In April of this year I told my family and close friends I was done talking about cancer.
Well, that’s not completely true, yet it’s pretty darn close.
Following two years and two separate battles with Stage 3 breast cancer, I had come to a stark realization which a friend had shared with me following completion of her treatment years before.
Cancer did not define. Quite the contrary. It was a moment in my life of something I had to journey through. Good, bad or indifferent, just as some may suffer a knee injury that requires surgery and rehabilitation, life then goes on and that’s exactly how I felt weeks following my final round of chemotherapy.
When I made this declaration to my family, I also shared I knew I would continue to use this forum (my career) to share at certain times, with hopes of helping another. Equally, I’m also up for giving my number out to someone living through it or talking to a family member who’s at a loss on certain things.
Cancer is not an easy deal and I am an open book, always at the ready to be of some help if at all possible.
So here we are, the month of October and I’m talking about cancer. Go figure.
This just happens to also be Breast Cancer Awareness Month and since I am “surviving” my given breast cancer, it just seemed appropriate to share a few things.
The first thing I want to encourage each and all of you to not just check out, but share is a story I wrote for the October/November 209 Magazine regarding the DigniCap, a unique scalp cooling system which can be a game changer for those with solid tumor cancers – not just breast cancer. This invention helped me maintain all of my hair this last go round of chemo, which was super important. Keeping one’s hair is about so much more than vanity, it’s about maintaining some privacy as you battle the unthinkable and in my case it helped me continue to feel “healthy” to some degree, even if I was battling a cancer recurrence.
This invention needs to be talked about more, as well as applied for more by patients countrywide.
I did the bald thing in 2020 and if being honest, treatment was hard, but I was fortunate to be able to maintain some normalcy by way of exercise and diet. When my hair fell out 10 days after my first treatment, however, there was no escaping looks of wonder when out in public. Bye bye, normalcy.
There are also a few myths I’d like to debunk in regards to breast cancer. Important here to note I am not a trained medical professional in any regard. I am, however, what I consider a professional patient at this point in the game, so I do have a few opinions that some might find helpful.
The first message I really want everyone to hear is: self-check, self-check, self-check. As a breast cancer survivor, I cannot over state how important this is. Yes, get your annual mammogram, absolutely. But here’s the thing and I want you all to think this through; not just the women either. If, say for instance you have your mammogram every two years or annually, there is nothing that will guarantee cancer can come up in between. Even more critical (and what I experienced) the inconvenient location of my tumor would not have been detected in a standard mammogram. Yes, I was actually told that by the tech in my diagnostic mammogram as she marveled over how it was found. I found it. Actually, it was so hard that it woke me when I rolled onto my side while sleeping.
The crazy thing about cancer is depending on the type (mine happens to be “Triple Negative Breast Cancer”), this can determine how quickly a mass may grow. Yes, in addition to Stages, there are also varying types of breast cancer. So, in other words, just like the tatas, breast cancer is not one size fits all. With that being said, if we’re not self-checking in between mammograms it may give the mass time to grow versus catching it early.
The final thing I want to break down for everyone is the genetic connection, aka, “does it run in your family?” There’s a funny thing about that thought process, which can create false reassurance, in my opinion, and here’s why. When it comes to any ailment or disease, someone must be the first in order for there to be “family history.” In other words, just because you don’t have a history of cancer in your family, does not mean it can’t happen.
At the end of the day and through all of this, my message is simple: know your body, don’t be afraid to check it and care for it twice as well as you do your car or handbag or children.
That’s a funny thing, right? We often say we don’t have time because as women we’re caring for so many others. Trust me, when cancer crosses your path there is a shift and realization like you never knew before. Try and prevent that from happening and put yourself first, even if for this one small thing.
So while yes, cancer did not define who I am, it did change me in some ways and better me in others. I’m grateful to be here and be able to share a little bit of the insight which may help someone. I’m blessed to have had support and love through it all; not all are so lucky and I’m grateful for that luck as well.
At the end of it all, we just never know what life is going to throw our way. What I know for sure is together we can do big things and as long as my byline appears in these pages there is one person that is here to listen or help if needed … me.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.