You’ve Got Breast Cancer – Survival Tips

You've Got Breast Cancer - Survival Tips | Sedruola Maruska

Before we get into my breast cancer and tips, I’ve got to give you some background as to how life was going before diagnosis.

October 2017

My gynecological wellness appointments are usually around my birthday. I went in and saw my amazing nurse practitioner, Linda, as always. Because my breasts have always been a bit “busy” we’ve been very vigilant in dealing with anything that comes up. When she said something didn’t feel right and that I should go see a breast surgeon, I didn’t argue. She gave me the number, promised to call ahead and I promised to call.

It took me a few weeks to call the surgeon, Fall is a busy time of year for us. School started, programs were needing signing up for and I lost a friend to cancer. When I finally did call she asked that I get a fresh set of scans (mammogram, ultrasound) and we’d meet a few days later.

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December 2017 – Breast Cancer

On Monday, December 4th I went in to get new scans. I met with the surgeon on Wednesday, December 6th. The scans were up on her screen as we spoke in the exam room. We both looked at the scans and agreed that we didn’t see anything unusual. However, when looking at my real life breasts, they clearly no longer looked like twins, let alone sisters. “I’d like to do a punch biopsy this morning if that’s okay with you” she said. Sure, I was already there and late for work so why not. She did the punch biopsy and that was that.

On December 7th I went to the Massachusetts Conference for Women, made new friends and felt ready to take on the world. It was an empowering day and the thought of having just had a biopsy never entered my mind.

On December 8th I went into the breast center to have a previously scheduled biopsy. That biopsy didn’t allow me to swiftly forget it’s presence. For two days I had pain. On the third day we went to a holiday party and again, I didn’t give much thought to my biopsies. I’d had enough biopsies in my life that they were almost routine. Remember, I’ve always had “busy breasts”.

On December 13th my husband accompanied me to the doctor’s office to get the results of both biopsies. “You have Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, Breast Cancer.” That’s what the doctor told me once we were done greeting and introducing. Those are the only words I clearly remember from that visit.

You've Got Breast Cancer - Survival Tips | Sedruola Maruska

Processing. . .

Although I suspected, I didn’t actively expect that a diagnosis of breast cancer would come my way. I imagine it’s the same with any unexpected diagnosis. Time slows down while your mind starts racing faster than ever and you can’t keep up. What does it mean? Am I going to die? Has it spread? I need to tell my parents! Will it damage them? Who will take care of my children? My children need their mom! How long have I had this? What do I do now?

By the time I was able to catch a few things said in the meeting they were positive in the whole realm of having cancer. My cancer is non-aggressive, growing at a rate of 10%, it’s estrogen & progesterone receptive and after spending Dec. 14th having a PET, CAT & MRI’s done we found it hadn’t spread to other organs.

Let me back up to diagnosis day again. After hearing the news, my surgeon’s nurse let me know I was scheduled for all my scans the following day. She also informed me that I needed to go get blood tests done right away. I left the office, sat on a bench in the hall and cried. The tears spilled for all the unanswered questions that ran through my head in the office as I spoke them out loud to my husband. For the first time in my life, I stood face-to-face with my mortality and I wasn’t ready for how it felt, so I cried.

Going Through

As I made my way to the lab to have my blood drawn I called my sister. She’s always the first person I call whenever something huge happens. As I told her about my breast cancer it felt as if I were talking about someone else. It didn’t feel like my story, even as we had to cut our conversation short so I could get blood drawn. I’m surprised at how calm I felt in telling her. I’m also surprised that only about an hour after being diagnosed I said “I don’t think this came to kill me, I think it came to teach me something I need to learn. I need to be open to the lessons.”

The next thing I did was go to my parent’s house to tell them the news. It was hard for me to tell them that their daughter had breast cancer. I felt as if I was doing something horrible to them. I cried while I told them about the meeting. They never broke down. They were stronger than I was at that moment. They’ve always been strong. They assured me this diagnosis could be beat. They gave me strength.

I don’t remember if I slept that night. I know we didn’t tell our kids (6 & 11) that day. We wanted to have as much information as possible so we could answer any questions they came up with. I woke and got myself ready to spend the day at the hospital doing scans. In-between I called vital people to let them know early on. Which brings me to tips for handling the days following diagnosis.

Tips For Sanity

  1. Breathe – It may sound simple, but consciously breathing will do wonders to calm your whole body. Take calculated and deliberate long, deep breaths so you can clear your thoughts. Do this as often as you need. You’re going to get more news, and have to deal with things changing quickly so practice breathing.
  2. Cry – It’s cleansing and necessary. If you feel the need to cry, cry. Don’t let anyone shush you or tell you not to cry. You’re going through something they will never understand (unless they go through it too) so cry when you need to. Just make sure to cry and move on. Do not cry and wallow. You have to feel and emote, then breathe and push forward.
  3. Ask questions – It’s your life, your body, your treatment and your choice. Ask as many questions as you want and need to ask. Listen, take notes and ask more questions. Feeling comfortable with the decisions you make is important. This is a very personal journey so ask away.
  4. Get a Doctor you Like & Trust – I liked my surgeon the day I met her (thankfully) because she was very clear, she wrote things down, she spoke in human speak and answered all my questions clearly. I appreciate that she never let me feel that I was in the dark. Make sure your oncologist, surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiologist etc. are all to your liking. You do not have to just accept whomever comes. When my husband and I met my oncologist for the first time we liked him too. We later found out he was good friends with one of our good friends, that was icing on the cake. Feel comfortable with your doctors. There will  be many on the journey.
  5. Allow Others to Help – This is HUGE! Once your life goes into overdrive and there are doctor’s appointments, scan appointments, sick days etc. you’re going to need a community  of people to help with everyday tasks as simple as cleaning your kitchen counters. Be open to offered help. Let the love flow. Others want to help, and you’re going to need the help so put your pride aside and allow the love and kindness to flow you’ll find your true tribe here.
  6. Be Selfish – I know how this sounds, but you’ll thank me. It’s about you right now. You can sill be the compassionate, caring, loving and giving person you’ve always been, but less. Your body, no matter how you choose to fight your fight, is going to be doing hard work. It’s going to need you to give it the food, rest and support necessary to fight. I know it’s going to be tough, I’m still in the throws of it, but it’s essential. Take care of yourself so you can be around to take care of others again.
  7. Make Yourself Heard – What you want as it pertains to your treatment and care is important. Don’t let anyone shut down your thoughts or feelings. Be open to hearing other points of view, but at the end of the day, you must be comfortable so make yourself heard.
  8. You’re Still You– The minute after you’re diagnosed, you’re still the same person you were the minute before diagnosis. Remember that. A diagnosis doesn’t change who you are it just puts you on a new path. You’re going to have the need and desire to examine yourself, do it kindly. Remember, you were an awesome being before the words came out of your doctor’s mouth so you’re still that same awesome person. If anything, you’re going to be even more awesome because you’ll be stronger from the fight. Be kind to yourself.
  9. Ignore The Negative – People will say a hundred different things that will seem offensive, insensitive and insulting, ignore them. When we don’t know what to say sometimes we say the wrong things. We don’t learn that just saying nothing is sometimes the best policy. You’ll hear opinions on what you choose to do regarding your treatments, how you brought this on with your diet, how you should get closer to God to heal, etc. Remember to take it all with a huge grain of salt and focus on what you need, what feels right for you and how you want to proceed. They don’t know or understand because if they did, they wouldn’t be hurtful. This experience will shake your tree and show you who the real troopers are in your tribe. Love them hard!

Conclusion

Any hefty diagnosis is usually blindsiding. I hope sharing of bit of my story and some tips will help you navigate the muddy waters. Do you have additional tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments. As you know, once diagnosed things can feel confusing and overwhelming. Sharing vital “sanity” tips is kind and helpful!



Working through Chemo – A Survival Guide

Working Through Chemo | Sedruola Maruska

I still think it’s funny that I get strange looks when I tell people I’m working through chemo. Thing is, working through chemo is not unusual, crazy or impossible. It’s just not easy.

When my diagnosis came, stopping work was not the first thing that came to mind. After getting through the initial shock of having cancer, my first thoughts turned to my children, my family and keeping the status quo as much as possible.

Working Through Chemo | Sedruola Maruska

Reasons Why I Work

Nothing turns your world around as much as a major health diagnosis. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, because there are major life events that really rock your existence. What I’m saying is a major health crisis is right there among the top choices. Finding out you’re sick, when you not only thought you were fine, but you feel fine is blindsiding. You’re not ready. We weren’t ready.

I knew I wasn’t going in to work on the day I was diagnosed. Then the day after I had a bunch of scans so I had to take that day off too. However, it never occurred to me to just call in my short term disability and stop working. I was fine. Looking back, here are a few reasons why I chose to working through chemo over other options:

  • Structure – I have an eleven year old son and a six year old daughter. I want them to have normal days with normal worries and a structured schedule. To me, stopping work would make is seem that things were off kilter. Don’t misunderstand, my kids are well aware of what’s happening. I’ve talked to each of them separately and they both do worry that “mommy’s going to get sicker”. Even in the midst of keeping a stable structure they see my struggle and they worry. But how much more traumatic would it be if I didn’t do any of the things they’re used to me doing?
  • Financial Stability – When you wake up one day and have 40% of your income stripped without any prior notice you’re going to feel the burn. That’s what would’ve happened if I’d gone straight to STD. Working as much as I can gives us the opportunity to plan ahead emotionally and financially for the time when I will definitely need to be home to recover from surgery. Financially, we need time to strip the excess, tighten our spending and prep for some lean times.
  • Emotional Stability – If I stopped working as soon as I began chemo, I would be an emotional wreck. Working gives me structure and stability. Working gives me more to think about than my side-effects or the next chemo treatment. If I didn’t work I think I’d find a way to fill my days, but it might drive my family and me crazy in the end. Yes, I’m exhausted when I get home from work, but I’m thankful that I was able to feel and be useful for the day.
  • Distraction – Working distracts me from the fact that I am actively fighting and surviving cancer. It also distracts me from worrying about all that “may” happen after treatment and surgery. Staying at work keeps me grounded in the present so I’m not off making up multiple scenarios to induce fear into my current situation. When I’m working and taking care of the normal day-to-day activities and needs, I don’t have time to imagine the worst. Thankfully.

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Survival Guide

We’re all different and diagnosis along with decisions you make afterward will depend on your particular situation. I know there are protocols that do not allow you to work while on chemo because of the timing and aggressive nature of the treatment. Please make sure that all decisions are what’s best for you and your family.

However, if like me, you’re able and you’ve opted to keep working through chemo here are a few tips to help you survive the daily grind:

  1. Take life one day at a time. Assess each day individually and work accordingly. Do not take in a larger picture than that day.
  2. Notify all pertinent parties at work what’s going on with your health. It may not be comfortable and you may want to keep it completely to yourself, however, if there’s any chance that your company is willing to accommodate your needs, you owe it to yourself to find out. Don’t suffer in silence.
  3. If you have a “work from home” option, use it! Always assess your day (see #1) but I know there are days when I can’t get to the office, but I can pull up my laptop onto my bed and work. Always keep it as an option if it’s available to you.
  4. On the days when it’s just too much and you don’t feel you can work, take the day off. I know it’s a financial thing, but it’s also a “get healthy” thing. Your body is working hard when you’re going through treatments so any support you give is important. When your body says rest, please take time to rest, your body knows.
  5. Pack your snacks and lunches so you can support yourself nutritionally. I’m not going to give you any nutritional advice right now (I’m sure you’ve gotten your fair share already). If you’re working on improving your diet to help support your immune system, the easiest way is to pack your own food every day. I’m aware of the fatigue that comes with chemo and you may lack the energy to be fancy, but you don’t have to be fancy. My husband makes a huge salad each week that goes in the refrigerator so I usually just grab some pieces of fruit and maybe a bit of the salad for lunch. Believe me, I’m the last person to pile anything extra on your plate, but stocking your fridge with easy to grab foods is the best thing you can do.
  6. Protect your health while you’re in the workplace by making sure you have masks (if needed), tissue, lotion & sanitizer easily accessible. Like it or not people go to work sick all the time. While going through chemo your immune system isn’t ready to do major battle with even the most minor germs. If you’ve got sick co-workers don’t worry about wearing your mask at work. They shouldn’t be at work if they’re sick and you need to protect yourself. Wash your hands often and use both the sanitizer and lotion regularly (lotion, cause chemo dries out your hands something awful). Finally, avoid touching communal hard surfaces with your bare hands (handles, doors, tables, etc)Being a germ-phob at this time in your life is not only smart, but totally encouraged.
  7.  Gauge your energy level. Not everything needs to be done right away or even today. Make sure not to wear yourself out too much. Making sure you can get enough rest overnight to make it back in the morning is important. If you over exert yourself after a few days you’ll pay the price and it won’t be helpful to your or your job (see #1). Pace yourself and you should be able to keep working throughout chemo.
  8. Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated and your energy level up. Staying hydrated helps your body do the work it needs to do during the day. Plus, those ventilation systems are extra drying. Chemo dries out your skin so drink as much water as you can muster everyday (even when you’re not working).
  9. When in doubt . . . see #1

If you’ve got cancer Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is a good book to have, hold and reference!

Your Turn

It’s your turn. What are some tips you’d like to share with your fellow sister warriors about working through chemo? This is my first experience with cancer and I know I may have missed a few tips. Share your best tip in the comments below. It’s about helping each other thrive and survive through our experiences with cancer.