Sharing my Experience with Breast Cancer
Ever since my breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, this time of year brings back a tsunami of emotions and memories. I’m not obsessed – but when you see your reflection in a mirror every day after a shower, you see the physical breast scar and suddenly the past becomes the present. This is part of my life now… every day. I hope that sharing my experience will help someone else who may be going through something similar.
What I Want Every Woman to Know
Don’t keep it to yourself once your doctor has confirmed that you have cancer. I know it’s difficult, but once you’ve recovered from the shock, share the news with your family, friends, co-workers, clients, neighbors, and even strangers. You have nothing to be ashamed of and I promise you’ll be surprised at how helpful it is and how relieved you will feel.
During my cancer, I continued working part-time at Ivision (now Vogue Optical) as a Frame Specialist. I found keeping my regular routine was really helpful. I made a point of sharing what I was going through with clients. They were all supportive and/or shared a cancer story of their own or a friend or family member. Many of them would stop by the store to see how I was doing when they were in the mall. Imagine strangers caring!
Trust our amazing healthcare system – whether it is your family doctor, surgeons, pathologists, lab technicians, nurses, etc. When I went for a regular mammogram on January 3rd 2017, I never dreamed in a million years there would be anything wrong. But when I was called back a few days later for another mammogram plus an ultrasound, I started to wonder. A few days later, my family doctor confirmed the presence of a mass. I was scheduled on January 26th for another ultrasound as well as a biopsy to see if the mass was cancerous. On February 1st, my family doctor confirmed every woman’s fear… it was cancer.
After riding the emotional roller coaster of panic, fear and mortality, I finally called a family meeting on February 6th, to break the devastating news to my daughters and son-in-law. Of course, it was a shock for them, but I reassured them that I was in good hands, and I was! My lumpectomy surgery on February 10th went well. On February 22nd, I received the great news that the cancer had not spread to the lymphatic glands. Alleluia!
Thoroughly discuss your treatment options. I was referred to a chemotherapy and radiation specialist at the Carlo Fidani Peel Regional Cancer Centre located at the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga to discuss next steps. Before deciding if I should do chemo or not, my chemotherapy specialist recommended that we do a special test called Oncotype DX ® Breast Recurrence Score Test before proceeding any further. So I agreed. A sample was sent to the Genomic Health, Inc. based in California. My test came back showing a higher risk of recurrence without doing chemo therapy. I wasn’t going to go through this twice – no way! So I opted for chemotherapy.
Everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy and/or radiation. My four chemotherapy sessions were scheduled for April 21st, May 12th, June 2nd & June 23rd. The chemo sessions lasted 4-5 hours. Treatment was injected intravenously. And while I didn’t experience much in the way of side effects from the chemotherapy, the seven injections I had to take after each treatment (to boost white blood cells) caused heartburn, nausea, headaches, stiff neck and/or excruciating back and muscle pain. Ouch!
Be Ready for Bad Hair Days and No Hair Day! Losing your hair when you don’t expect it, is definitely traumatic – especially when you have a full head of hair like me, and you end up with no hair at all within 2 weeks.
For me, it happened in early May. My scalp started feeling sensitive and itchy. As the days passed, I could actually feel the follicles of my hair detach themselves from my skull. I could reach up and touch my hair – only to find it in my hand a moment later. It was unreal, truly! I knew then, I was going to lose most, if not all, of my hair quite quickly. I started noticing more hair on my pillow, and in my brush. That was when I decided it was time to cut what was left of my hair shorter and actually did so twice within a week.
On May 17th, while washing my hair in the shower, I looked down only to discover that the shower floor was covered with hair. It was everywhere – except on my head. I had tremendous difficulty trying to absorb the fact that my hair was falling out. There I was – planted in the shower – looking at the bathtub full of my hair and thinking, ‘it can’t be!’ … and yet, it was. I completely broke down and cried until there were no tears left. Acceptance didn’t come easily, but when it finally did my new mantra became, ‘after all, it is only hair and it will grow back’. The process of losing your hair is extremely emotional. Even though you know it will grow again, hair loss affects your confidence and self-esteem. I thought I was prepared for this, but obviously I wasn’t.
It’s liberating to be in control of your hair. Amy, my oldest daughter called our hairdresser, Kori and arranged for a late appointment. Kori has had many clients dealing with cancer, and had pre-warned me about the potential for sudden hair loss. She also graciously offered for us to call her any time to arrange for a private shaving. My wonderful support team – my husband George, and Amy came with me. Kori recommended a second shaving after 12 weeks to even out the re-growth. The head shaving experience wasn’t has bad as I expected. It was finally my turn to be in complete control of my hair. That day was “No hair” day!
If you are going through a similar situation, please reach out to me. Sometimes just talking to someone who has been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be very helpful in making the journey less worrisome – plus you will have the opportunity to make a new friend!
Angèle Desgagné, AICI CIP
Your Fairy Godmother