Ironically, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in October 2014. I am the daughter of cancer survivors (Mom had breast and uterine cancer and Dad had kidney cancer) so I was familiar with the path in front of me prior to my own diagnosis, or so I thought. My treatment included 16 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy, multiple breast reconstructions and a total hysterectomy (due to genetic mutation for Lynch Syndrome). Today, almost five years later, I am still cancer free! Five years post-diagnosis is certainly a fantastic reason to celebrate this October but more than anything the explosion of pink is a reminder not necessarily of awareness, but rather that there is still much to be done in terms of research for metastatic breast cancer and customized treatment protocols, including focusing on mental wellbeing years into survivorship.
My breast cancer path wasn’t an easy one and I am still struggling with some issues in the aftermath, but I am so grateful for my medical team, as well as the unwavering love and support of my amazing family and friends. Having a great team behind you as you’re going through something like this is critical! There is definitely a line survivors straddle of before and after diagnosis, and it sometimes takes a while for a new “normal” to settle and feel like a more solid foundation. But it will happen. Early detection is key so I would encourage people to perform regular self-exams and to not ignore signs if they feel something is wrong. It is also important to better understand your own risks even if there is no family or health history of breast cancer. Be your own best health advocate!
Sports (watching not playing, ha!) were a big part of my recovery and still are in some ways. So using my love of football, and in an effort to give back to a few of the local organizations that helped me during my treatment, I’ve held a “Tackle Breast Cancer” fundraiser during some of my college alma mater’s (University of South Carolina) game watches each season the last few years. Proceeds have benefitted INOVA’s Life with Cancer and Casting for Recovery’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter. It is important for men and women to know that there are local, oftentimes smaller and more personalized, organizations that can help in their communities—whether a cancer support group, a church, etc. Seek those places out for guidance and resources both for yourself and your caregiver(s).