Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, I didn’t know much about cancer. My dad died in 2014 from stomach cancer so I knew a little about that and how he felt and what he went through. But there was a lot I didn’t know. Now I’m seeing that other people don’t know as well, which I understand.
One thing I have found since my diagnosis, if you have your hair, people don’t think you are as sick. If you don’t go through chemo and “just” radiation, people think you are lucky. Once you are done radiation (or chemo), people think you are done and cancer free. I’m honestly not sure when I will feel that I am cancer free. I had a follow-up mammogram 6 months after radiation ended and it was a clean mammogram! Woo hoo! So excited but not saying cancer free. I said there was no evidence of disease.
Prior to being diagnosed, if someone I knew was finished with chemo or radiation, I probably would have thought they were on the other side of their cancer battle and good to go. That’s what a lot of people think when they see me. The me that goes out for a drink or dinner is usually happy. What people don’t know is that I may have rested all day just to have enough energy to go out at night. Once chemo or radiation is done for many breast cancer patients, that is not the end of the treatment.
My treatment for the next 5 years is hormone therapy. Not to go into too much detail but I get a quarterly shot and take a daily pill. From this comes weight gain, fatigue and joint pain. Not everyone who has this treatment has the same side effects so these are just my side effects. Unfortunately, taking a nap or taking a pill to offset the joint pain does not help aleve the side effects. This will be my new normal for the next 5 years. There isn’t a magic cure to have the side effects go away. I will gladly deal with these side effects if it means a lower chance of recurrence.
So prior to being diagnosed myself, I had no clue that even though two different people have breast cancer, their story is not alike. There is so much more to their cancer story than the stage of their cancer. Their fight doesn’t end after surgery, chemo or radiation. They may be out smiling, having fun, looking like they are having a great time on social media but in reality they may not be feeling that great. My diagnosis has brought me so many great things…closer with friends and family…appreciation of life…and definitely empathy for others. So I may have known so little about cancer before my diagnosis…I now know a bit more since my diagnosis but there is so much more to learn.