What October Means To Me
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated around the country every October. The occasion brings attention to breast cancer, but many people affected have mixed feelings about it.
There’s no doubt this awareness campaign means different things to different people. For some, it’s about ensuring that people understand the realities of breast cancer, particularly metastatic disease. For others, it’s advocacy and an effort to educate people about breast cancer.
Three women share their experiences of Breast Cancer Awareness Month: what they enjoy about it, what frustrates them, and how others have encouraged them through their journeys.
To me, the month of October is the 10th month of the year, my wedding anniversary, Cancer Awareness Month for many, but Breast Cancer Awareness especially for me. 17 years ago, I was diagnosed with stage 3 Breast Cancer. I fought it, went through many ups and downs, and to this day, still live with the many memories that came with the diagnosis.
My feelings not only recollect my experience, but for so many others I’ve known that have been through this journey as well. It’s a club that no one wants to belong to; have no choice but to be a part of. It’s a one-day-at-time living experience, to say the least. You don’t take anything for granted, but you do get up each day for the challenges that you will face and conquer each step!
To share a bit about my journey seventeen years ago, I saw my right breast with a deformity. From there, the journey was a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, surgeries, treatments, and everything in between. I had 3 lumps surrounding my right nipple that was not detected on a mammogram but were detected on a sonogram that looked like a Mickey Mouse silhouette. From that moment, a biopsy confirmed stage 3 Breast Cancer hormone positive.
I remember after the surgery to remove my breast, the doctor came in to check on me. After pulling my gown down to take a look….I wasn’t whole! I had a staple zipper across my right side and tubes coming out of my chest. So, this is how it is, I asked myself. My husband tried so hard to stay neutral, but I caught the look on his face and he wanted to cry for me. He became my caregiver 100% of the way! Said he loved me no matter what I looked like, and it was ME he loved.
I went through chemo for 6 months as a precaution, the cancer had not spread. Every other week was my fight. I was pretty good at the chemo; much better than most I met along the way during this time of treatment. Losing my hair was so devastating! It was after 2 weeks of treatment; I was standing in the restroom at work and was changing clothes. As I pulled my shirt over my head, a clump of hair fell out. I walked over to the toilet and brushed my hair….more and more hair fell. I began to cry and said to myself “Here it comes,” I called my husband and cried. He told me to get through the day at work and he’d charge up the trimmers and he’d help me that evening. I cried and cried as he shaved my head and so it continued.
The biggest challenge for me was trying to overcome the fear of the unknown. Having to adjust to the mental and physical changes. Looking different was a challenge, every day in the mirror was a reminder.
I went through reconstruction in 2004, but it was never the same or symmetrical. Bras never fit properly, when wearing tops, they had to be bigger in size and have a print to hide the uneven sizing. I would not be able to buy nice tops with solid or one-sided patterns. After a few months, I started wearing an insert in my bra to even up my breasts.
Eventually, life began to level out. It was a physical setback, but I was to live with the inconvenience. I focused on the mere fact of beating cancer, and I was going to be okay! I could never change what had happened, but I could adapt and conquer!
There are no magic words, no right advice to give to someone going through cancer….but to live each day! Take all challenges one step at a time. Don’t try to fix the whole journey when you start, but only achieve one thing at a time. I remember when I was first diagnosed, I became overwhelmed with the whole process but as I started the journey I saw the light at the end of the fight! During that time, as I got through that “one more step down” attitude, I could look back and see where I had been to where I needed to go. By the time I was near the end of that tunnel, I had conquered and won! So, keep taking that one step, get over that hurdle, hen look back and see how you made it! Keep your chin up and accept the challenge!
This will be the first year I have looked at October differently and with many mixed emotions. October is when my OBGYN told me I had a lump on my breast.
On January 8, 2021, I got the news I had stage 2 invasive micropapillary breast cancer. I have no history of cancer in my family, I hardly ever get sick, and I am a young 32 years old. I try to stay as healthy as I can so it was a complete shock not only for me but for my family. By the time I saw my oncologist in February I went from stage 2 to stage 3 cancer. I blamed myself for not getting looked at sooner and then my blame went to anger that my gynecologist never did my ultrasound and I could have avoided chemotherapy and surgery.
In July I saw a plastic surgeon specialist, Dr. Gassman, at PRMA and we decided to do a unilateral mastectomy of the right breast followed by immediate reconstruction of the breast. August 25, 2021, was my surgery date, and now I am at home recovering. I still need revisions but my future is hopeful once again!
One of the biggest challenges during my journey was accepting help. My husband and I moved from El Paso to Del Rio, Texas and I was alone raising my two kids. Chemo had weakened me so cooking and caring for my kids was difficult. I had to tell myself constantly that accepting help was good for me and I wasn’t a failure.
My advice to anyone who has to care for someone with a cancer diagnosis is to be there for them when they are sick, angry, sad, and overwhelmed. Even if you have to hear it over and over again, having an outlet to express your concerns helps. If you can’t be there physically send a card or cook a meal for them. When we are mad yell with us. Sometimes the simplest thing you can do is show that they aren’t alone. Always remember that the journey they are about to take is not an easy one but it could be with family and friends by their side.
Now I can view October as a victory. I feel a sense of pride now a year later that I was able to make it this far and have my health back. I’m not out of the woods yet but October will always represent the beginning and the end to my finish line!
I am so passionate about women listening to their bodies, and having annual checkups. Early detection is key and the month of October is a reminder that everyone needs to get a mammogram.
My journey began in October 2017 when I was diagnosed with DCIS stage 0. My doctor kindly told us all of our options and I was not ready to hear the word “mastectomy,” so I went through a lumpectomy in December 2017. I had a second lumpectomy in January 2018 which appeared to get all of the cancer out. As a precaution, I was advised to have radiation and since my cancer was detected early, I was a candidate for brachytherapy, accelerated partial breast irradiation.
A couple of weeks later I had a follow-up appointment where I learned I was going to have to take a medication for the next five years. However, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because I had just stopped taking a medication, estrogen, that had a negative effect on my body. Soon after this, I was referred to Dr. Garza at PRMA Plastic Surgery. After what felt like a long journey, I finally felt at peace. We were in control and in good hands.
Although Dr. Garza was very young, he was kind, professional, and very knowledgeable. I completely trusted him and his team. Since then I have been able to help many women travel to PRMA from all over the world.
My husband was and is my rock. He asked all of the questions, some I would have never thought of.
As we can see from each of these lovely women’s stories, the month of October has a very different meaning to everyone who has been affected by breast cancer. We would love to hear what Breast Cancer Awareness Month means to you in the comments below.
It is a great honor to be part of a team with such a rich tradition of excellent patient care, shares Dr. Andrew Gassman, the newest surgeon to join the PRMA team. Years and years of procedure fine tuning with individualized care means our patients truly benefit from both efficiency and experience.
My cancer was also found in October. It would have been diagnosed in October as well, if we hadn’t continued with our scuba diving trip and I had gone for my follow-up mammogram and sonogram a week and a half earlier. No chemo, nor radiation, but, double mastectomy With DIEP and I will never look at October the same way.
Katherine, thank you for being so open and sharing a part of your journey with us!