to put it on and take it off, the better!
- Eat healthy, be healthy. Your body is your temple – fuel it with good stuff!
- There will be good days and there will be bad days – appreciate them both. When having a good day, go out and take advantage of it. When having a bad day, do not get mad, take it for what it is and know that tomorrow will be better.
As my Mom goes through chemo, I am sure that I will have more to share. In the meantime, thank you for reading. I wish you all the best. XO.
Remember, you are never given more than you can handle. You are strong and so are your loved ones. Also, you are not alone. The breast cancer community is large and so loving.
Check out the video I made revolving around my Mom’s breast cancer story: