Breast Cancer patients discuss the impact of their illness
Published 24 Apr 2019 • By Andrea Barcia
Three and a half years ago, this mother of two teenagers, a member of Carenity in Spain, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, at 50 years old, she tells us about her experience, treatments and emotions throughout this ordeal.
How did you find out you had cancer?
In March, I had my annual exams with mammography and ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed a solid cyst but no trace on the mammogram, so my gynaecologist didn't pay attention. She told me I would have it for life and gave me a flyer to do another ultrasound in six months.
At the time, the nodule was 5 mm long, I was worried but I didn't ask for a second opinion. Since the mammogram had not revealed anything, I thought the gynaecologist was right not to worry. Four months later, I went back to another gynaecologist for further tests. It took me a month to get the results: I discovered that the nodule was carcinogenic and that it had grown one centimetre since the first ultrasound. Time is of the essence.
How did you react to the announcement of the diagnosis?
I was in shock, my husband was crying but I was calm. In the afternoon, the first thing that came to my mind, when I became aware of the news, was that I could no longer make plans.
Do you have a family history?
Yes, my maternal grandmother had breast cancer and my father fought esophageal cancer.
What treatments have you followed for your cancer?
4 months of Doxorubicin (adriamycin), 12 weeks of Taxol (paclitaxel) and 18 doses of Trastuzumab (herceptin).
Have you had a mastectomy?
Yes, I had a mastectomy but I was not well advised. In my case, it was not necessary, but if I decided to have one, it would save me 35 sessions of radiotherapy. And since my treatment was so long, I decided to do it for that reason. I had a reconstruction at the time with a prosthesis, but aesthetically, it's not great.... If I went back, I wouldn't make that choice. Today, I can't stand to see myself naked or show myself.
I have an appointment in May with Social Security to see if they can reimburse an operation to make my chest more harmonious and symmetrical.
Cancer often changes a woman's physical appearance and self-confidence, how did you experience these changes?
At first, I didn't care and the mastectomy didn't affect me because I was in the daily struggle, with many hospital visits. We don't have time to think about how she looks. I just wanted to be healed. I began to worry later, with weight gain at the onset of menopause, the body less firm because of the lack of estrogen with hormone treatment intake.....
Have your loved ones supported you enough?
I am eternally grateful to my mother who took care of me, accompanied me to chemotherapy, and to my daughter who was a great source of love and comfort at only 9 years old. On the other hand, my husband was helpless, he didn't know how to take care of me. My 11-year-old son preferred to escape this situation by going to his friends' houses. You never know how people around you will react, some relatives and friends disappear, they don't know what to do, they don't know how to deal with your pain. And strangely enough, people who didn't share my daily life before came to see me or we went for a walk in the countryside. I am very grateful to them.
Have your emotions and psychological state been sufficiently taken into account by the medical team?
This aspect of my illness has not been taken into account. I felt that the doctors only saw the tumor... I changed oncologists in the middle of the treatment because I felt terribly depressed every time I left his office. At the time of diagnosis, I was 47 years old and had no signs of menopause. With the second chemotherapy, my periods are gone forever. I did not feel treated with delicacy and empathy by this first oncologist.
When you go through something so hard, I think the feeling with the health care team is essential. When I changed oncologists, I felt more supported... I was a person going through a trial, not just a tumor on legs.
Has your professional life been impacted?
In my case, I tolerated the operation and chemo well, I even continued to work throughout the process - I am a teacher of body expression and meditation and only work 6 hours a week. It was good to be active, I had a lot of strength and optimism throughout the treatment. It helped me to be busy doing something I love and not thinking about cancer.
What has been the most difficult part of having cancer, both physically and psychologically?
The most difficult thing is the uncertainty of not knowing if you will recover, it's a hanging threat at every consultation, then it's the fear of a recurrence that follows.
What is your current state of health and what is your mood?
First of all: I have overcome cancer!
I still have after-effects: tinnitus in my ears and pain from time to time due to Tamoxifen... but totally bearable. My mood fluctuates, I don't know if it's because of the beginning of menopause or because of all this process I went through, I wasn't the same person before all this, before I experienced all this suffering. But time passes, we get used to it and love each other after this experience.
What advice would you give to a newly diagnosed patient?
Try to keep your life as similar as possible to the one you had before the diagnosis. Maintaining a positive attitude is the best gift you can give yourself. This way, both your body and mind will fight for your recovery.
What advice would you give to a patient's family and friends to better support them?
Above all, be very sensitive because when you have such a difficult life experience, you need a lot of love and empathy. Caresses, hugs, kisses that anchored me in the present and rested my mind.
Any last words?
Trust life. Try to be happy anyway. Every minute of your life counts, it is a precious treasure not to be missed.
Thank you very much to our member Carenity for sharing their experience!
And what has been your experience with cancer and its psychological impact?
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