My name is Katharina and I was diagnosed with stage 2a breast cancer in March 2020 just when the pandemic was starting. I was 25 years old at the time. I had to go through testing and treatment alone without any support person by my side.
Do you ever think that you have another tumour? I don’t mean a recurrence with a breast cancer lesion, but a secondary cancer. And if you do, do these dark thoughts catch you by surprise in random pockets of moments, like when you feel an ache in your shoulder, or a knotted muscle along your spine, or when you take a deep breath and experience a sharpness of pain before you fully exhale? When this happens, do you immediately think, “fuck, I have a tumour,” and then have to talk yourself down from this mental, paranoid ledge? I do.
I lost my cat, Trixie-Belle. She died from a squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive type of mouth cancer, one week before the winter holidays last year. There was nothing my veterinarian could do to save her. She simply woke up one morning with a spot on the roof of her mouth and then, after performing every possible examination and a round of drugs, she was gone.
Tell me if any of this rings a bell…
The Beginning: Get up, find a lump, feel confused, panic inside, see the doctor, see a specialist, get a mammogram, see an oncologist, have an ultrasound, get an MRI, biopsy the lump, do it all over again and again and again, receive a breast cancer diagnosis, feel in shock, go home, make a plan, fall into bed and don’t fall asleep.
Chances are, if you have breast cancer you’ve heard about Tamoxifen. I remember the first time my oncologist talked to me about the chemo-infused hormonal-therapy drug. It was during my weekly check-up when I was still having daily radiation. He explained that because the cancer cells found in my right breast were 95 per cent estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, my body’s natural hormones could attach to the cancer cells and help them grow. Obviously I didn’t want that, so I said yes to the drug without even hesitating.
Last year, we wrote a blogpost on the importance of advocating for yourself as someone with breast cancer. We also shared tips on how to go about becoming an advocate and being a part of your healthcare team. While the information shared is valuable and reflects situations you may find yourself in, we believe that the best way to learn is to hear from people who have been there already.
I’ve started counting the number of times I emotionally beat myself up every day. Each mean, cruel and hurtful criticism said silently to myself in the privacy of my own mind. Yesterday I hit number 22, my all-time high for the week. So far today, I’m up to seven unkind thoughts. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m.
Carla Van Wyck-MacDonald lives near Shallow Lake, Ontario with her husband and their four children, ages 9, 11, 13 and 14. Carla was initially diagnosed with breast cancer two years after her mother died from the same disease.
I am from a long line of breast cancer survivors, so when I was diagnosed in 2008 with breast cancer, I was not in the least surprised. I was just 50, my twin sister and I celebrated that milestone in February 2007. By December of that year, I knew something was wrong.I had a mammogram at Sunnybrook that fall, in October I believe, and received “all clear”. Both the mammogram and the vigorous breast examination at Sunnybrook failed to detect an exceedingly small tumour situated close to my left armpit and sitting deep on a ligament. It was undetectable at that time. Later that fall, I noticed a puckering in my breast when I was drying my lower body, just out of a shower at my gym. I knew instantly what it was, so I booked an appointment with my doctor at the high-risk breast screening centre at the Odette Centre.
Self-care. It’s not a phrase that even flickered across my radar when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, let alone after my surgery or during treatment. But it should have. And, no, it’s not a selfish act.