Sometimes I can’t believe I ever had breast cancer. That’s what I want to tell all those sisters that heard the same words as I did, “its cancer/it’s malignant!” Because I feel absolutely GREAT today, I made it through that dark tunnel to a light on the other side I never dreamt possible. So, hang in there breast cancer survivors—life gets better and better –just be strong and take it one step at a time.
I had been going to a very well respected and recommended breast surgeon diligently every 6 months for years. It was strange that I felt a small lump under my arm and close to my right breast and scheduled a special visit for the Dr. to examine it. She assured me not to worry that she’s seen this type of cyst throughout her entire career and it was absolutely benign. She kept telling me it was nothing--for four years—and I listened, until it got so big that I couldn’t shave under my arm without nicking the lump and bleeding.
So, on January 5, 2010 I had elective surgery to remove the lump. Then I received that dreaded call…the one from the Dr. saying, “this is the worst mistake, I’ve ever made. The lump was malignant and we need to go back in and remove the lymph nodes to ensure it hasn’t spread.” The next week, I was under the knife once again and found myself thrown into a new world I had no experience with at all. The dreaded word I had feared all my life—with every routine mammogram, ultrasound and mammogram. CANCER!
I am a “baby boomer workaholic”. I run my own public relations agency in Houston, and I wasn’t prepared for the physical and emotional wallop that came following my breast cancer diagnosis. After undergoing a lumpectomy, lymph node removal surgery and six weeks of radiation, I was exhausted. But the tipping point came after I started a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) treatment-Tamoxifen, which caused my estrogen levels to decrease. I was robbed of all of my estrogen. I had this horrible depression and normally I’m the happiest person in the world.
I immediately experienced a depression I had never known—stopped eating and lost a tremendous amount of weight. At 4’10” and 94lbs my entire life –I didn’t have much to lose. But my weight steadily declined along with my strength and that was tough. It was even tougher because my life needed to remain ‘business as usual’-- I didn’t want my clients or employees to know I was undergoing treatment –I didn’t want them to know I had cancer-- as I was certain they wouldn’t understand and I believed they would think I couldn’t get the job done. So, I continued working and traveling at the same pace.
Passing out at a client appointment and a day in the ER at M.D. Anderson was absolutely the tipping point. It served as my wake-up call. Changes needed to be made. And needed to be made fast. I was dying. Literally. My weight was down to 78 lbs and I had no strength to move. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a ghost—a ghost that was so boney and dried out-- I was embarrassed. Immediate action needed to be taken.
In addition to stopping the SERM treatment (with my doctor’s approval), I knew the best way to get out of the funk was to stay focused on the future, my wonderful children, my career and to improve my diet. I worked my way through it and just started eating well. Food was important—I ate a lot to get my strength back up. I had juice daily and filled up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Today, 3 years later I am finally back to myself-- I’m healthy, feel great and I no longer suffer from depression. I have time to relax. Once or twice a year I go to a yoga retreat, sit quietly and contemplate life. The diagnosis has made me think maybe there is something else I need to do in life.
I am now 55 years old and my journey thank goodness has a wonderful ending—or beginning I should say-- as I met my husband in the hospital and he asked me to marry him during treatment –UNBELIEVABLE!
Suzy’s top tips for refueling your tank:
- Chug your greens and fruits. I bought a Vita-Mix and make vitalizing juice concoctions with organic kale, tomatoes, cucumbers and celery, strawberries, banana, apple, flax and chia seeds. “I pretty much through everything into it and get stronger the more I drink.”
- Cut out white foods. “I didn’t have the energy to think. I had brain fog because I was exhausted.” My remedy: Eat lean chicken and fish, sweet potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruit.
- Guzzle H20. Cancer treatments, such as radiation, can leave you dehydrated. I carry a bottle of water with me at all times to help me stay refreshed.
- Try Replens Moisturizer. The over-the-counter, non-hormonal solution to one of the most common and painful side effects of cancer treatment --vaginal dryness and atrophy. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and drugs like Tamoxifen, Raloxifene, and Aromatase inhibitors, cause dryness all over—the face, eyes, body and vagina. Replens is available at every drug store and is the only alternative to hormone therapy for us cancer survivors.
- Aquaphor is terrific to heal sores from radiation, dry lips, etc.
- Use a good silicone Lubricant to ease sex—try Wet® Platinum® just before sex because Cancer, surgery and treatments can affect sexuality, causing side effects like difficulty with arousal, loss of desire and inability to achieve orgasm. Pain sex can also be an issue due to dryness. But, know that help can be as close as the neighborhood pharmacy or online shopping cart.
M.D. Anderson reports, “Women can use a water-based or silicone-based lubricant during sex or use a vaginal moisturizer to counter dryness or tightness in the vagina caused by cancer treatment. If the lubricants and moisturizers don’t help, another option is low-dose vaginal estrogen. For women who have had radiation therapy to the pelvic region, a vaginal dilator can reduce vaginal scarring or shrinking.”
- Think of Soul Source dilators as vaginal physical therapy help manage some of the side effects of chemotherapy by gently stretching the vaginal tissue, gradually making it more elastic and flexible over time. Remember, if you are using a silicone dilator, you want to use Wet’s water-based lube called, Wet® Original® Gel Lubricant, It’s also paraben-free, and kosher!
- Learn balance: take walks, baths, try yoga or meditation
Learn about supplements and helpful meds to get you back on track. Vitamin –D, Curamin (BCM-95), fish oil. There’s nothing wrong with asking your doctor about taking an anti-depressant to repair those wires that fell out of place during the trauma. Effexor helps with hot flashes too brought on my cancer treatment and early menopause. Personally, I was unable to take Effexor as it caused extreme nausea—so work with your doctor to find the one that’s best for you. Lexapro worked wonders for me and there is absolutely no shame in seeking Rx help.
Laugh a lot. I’m talkin’, Belly laugh! Have fun and surround yourself with positive energy. Lose the negative forces .
- Hang in there. Take every day as it comes and try to focus on the wonderful blessings in life—our family, friends and work—don’t let the brain jabber be all about dying. Remember it’s all about living and loving—because we are still here!