This Is What Breast Cancer Survival Looks Like

Real women tell their stories

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What I Found: Courage

Jane Fendelman, Phoenix, AZ "I’d always loved acting and dancing but was too fearful to audition. Cancer gave me the courage to make a fool out of myself. I landed my first acting gig when I was still bald. Whenever I was getting ready to walk onstage, my heart would pound, but I would feel so alive. I kept dancing during my treatment; it got me through the sadness. I compete now-and even win-doing the cha-cha, rumba, tango, salsa and swing dance. Since my chemo worsened a preexisting condition, my left ankle doesn’t bend or move at all. I wear a leg brace and dance with my foot flat, but I don’t let that stop me. My technique will never be perfect, but I make up for it with enthusiasm. Sometimes the judges don’t even notice that I’m wearing a brace." Click here to watch a fun slideshow about what Jane is doing now.
photographed by Alessandra Petlin

What I Lost: My Invincibility

Laereen Lyght, Nurse, Humble, TX "I found a small lump during a self-exam, and when the biopsy came back positive, I was shocked and numb. I am a health care professional, so this wasn’t supposed to happen to me. In denial, I left for a two-week vacation and ignored my tumor for an entire year. It was an unbelievable way of coping. About a year later, I realized I should think of my family, and after a week of crying and praying, I finally sought treatment. A few years after that, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center wanted to head up a study of African-American breast cancer survivors, and they reached out to my support group, the Sisters Network I had spent most of my career as a pediatric nurse, but I was chosen to become a peer counselor for the study. I’m still doing it. Being able to empathize with these women and what they are going through is huge. Had I not been diagnosed, I wouldn’t be in this position to help others. It’s funny how fate works. You want to say ‘Why me?’ but you come to say ‘Why not me?’ I embrace what I have been given because now I’m able to give of myself so much more." For more survivor stories, click HERE
photographed by Alessandra Petlin

What I Saved

What I Saved: My Identity As An Athlete Deb Yamashita, chemical engineer "I was training for a 10-mile race when I found out I had it. The tumor first felt like a little grain of sand. If I had gone by my mammogram results, which were negative, I probably would have lost at least a year in diagnosing my breast cancer. My doctor was diligent enough to perform an ultrasound, which detected it. After the diagnosis, I still kept running, and the day after my lumpectomy-probably thanks to my painkillers-I did an 8K walk. Two weeks later, I ran the race I’d been training for. It was one of the toughest runs I’ve ever done but also one of the most exhilarating. Before my surgery, I was a much faster runner. Now my aerobic endurance isn’t as good. I used to always push myself, trying to break a personal record. Now, just finishing a race is a big accomplishment. I’m not entirely sure if it’s part of the experience of being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or a part of aging gracefully and being OK with who you are." To get an update on Deb, click HERE What I Saved: My Sense of Normalcy Susie Hare, Business owner "I’ve heard that chemo is the closest you’ll feel to death without being dead. That is exactly how I recall feeling. In the beginning of my chemo, I’d get dressed for work and have to turn right around and go home. Or I would drive to the grocery store and never make it inside. Eventually, I could make it down one aisle. I understood that I’d feel better after chemo, but I didn’t realize that meant feeling minutely better on an ongoing basis. Many women make life-altering changes after their diagnosis. But I haven’t. I went through treatment so I could resume living my life as I did before. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She also did what she had to do to get through it. We haven’t done anything earth-shattering; we are only heroes to our families and friends. My life has returned to pretty much the same as it was. I can do the things I need to do, and that was all I really wanted. I am certainly more knowledgeable and more empathetic, and I’m closer to my family. But for now, I just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward." To see how she’s doing now, go to What Survival Looks Like: Susie Hare 2 Years Later What I Saved: My Voice Suzanne Mitchell, Business executive, Houston, TX "My cancer treatment was so consuming, I took my first extended leave from my passion, singing, in more than 30 years. I had one breast and 23 lymph nodes removed, which left me unable to lift my right arm and hold my music. I became more tired and depressed with each week of chemo. I remember thinking, well, it doesn’t matter if I can’t sing since I won’t be alive anyway. The prophylactic mastectomy I had later that year to even out my unbalanced chest was my first step toward psychological recovery. It was the first thing I did to preserve and enhance my life. I did yoga, danced, did water exercises and got acupuncture, and the tight muscles across my chest began loosening up. I could lift my right arm almost normally. I was ready. I rejoined the chorale, although I was worried that I wouldn’t have the stamina I would need and that the deep breaths would hurt. The reward came when we performed the "Sing for the Cure," a piece benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I felt as if it had been written for me. Celebrating my own survival and that of other women is what helped me turn the corner on the depression that had enveloped me." To see more survivor stories, click HERE
photographed by Alessandra Petlin

What I Lost: A Chance at Motherhood

Caryn Rosenberg, Event marketer, Robbinsville, NJ "I was getting fertility treatments, so I figured I should get a mammogram before I became pregnant. They found a tumor in my right breast. Instead of going through a pregnancy, I went through cancer treatment. After chemo and radiation, I might have gotten pregnant with in vitro, but I tested positive for [the genetic mutation] BRCA1 so I had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. My husband and I looked into international adoption, but many countries won’t consider you if you’ve had cancer. By that point, I didn’t think it was fair to have a child, because of my risk of recurrence. That was a tough decision. I had to put my dream of becoming a mother away for another life. Just this summer, I found out my cancer has recurred in my lymph nodes and lungs. Thank god I didn’t bring a child into this world-or even adopt one-given that I’d be going through all of this. Whatever child’s soul that was supposed to be with me is, I hope, with another set of parents who are giving him or her that love." For a 2009 update from Caryn, click HERE

What I Found: A Business Opportunity

Linda Remeschatis, president, Wisconsinmade.com, Verona, WI At the time of my diagnosis, I was working as an Assistant District Attorney prosecuting criminal cases. It was a real wake up call. Once I got past the denial, shock, fear, fight for my life, operation and treatment, I needed to get some control back and make sure this did not happen again. I wanted to change the stress level I was working under. My husband and I both believed if I reduced the stress in my life, then my immune system would be stronger and less prone to illness. I knew in my heart I had to leave, but it was a good paying job, and it was fun and exciting work. I tried to reduce the stress by working part-time in an attorney job-share position, but after a short time it was clear that the stress wasn’t going away. At the time, my husband and I had been meeting with local artisans, and their talent and enthusiasm gave me the idea to start a business that supported their work. So in the fall of 1999, I took the plunge and quit my job. I launched Wisconsinmade.com, an Internet specialty food and gift store that sells local products made by the women who inspired me. Click here to read about Linda’s life today.
Linda Remeschatis, president, Wisconsinmade.com

What I Found: A New Body

Ellie Weis, Dubuque, Iowa After being a single mom for 15 years of two young boys, I met a wonderful man. We were married after being engaged for two years when he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia- he was gone from my life after enduring a bone marrow transplant in a mere six months. I was devastated at the loss of my husband and trying to pick up the pieces of my life. About a year later at a friend’s wedding, I met Cal. We had an instant connection and fell in love instantly. We knew that we could never be apart.

 

It was the December of 2005 , that I found a lump in my breast. I was anxious because my mother had breast cancer and I knew I was at high risk. I made an appointment with my gynecologist and he, too, was concerned. A mammogram turned into an immediate ultra-sound and I was then referred to a surgeon. I was scheduled for a biopsy the next day. Dr. Ott took a golf ball piece out of my breast to check for cancer. After surgery, he tried to upbeat and as it was two days before Christmas. He told me to go home and enjoy the holidays and he would see me in a few days.

 

On Christmas Day, Cal surprised me with a gorgeous engagement ring and in front of my entire family, asked me to marry him. I was shocked, but ecstatic! We had only know each other for 8 months but he was sure I was the one he wanted to spend his life with. I said yes! But I remember standing the shower that evening with my diamond sparkling as the water came down sobbing because I felt in my heart the diagnosis would not be good news.

 

Two days later, I went in for my follow-up appointment. My doctor had me sit down with his nurse and the x-rays and pathology reports. He told me I had a 5.3 cm malignant tumor in my left breast and I would need a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. I was crushed. I was 45 years old with two teenage boys, a brand-new fiance and a life I loved so much. I called Cal and he came to the office to comfort me and to discuss our options. A lumpectomy was out of the question because of the size of the tumor and the unclear margins. I was terrified and so sad. I thought my second chance for happiness was over.

 

Part of me just wanted to stay in denial rather than face my uncertain future. Thank God for Cal, my family and friends for their love and support during this time.It turned out I had Stage 3A Lobular cancer with minimal lymph node involvement. I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. This would be my first attempt to look to the future with a ‘whole body’. I just wanted to look like a woman, (albeit with strange looking, patchwork breasts) for Cal. He always told he loved me, not my breasts, but I thought it would make me feel more normal. Through it all he has been my rock. His faith in me was unwavering. He never let me lose faith in myself. Times that I just wanted to curl up and never get up again and give in to the self-pity and fear, he pushed me to keep going. Without him, I doubt I would have had the strength to endure my treatment plan. With him, my boys, our families and wonderful friends I somehow made it through it all.

 

Fast forward three years. I had survived six months of grueling chemotherapy, 34 radiation treatments, 10 surgeries, including a total hysterectomy last fall. I decided it was time to be done with being sick and I wanted to get my body back to being healthy and in the best shape ever! I have a 50th birthday coming up and I want to be strong and fit so hopefully I can have many more. I don’t dread turning 50. I’m just thrilled to still be here to celebrate it. At the beginning of this year, Cal and I joined The GYM, a fitness center in Dubuque, Iowa. Cal had gone with my son Alex as a guest and was very impressed with the place and wanted me to join too so we could go together. We have been working out religiously ever since. I have been working out with one of the personal trainers, Tony Summer. I work out 5-7 times a week, usually for an hour and a half a day. On days I can’t get there, I walked outside and lift weights at home. My poor out-of-shape body had been through it all, but after the initial shock and pain and exhaustion ended I saw my energy levels soar and my stamina improve every time I work out. I spend the majority of my time on the elliptical and treadmill machines doing cardio work-outs. With the help of Tony, I have incorporated weight and strength training. He even read a book on fitness for breast cancer survivors to better understand my challenges and concerns. The weight started coming off and I am seeing amazing results. I have learned how to baby my back and shoulder which have been damaged by the radiation and multiple surgeries. Both my oncologist and my surgeon told me that the more vigorously I exercise, the better, for my overall health and my risk of recurrence.

 

I feel that when I joined the GYM and started to work out, my focus changed from being sick and worrying that I would die young, to loving my body and taking care of it so I can live a happy, healthy, strong life. For me it is not only about losing 25 pounds and toning up – it is a commitment to Cal, my boys, our families and mostly to myself to being healthy and alive! I used to cringe when people called me a survivor, because I was afraid it would jinx me somehow. But now, I’m proud of it because I didn’t let cancer crush my spirit or my body. I am a survivor! It’s been almost six months now and my conviction and commitment is unwavering. I am not doing this for vanity. My real focus is to be healthy and strong because I want to show other breast cancer patients, there is life after cancer and it is wonderful. The best is yet to be. I have to go now and put on my running shoes and head out the The GYM. I thank God everyday for giving me the opportunity to do this.

 

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First Published Tue, 2009-09-22 14:59

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http://www.more.com/health/breast-cancer/what-breast-cancer-survival-looks