A little about my journey:
I like to look at my diagnosis as a little more of a positive one. Not many people feel that being diagnosed with Cancer is positive, but for me the early detection was certainly a saving grace for my prognosis and ability to overcome the disease.
It was in Feb 2016 that I was diagnosed as having breast cancer. But my journey began long before the diagnosis came.
My family history had a strong presence of different cancers (more of which are breast) that prompted me to seek preventative measures. I wanted to get ahead of this disease, so I sought out the genetics dept and started the process of genetic testing, this came up negative. As time went on, more women in our family became diagnosed with Breast Cancer, which lead to more testing which still remained negative. Ultimately, the department agreed that we were of high risk and wrote testing recommendations for our family.
In Feb 2016, I began the recommended testing with my first MRI, and there it was. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 1! Was I shocked----No! Was I upset---No! After all, this is what I went looking for! I have found it before it had the chance to destroy me. That was my intention in all of this effort.
I already had my mind made up years ago as to what I would do when I was faced with the diagnosis. For me, there was never any question as to what my plan would be. My research, personal knowledge and health care background helped me make my decision. In April 2016 I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction in one surgery. For me it was about what I could live with in the future to put this whole thing in my rear view mirror. I couldn’t mentally take on the worry, the what if’s and the anticipation of whether or not it will return.
For some women, this is ok. For me, it was not!
My sisters and I often talked about what we would do if ever we were faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, and we all agreed that the decision for us should be the double mastectomy route. After I had my surgery one of them said to me “I know we often talked about what to do, but we were never really sure until we were faced with it if we would actually go through with it” she went on to say “you were probably the only one who was strong enough to stick to the plan”.
Now… those who know me well, know how thick headed I am and how there is no changing my mind once its made up and decided. This was no exception.
That’s a trait that I sometimes feel is a double edged sword. But, in any case, I am glad that if this is actually the truth, that because I was the first one to be diagnosed- I lead the way. As a result, I am glad that it was me, because if I am actually the strong one, I had the ability to show them there is nothing to fear, it can be done and it can be beaten.
Don’t get me wrong, this was no walk in the park. The road is not without its bumps. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and for me, it wasn’t the diagnosis, it wasn’t the surgery, it wasn’t the chemo.
The hardest day of my life was the day that I had to sit and tell my two kids what was about to happen. If I could have completed this whole journey without them knowing or having to worry, I would have. Even though they are older, the conversation wasn’t any easier. We chose not to tell them until we had all the testing, Dr visits were complete and we had answers to their questions, with our plan in place. Motherly instinct to protect her youngins! They are my life, my reason for fighting this disease and the driver of my decision making, I wanna grow old and see them marry, have kids and succeed in life.
Everything fell into place, surgery went well, I had the double mastectomy, reconstruction, 4 rounds of chemo and 18 rounds of Herceptin. I wasn’t sure how I would react to the chemo so I set my sights on 3 things for each day. This way, I had accountability, had a purpose and the perception of normal.
1. Get out of bed and shower
2. Ensure there was something prepared for supper
3. Complete 1 other task for the day
#1 was about appearance, Look good, feel better, #2 was about normalcy, we always have supper prepared, #3 was all about serving a purpose and a sense of accomplishment. If you complete 1 task in a day you will have accomplished something for that day, everything else was “gravy” as they say. 1 completed task will eventually lead to another completed task.
Each day I put one foot in front of the other. Taking care not to miss a step. Some days my steps were so tiny that I questioned whether or not I would ever get there, other days the steps were so large that I surprised myself. I kept taking the steps, whether they were small or large because ultimately, they put me directly on a path to having the best things happen in my life.
So, how do you choose what’s right for you?
Choosing to have reconstruction or not is a personal choice. The mastectomy, lumpectomy or how you tackle the cancer aspect is up to you and your physician, it’s medically supported dependent upon your situation. The reconstruction aspect is your own personal choice, make it that!
Don’t listen to others and their opinion on what you should choose, make this about you, because it is about you! It’s about what you are comfortable with and what you feel you can handle. This is a big decision, one not to be taken lightly.
Of course you should talk to your family, your significant other and close friends. Put your reservations and feelings out there. But your biggest influence should come from within you. You are the one who has to feel comfortable with the outcome of your decision. You are the only one who will know if you can mentally or physically handle the process.
If your partner, family and friends are truly your supporters than they will be ok with whatever you decide and whenever you decide to have reconstruction or if you choose not to have it at all. You have to be strong enough to say “this is my decision and this is what I feel is best for me”.
For me, no one questioned what I had decided, maybe they knew better not to? But, in the end of it all, it worked out to be a positive decision on my part. I am very pleased with my outcome, but there was one aspect that I didn’t like, getting out of the shower each day and looking at the scars was a constant reminder-how was I going to put this in my rear view mirror if I kept looking at the scars. So, my Dr recommended a procedure in Ontario that involved 3D nipple tattooing and scar camouflage. So, last June off I went to Ontario for step 1 and I must say I am extremely pleased and happy with the results. Again, this was for ME!
In conclusion, I am not happy that cancer happened to me. I would rather if it hadn’t happened at all. But, I am glad to say that it has bought many people into my life that I would never have encountered.
It has bought light to the fact that I was living to work and working to live! We were a family that were going through the motions of hockey, voice lessons, guitar lessons, school and work. In sad reality, this is the case for most. But, there is much more. Having cancer in our family life has opened our eyes to how quickly things can change and how going through the motions isn’t enough to live a fulfilling life, it’s not what matters. Enjoying life, enjoying each other, and having comfort in knowing you are the best person, mother and wife you can be is success!
A Note from Kathy Pretty, WINK VP
I had learned of the Amazon Women on a recent trip to Greece and Turkey.
In ancient times, strong and brave Amazon Warriors were a force to be reckoned with. So committed to their fight that they burnt off their right breast in order to better use a bow and arrow and throw a spear.
Our Amazon Warrior, Cathy, had her breasts removed in order for her to live. She is fearless in her fight against breast cancer.
A letter from Kristen, Cathy’s Daughter
As I sit here and write this, I always wondered in the back of my mind when I'd have this little piece of life to tell. Not an "if" but "when". I think we all had that idea. When would it be our family's turn? I don't think any of us were surprised the day my mom sat us down and told us the news. After all, it wasn’t a topic in our household that was not talked about. It seemed as though the females of our family were cursed with this awful disease.
Does that mean I was prepared for it? No. It still didn't make it any easier when I heard the dreaded "C" word come out of my mother's mouth. It didn't make it hurt any less, it didn't make it any less scary. And to say my mind didn't go to the world of "unknowns" would be a lie.
To say my mom's journey was inspiring to watch would be an understatement. I always knew my Mother was a tough lady. It was no secret to anyone that met her or came in her path. And, I don't quite think cancer knew who it was messing with when it came through our doors.
If anyone handled cancer with "grace" it was her. She knew what she wanted from the start, she knew her treatment plan and no one ever questioned it. I feel cancer hit us for a reason, my mother has been a huge advocate for breast cancer ever since. What she has done with this "bump" in the road has made us so proud. Helping others with the same life experience, raising money, talking about her journey to inspire and help others along the way.
To think this was meant to happen feels wrong. But it's not, we all have a whole new appreciation for life now. It opens your eyes in a whole other way and it's brought us closer and stronger as a family.
It's a scary thing to think about, but my mother paved the way for the rest of us. If ever it faces me, I only hope to fight half as hard as she did.
"You never know how truly strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have."