Check-ups, Anxiety and Breast Cancer

So I had this nice, tidy, cut and dried blog entry ready to post about how to prepare for breast cancer check-ups post treatment.  It had all these specific little things to do, make a plan, do things differently, go to lunch beforehand at a new restaurant, drive a different way, numbered 1 through 7 – blah blah blah.  Well, guess what?  I tried it, and I do not think it helped me one bit for my breast cancer check-up.  So I cannot tell you what to do or how to prepare!  I flunked. It sure did not work for me!

It was my first 6 month checkup with my Medical Oncologist (prior it was every 3 months for the first year post-treatment), and I totally fell apart.  I erroneously thought I would be fine and anxiety would not get to me.  WRONG!  To coin a phrase, I was a basket case.  It was worse at the 6 month point because in 3 months you think “Oh, nothing much has changed.”

Every memory I did not even know I had came rushing forward.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was in full swing yesterday!  The day I took my medical records to the Cancer Center for the first time and my knees buckled when I saw the bald women.  Then the MRIs and scans, Mastectomy, the bone scans, all 16 chemo treatments, Neulasta shots, Herceptin, heart attack thank you Chemo, and God only knows what else came flooding back to me in one big WHOOSH!  Never had I felt anxiety that strong.  It was awful.  The memories kept pounding me.  Then in the exam room, I remembered how many times I had been in Exam Room 12!  How does my brain even know?  But it did!  Instinctively I knew that it was in Exam Room 12 where I first learned I had Stage 3 Breast Cancer.

Now 18 months out from active treatment ending, I look back from the perspective of time and think “How did I make it through?”  While in the midst of it, you have no choice but to go through it.   Maybe you are in the midst of  “IT” right now.  You will be given the strength to get through it, but later you will wonder how you did it!

The great news is after a thorough examination, my Oncologist said I was doing well, no tests needed right now, come back in 6 months.  It feels like you are in the electric chair and you just got a reprieve from the Governor!

While waiting to be called back, I met a woman with a chemo cap on in the waiting room.  We got to chatting.  She had a Stage 4 recurrence 7 years after initial Stage 2 diagnosis.  I gave her some of the hopeful stories I have heard from many of you who have found yourself in that same situation.  She was grateful.   Then we discussed anxiety and how you never get over the fear and how non-cancer survivors often think we are hypochondriacs and how we hate it all.   She said when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, which she never thought would happen to her, it made her realize just how vulnerable she is.  And she said it is that vulnerability that causes her fears.  That certainly made sense to me!

So Sisters of Breast Cancer, you gave me the strength to get through it yesterday.  All of you who write to me, share your stories with me, and tell me your fears, you were there with me yesterday.  THANK YOU!  I’m sorry I do not have any easy answers for you on how to get through checkups.  I do not.  As a woman who prays, I could not even pray!

One last thing I was eager to share with all of my University of Michigan medical personnel yesterday was how Breast Cancer has changed me in positive ways – like this Blog and Hello Courage, my online store.  I told every receptionist, nurse and doctor I could find about Hello Courage and passed out my cute post cards to them.  They were thrilled to hear about it (or at least acted like they were – LOL) and everyone said they were eager to go to their computers and look at my new Spring/Summer line of Chemo Caps!   I would NEVER have worn a wig if I would have had Chemo Caps like these!  Here is the preview for you – click on caps to get to http://www.hellocourage.com

CH-h4flapperbluesquare1CH-h4calypsopurplewhite1CH-h4flapperorangeblackwhite1CH-h4calypsobirdofparadise1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lymphedema Awareness and Breast Cancer

March is Lymphedema Awareness Month.  I deliberately posted this toward the end of the month because we all put Lymphedema at the end of the line in Breast Cancer.   As someone who lives with the realities and challenges of Lymphedema every day,  I am passionate about warning Breast Cancer Patients to PAY ATTENTION and get help and information about Lymphedema.  Make sure you have attended a Lymphedema Class and  arranged a consultation with a Lymphedema Therapist immediately after breast surgery.  Preventative actions, treatment and knowing what to look for can help your future in a big way.    

If you even have had one lymph node removed, you can get Lymphedema. Surgeons and Oncologists may tell you otherwise.  Do not listen to them!  I have had plenty of letters from women who had been told, “Don’t worry, you aren’t at risk for Lymphedema” by a physician and then BAM!  Lymphedema hits in full force.  Some women have gotten this condition with no nodes removed, but that is more rare.

At the very LEAST, your preventative measures should include 1)  Wearing a fitted compression sleeve when you fly in an airplane – even for short flights;  There is other information out in googleland to the contrary.  Do not listen to it.  I have met two women who have full-blown Lymphedema after a quick air flight.  One had been 20 years out of cancer treatment!   2)  When you are lifting heavy items or moving heavy items, make sure to wear a compression sleeve.   3)  Lots of repetitive motion like shoveling snow, sweeping, mopping could be cause to wear a compression sleeve.  Pretending Lymphedema cannot happen to you does not work!

I got full-blown Lymphedema after lifting three heavy plastic grocery bags with my “bad” arm.  And I had been to all the classes and visited a Lymphedema Therapist.  That is all it took to bring it on and cause me to wear a compression sleeve and gauntlet every day for the rest of my life.  Here is a previous blog post I wrote about Learning to Live with Lymphedema that gives more information: http://denise4health.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/learning-to-live-with-lymphedema/

The following 10 minute, professional video entitled, “Breast Cancer’s Dirty Little Secret”  does a wonderful job giving more information about Lymphedema.  It is definitely worth investing the 10 minutes to watch!

 

PLEASE CHECK OUT MY ONLINE STORE FOR CANCER PATIENTS:   CH-collage

Breast Cancer – How to Feel Sorry for Yourself and Complain

As a breast cancer patient and survivor, do you feel guilty on the days you feel sorry for yourself or when you have a pity party?  I know I do.   Usually, I bring solace to myself by saying, “Oh, at least you are alive” or “So many people have it so much worse than you do, then I let those individuals flash through my mind.”  Plus, I say, “Denise, you are supposed to be a role model and an inspiration, get over it.”

Recently, my mom, sister and I went away for the weekend to a place we used to frequent before my breast cancer diagnosis 2 years ago.  This was my first time back.  When we got to the hotel, it hit me what a different person I was now than the last time I had been there.  I felt very sad, but gave myself my usual “don’t feel sorry for yourself” pep talk.

After a busy day, back in the hotel room, my sister looked at me with much compassion and said, “You have so much to handle and go through.”  I started to cry.  It was the first time someone actually witnessed me for a 24 hour period since diagnosis.  My sister had been observing me quietly.   She witnessed the hassle of my breast prosthesis, the 16 pills and supplements I have to ingest, the Lymphedema compression garment struggles and the countless and constant limitations Lymphedema causes, the food allergies that I now have including gluten and dairy that developed during chemo, my heart issues, and the excruciating joint pain I have on most days from Arimidex.  (Thanks for listening!)  Her compassion and observations rather than a quick “You look good” made me realize it isn’t my imagination that I do indeed have much to deal with that prior to breast cancer I did not.

After I got home, I pondered it all.   An idea popped into my mind.  On Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, people eat, drink and be merry because they are facing fasting and abstinence.  So I decided I was going to have a customized Fat Tuesday of my own and allow myself to complain as much as I wanted within a 2 hour period – no more no less.  Then I would be back on abstinence from complaining.

So I complained up a storm, felt sorry for myself, got angry, and had a solo pity party.  Honestly, it felt good to release some of the pent-up frustration and breast cancer toxins.  After the 2 hours, I went back to thinking, “I am well”  and expressing that sentiment to others when asked.

Something happened that I wasn’t expecting.  I felt energized in a new way.   Giving myself compassion and allowing myself to complain about the realities helped move me forward and  accept yet again that things aren’t the way they used to be.   New ideas, dreams and goals have come to me over the past week after I experienced this catharsis.

I would encourage you to give yourself a window of opportunity to allow yourself to feel the pain, anger and frustration of breast cancer.  It will help propel you to a new place!  And if you are not a breast cancer patient but dealing with absolutely anything, try this.  It will help!

If you have not checked my store, Hello Courage, please click the picture and take a look!  I so much appreciate all the love, support, and orders I have received.HC-CollageSign

 

Triple Negative Breast Cancer, A Young Mom’s Story

Monday, March 3, 2014 marks Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Day.  In honor of that day and to educate about Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Alma Sanchez is my Guest Blogger.

Alma Sanchez, Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer Survivor with her beautiful daughter

Alma Sanchez, Stage 2
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Survivor with her beautiful daughter

Alma, diagnosed at age 34 with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, wife and mother, first wrote to me in May, 2013 when she was beginning Chemotherapy.  Alma and I formed a bond only breast cancer sisters can have after many emails sharing our breast cancer stories.   She is a delightful, positive person who tells her journey in a compelling and inspiring  fashion.  Alma resides in Tampico, Mexico, had treatment in Houston, Texas and then in Tampico, Mexico.  Here is her story!  Alma brings all of us much wisdom and hope no matter what your diagnosis.  Alma’s story will inspire you, bring more understanding to your journey, and help inform us about Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

Alma’s Story

It was  April 8, 2013 when I had a surgery to remove what the doctor thought was a benign cyst. Five days later the pathology reports said it was cancer. When I heard the news from my husband, I denied that could be possible. I assured him that the pathology report was surely wrong. I have had a healthy lifestyle all my life…that could not happen to me.  I was only 34 years old!. I was a yoga teacher, I never smoked, I don’t drink,  and I breast fed my little girl at least six months! I was in denial. We went to the doctor and he confirmed the news. It did not start to sink in until midnight. I did not sleep that night. I felt betrayed by own body! I was in shock. I had a cousin who had died exactly a year before from breast cancer, but I thought that could not happen to me.

There is so little information on breast cancer in young women here in Mexico where I live. My mother had ovarian cancer five years ago, it was detected early and she did not need chemo. I didn’t know that my genetic background could raise my probability of getting cancer at such an early age.

Five more days after getting the news, my husband and I flew to Houston, Texas where I had an appointment at Houston Methodist Hospital to see a breast cancer oncologist first and try to get a mastectomy as soon as possible. When I was in Houston I received the news that the type of cancer I had was called: Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I didn’t know anything about it. The oncologist explained everything in detail to me, of what it meant.  Triple Negative Cancer does not depend on estrogen, progesterone or the HER2 (human epidermal growth factor) to fuel it and grow.  Also, only 15 of every 100 breast cancer diagnoses are triple negative. The disease also is often hard to diagnose because it is more common in younger women and is not always detected in mammograms. I was in a new shock. Then as you can imagine, I searched the internet with the words Triple Negative Breast Cancer…..and everything I read said something with the words “lethal” “deadly” “aggressive” “recurrence” “metastasis”…..my heart pounded and tears flowed and flowed out of me just thinking I could die so young and leaving my baby and my family behind.

When I left for Houston, my mother was taking care of my 21 month old baby who I had to leave behind.  I always rocked her to sleep every night. When I came back, I couldn’t even pick her up because of the surgery. The night before I flew to Houston would be the last time I rocked her to sleep in my arms. I cried so much. After the mastectomy my diagnosis was Stage 2A, High Grade, Triple Negative Breast Cancer with no lymph node involvement.

On the good side…I met a great breast cancer oncologist, surgeon and plastic surgeon in Houston. I was told I needed a mastectomy and dose dense chemotherapy. They recommended  a double mastectomy but my insurance would not cover it, so I proceeded with a mastectomy on the affected side. Although I felt like a truck ran over me after surgery,  I looked really well. I was offered a nipple sparing mastectomy, and I decided for it. We stayed in Houston almost a month.  I cried daily for my baby girl whom I missed so much.

I decided to come back home to Mexico and get dose dense chemo (Adriamycin/Cytoxan and Taxol) exactly as my oncologist in Houston prescribed. Looking back at the chemo times I can now say it was brutal. I remember my body shivering from toxicity. I thought I was going to die from chemo and not from cancer. After the second treatment I wanted to quit. Denise helped me get through it. She understood what I was going through and her support was really helpful. As the treatments progressed I became another  person…..I got bald, browless, I gained weight, I felt a kind of fatigue I had never felt before and excruciating bone pain from the Neulasta shots…..I looked at myself in the mirror and could not recognize myself. I was lucky to be showered with love from my my husband, my mother, my family and friends and that helped but feeling really understood from someone who had walked my journey before was very healing for me. Thank you Denise.

After my second chemo treatment I told God that I could not do this. That I was not strong enough, that I just could not do it.. I told him I did not understand him…..how could he do this to me….with my baby so small. Yes…..I asked why me! I was mad at God. Those were dark, very dark days for me.

During those days I had a dream. In my dream I saw God, and I was sitting down as one would do in a classroom. He showed me what looked like my light body or my aura or something similar….and it had holes in it! My daughter was there standing and looking lovely. He pointed towards her and said “Love can heal you” and then he pointed towards my light body. At the same time he said that, my little girl´s body seemed to “emit” a golden kind of energy or dust towards my light body and it filled up the gaps. And that was it. I woke up astounded by the dream and thought “Of course, the love of my daughter can heal me”, it sounded logical. As time has passed and I have meditated on that dream I have come to the conclusion that the kind of love I can feel for my daughter….pure, unconditional love…..That feeling can be  healing but I need to feel that for myself. That is the love that can heal me. Loving and accepting myself in a pure and unconditional way. I do not dream with God normally….and maybe it was my higher conscience, or the Universe, or just a dream….but anyway the message is so so good that I feel the need to share it. It has had a profound meaning in my breast cancer journey. After having this dream I always end up asking what would Love do in my situation.

I finished my chemo in September 2013. I needed another surgery in October to obtain clean margins.  I will get another surgery in April, 2014 to exchange the tissue expander for a cosmetic implant. I am right now expecting the results from my BRCA test and with those in hand I will decide if I get a preventive mastectomy on the other side.

Alma, her husband, daughter, and mom taken December, 2013

Alma, her husband, daughter, and mom -  December, 2013

I never felt that the word “fight” breast cancer resonated with me. How could I fight my own body? My own cells? I think this is a journey….but it is not a fight for me. I am doing everything I can to work with my body, my mind and soul to be the healthiest I can be. Like teamwork. I hope no one gets offended by this….I think it is different for every women and I respect that. I choose this to be a healing and loving journey. Not a battle against my own body. If I resist living what I have to live and wasting energy on that I wont have enough energy to heal….so I am tying to embrace my journey in the most healing way I can.

To sum this up….I want to tell women who are right now battling Triple Negative Breast Cancer something positive among all the negative stuff we normally read about it, and there are some things we can do even if we still don’t have targeted therapy:

1. Love heals. Surround yourself with people who love you or can give you lots of love, support and empathy during your journey.

2. If you can afford it get some psychotherapy. It is shocking to face your mortality when you are young and probably raising a family or achieving life or work goals. You need to speak or write about it but please let it out of your system.

3. If you are getting chemo right now please remember that this too shall pass. And on the good days, please do things that make you happy….get out of the house….go for a walk (nature does wonders to heal a body and soul)….get together with your friends…..try to be the happiest you can. It is food for the soul.

3. Eat healthy and nourishing food. It was difficult for me during chemo. I could do it on the good days but not on the bad days. I am trying my best right now to get my green vegetable juice daily and cook healthy meals.  Do not count calories, count nutrients!

4. Meditation. Please do it. I know its hard work. Looking inside ourself is something that has proven to be very healing. I meditate on my own and also go every week to a guided-meditation group. Cells respond to our thoughts and feelings.

5. Exercise. It is known that triple negative breast cancer responds well to a low-fat diet and healthy BMI. Whatever you like to do go for it….I´m doing yoga, walking and some pilates…..it is tough because my energy is still not normal but I feel so much better after it.

Alma is a Yoga Instructor!

Alma is a Yoga Instructor

6. Live fearlessly. Fear is one of the lowest vibrations we can have. I wont lie to you….there are days when fear of recurrence is really strong but I try to focus on the positive and remember myself that living with fear is not living at all.

7. Learn to say no. No to toxic people, or situations and no to whatever doesn´t make you comfortable or happy with yourself. If you need to please someone…this is the time to please yourself. But….learn to say YES to things that make your heart soar or try to do those things you thought you would do later o that maybe you put aside to focus on your family or your career. Yes to everything that makes your heart sing.

8. Last but not least, I am determined not only to be alive but to THRIVE after this!……WE CAN OVERCOME TRIPLE NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER!

But….if your cancer has recurred or you are on stage 4….do not despair….God is with us. I feel we cancer patients are really brave and courageous souls who choose to evolve in this way and then understand that suffering is not necessary to grow.  So even if you are stage 4…make the most of your time to make this a healing journey for your soul even when it is not for the body.

I am filled with gratitude to Denise for giving me the opportunity to express myself in her blog. Denise, I honor your journey and the journey of all women and men who have been through cancer.

Please check out Denise’s online cancer shop:     HC-ad

Selecting Your Cancer Medical Team – Priceless

Quite often I get emails asking my opinion about Oncologists or Surgeons.  Even though the patient has a gut feeling the doctor “isn’t the match for me” or “there’s just something I can’t put my finger on” or “I want someone who gives me more hope,” the patient still feels hesitant to look elsewhere or get a second opinion.   After cancer diagnosis, your head is reeling, your life is turned upside down, but remember, your doctor works for you!!  You, or your insurance carrier, are paying him or her for their services!

The  advice I give is this:  Go to the best doctors now or at the very least, get a second opinion from the best.  Your treatment should be the latest and the best.  Your life depends upon it whether you are Stage 0 or Stage 4. If you do not, you may end up there anyway but in much more dire circumstances. There are fabulous Oncologists and Surgeons in small towns and small hospitals as well as in the largest and best cancer hospitals.  The important part is to FIND THEM!

For example, it is in your best interest to find a BREAST surgeon if you have Breast Cancer, not a General Surgeon to do a Mastectomy or Lumpectomy.  Survival rates are higher when a Breast Surgeon does your surgery.   Johns Hopkins Cancer Center explains the reason for this far better than I can:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/avon_foundation_breast_center/treatments_services/breast_surgical_oncology/

The benefit of some of the large top cancer hospitals is that most of them use a team approach.  At the cancer center where I received treatment, University of Michigan,  and at most large cancer centers, there is a Multidisciplinary Tumor Board that meets and discusses every single patient that walks through the door diagnosed with cancer.  Not just ONE CANCER EXPERT  makes the decision, but at least TWENTY-FOUR CANCER EXPERTS collectively decide a patient’s course of treatment.  When I knew that many experts were charting my course of treatment, the burden was off my shoulders!  My trust level increased tremendously.

Perhaps a woman is Stage 1 and is on the fence about whether she should receive Chemotherapy.  Having dozens of cancer experts weigh in is invaluable not only because she will have the right treatment for her, but later she will not have regrets.   My sister’s close friend, Cheryl, was a woman like this.  She initially  she was Stage 1, but then had a few nodes involved, which moved her to Stage 2.  However, her local hospital said because she was in her 60s no Chemotherapy was necessary.  Cheryl has worked in the medical field her entire life and did not trust that opinion for her.  She flew to Houston to M. D. Anderson, the Number One cancer center in the USA, to get a second opinion.  Two of Cheryl’s three children’s lives were saved at M. D. Anderson as both had rare cancers in their 20s when they were given little to no hope locally.  Her past experience taught Cheryl to get to the best right away!  M. D. Anderson recommended Chemotherapy which Cheryl did.  Cheryl has no regrets as she knows she got the best care for her.

Not all of us can travel to M. D. Anderson.  But certainly it could not hurt to travel a few hours or a day’s drive to get a second opinion that could save your life.  Often cancer patients give more time to researching for a new car than they do for an Oncologist and Surgeon.  Please do not be that patient!

At larger cancer centers,  Oncologists only deal with their particular expertise of cancer.  A Breast Oncologist only deals with cancers of the breast and their next patient is not a prostate cancer patient.  Also, Clinical Trials are also more readily available at many of the larger cancer centers.  This is especially important because once again, it may save your life.

We all know cancer is expensive, even if you have the best insurance.  Often people hesitate to go to major hospitals because they question whether their insurance is accepted.  The benefit of large cancer hospitals is they have a lot of clout and will fight for your insurance carrier to cover you at their facility.  Initially, I was rejected by my insurance company and was told my major cancer center was Out of Network.  But with the weight of a big cancer hospital behind me, they were the ones who talked with my insurance company.  Next thing I knew my insurance company  changed their mind to In Network and covered all of my treatment.

Here is a list of the 2012-13 Top Oncology Hospitals in the USA by U.S .News and World Report which is well-respected.  If you live outside of the USA, do your research in your country!  It is so important!

http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/rankings/cancer

A woman recently wrote this sad plea on a Breast Cancer Discussion Board one month before her death.

“I am looking for a treatment center that someone can give me personal recommendations for that facility. I am in (her location) and do not have the confidence in my oncologist after a couple of  incidences. My recurrence to stage IV was within the past month. I have had one treatment of Doxil. We are having trouble getting my platelets up so I can have treatments but my gut feeling is to go somewhere else or I will die.”

I had communicated with this woman in the past.  An awful thing had happened to her when she was GIVEN THE TOTALLY WRONG CHEMO DRUG at one of her infusions.  Obviously, that should not happen.  Within a year after treatment, she progressed to Stage IV.  This woman’s instincts were correct.  She did die and quickly.  When the wrong chemo drug was administered to her in her Oncologist’s office, she gave the Oncologist the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps this story could have  a different outcome.

Please follow your instincts when it comes to your Medical Team.  And it never hurts to have that second or third opinion.

Statistics and Breast Cancer…Don’t Pay Attention

We have all been guilty of it on more than one occasion no matter what place we are on Breast Cancer Road – patient or survivor.  Late at night, concerns fill our head, and as we sit in front of the computer,  suddenly we just cannot resist searching on Google “life expectancy for (enter your cancer stage, grade, and parameters).  Boom, up will pop that you will live one month, one year, two years, or 5 years, 3 months and 12 days.

As cancer patients and survivors, we have enough fears and side effects to concern ourselves with on a daily basis.  My philosophy is throw away those statistics.  Quit reading them, quit looking at them, and get them out of your head.  If you are Stage 0, Stage 4.or any stage in between . .don’t read them!

We all know or know of people who lived way beyond the statistics.  People who should have been dead 40 years ago from some dread disease, and they die from old age.  I want to be that person and not a statistic.

My maternal grandmother was a great source of inspiration to me in this area.  In her early 60s, Nana was told her heart was so bad she should have been dead years prior according to all the heart tests.  Her long-time doctor wasn’t helping her.  Often, she could barely breathe and would have terrible heart “spells.”   Nana decided she needed a young doctor with new ideas.

So she went out and found one!  Nana was a snowbird spending winters in Florida, so she decided there would be doctors with new ideas in Florida.   Dr. Werner, the young, bright, fresh out of medical school cardiologist said he would try some new drugs on her that were just approved by the FDA.   He warned her that these drugs did not have much of a track record, but because she had no choice, she should try them. Nana was thrilled to try them as my grandmother always loved trying new things!

When she got out of that appointment, I was extremely concerned.  I asked, “Nana, aren’t you afraid you will die knowing the statistics?”   Nana answered in her sassy, spunky yet loving and faith-filled way:  “Denise, honey, I am not a statistic.  When it’s my time, it’s my time.  I am not going to listen to a statistic.  And I trust that young Dr. Werner will help me get better. God brought him to me.”    My grandmother lived to be 92 and died peacefully of old age.  She was still singing Dr. Werner’s praises until the end and taking the same medicines he prescribed 30 years previously.

That is the spirit I want to live by as a Cancer Survivor.   I replay over and over in my head my encounters with three Stage 4 women I met during chemo.  They were all given 3 to 6 months to live.  All three of them said, “NO WAY.”  They all took action and found a new Oncologist that gave them hope.  When I encountered these inspirational women, they had been alive 7 years, 12 years, and 20 years respectively!!  Separately, they all said the same thing to me.  “NEVER give up HOPE and make sure you trust your Oncologist with your life!”

Don’t let ANYONE take away your hope, especially a statistic.  Protect HOPE like it is the greatest gift you have ever received because it is.  Do whatever is necessary to protect that gift.   Guard and defend it.  Wrap it up in a box, decorate it, put ribbons and jewels on it!  It is your most prized possession.  Treat it that way!

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Being Hacked By Breast Cancer Treatment…Giving Yourself Time

I discovered that over two-thirds of my regular Blog Readers are 6 months to 2 years out from diagnosis, thanks to the poll you so graciously answered.  You are trying to find your way and find answers after treatment ends.  The biggest complaint I hear from you is that you feel quite alone left with the side effects of brutal cancer treatment.   Also, you feel guilt and emotional pain because it is expected you should be back to normal and your old self, but you feel far from normal.

During this blog post read, let’s compare ourselves to a tree. Here in the Midwestern United States, every year I see what I call TREE HACKERS, hired by the electric company, going through neighborhoods and thoroughfares removing limbs and entire parts of trees that have grown into electrical wires.  Proper pruning, which would be no more than 20% of the tree, is not done, but the trees are hacked to prevent deaths.   This hacking takes 30%, 40% and even 50% of the original tree.

tree-trimmingI’m sure you can relate to these tree pictures.   Before Breast Cancer you felt like the whole tree.  But whatever percentage was taken from your tree on Breast Cancer Road, you have been hacked. Your body has been hacked, your breasts were hacked, your hair was hacked, your immune system was hacked, your relationships were hacked, and every other part of your life was hacked.

Then the worst part is while your branches are starting to grow back, you have to constantly be on the lookout in case the tree hackers return.

Whenever you get impatient about how long it is taking to get better and feel better, remember these visuals of the hacked trees, then be patient with yourself.  Branches have an uncanny way of returning!  The remaining branches will work extra hard to replace the missing branches.  But it takes time.

My neighbors had such a tree.  Over 50% of the tree was taken – sliced down the middle by utility hackers.   It has taken a long time, but that tree is whole again!  That is my hope for all of us!

HC-ad