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The discussion on cancer is mostly centered around the medical implications of this deadly disease, with little emphasis on the crippling psychosocial effects of cancer treatment.
In my fight against cancer, I had my breasts and ovaries surgically removed and lost all my hair in the wake of chemotherapy. It was very difficult to reconcile myself to this new body image, but it had to be done to survive.
This personal experience has inspired me to help others going through the same ordeal to make the journey a little easier for them hopefully.
The First Sign of Cancer
I started to feel pain near the nipple of my right breast, which made me examine the area by touch. This is when I felt a hard lump on my breast, and I became very worried and scared.
Getting Diagnosed With Cancer
I called my primary care doctor immediately after detecting the lump on my breast, even though I had gone for a mammogram about 8 months prior. He decided to send me for a breast ultrasound. During the ultrasound, the doctor at the imaging center did a core biopsy. (1)
Based on the biopsy report, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer in 2008 at the age of 47.
My Reaction to the Diagnosis
When I hung down the phone, I could barely speak. I now realize that I was in shock. Even though I knew that a breast cancer diagnosis was a possibility, it was very devastating to hear that I actually had it.
Two weeks after that life-changing phone call, I underwent a double mastectomy without reconstruction.
Cancer cells were detected in the sentinel node, and the diagnosis was stage 2B. I went on to have four rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 10 years of tamoxifen and an aromatase inhibitor. (2) During this period, I also had my ovaries removed.
Road to Recovery
Coping with cancer is very personal and complex. I was extremely fortunate to have excellent medical care and a wonderful community of support from family and friends.
Even so, I often said to my husband that I felt like a bird in a cage. I felt trapped with no control over my life. This was very hard for me and my young family.
The Toughest Part of My Cancer Treatment
The biggest challenge that I faced was trying to emotionally deal with the physical fallout of cancer surgery and treatment.
- In a very short period, I became breastless and bald.
- I had skin problems, experienced weight gain, and was thrown into early menopause.
- While I had an excellent medical team, I had very little support to help me deal with the body image and self-esteem issues that remained after the treatment.
I needed and wanted practical information about coping with these physical changes and access to fashionable recovery products and lifestyle solutions. I felt very much alone.
When my treatment was over, I became determined to improve the recovery experience for women coping with all forms of cancer.
I co-founded a company called Cancer Be Glammed to educate and empower women to reclaim their lifestyles and recover with dignity, positive self-esteem, and personal style. (3)
From diagnosis through survivorship, Cancer Be Glammed provides women with easy access to relevant information, practical-yet-fashionable recovery products, helpful resources, and a dynamic community of support.
In addition, we work with hospitals, cancer centers, and oncology professionals, particularly nurses, social workers, and nurse navigators, to support their efforts to help women cope with the psychosocial challenges of cancer surgery and treatment.
From a spark of an idea, Cancer Be Glammed has now expanded into a multimedia platform consisting of a website, CBG-TV, a dedicated YouTube channel, and multiple original publications.
Our most recent one is our unique magazine-style guidebook that features cancer survivors as models. It is titled “Cancer Be Glammed: The Guide – Take Charge of your Recovery with Confidence, Self-Esteem and Style.” It can be purchased individually or bought in bulk and customized for hospitals and cancer centers to support their patients.
My Motivation to Keep Fighting
Battling cancer requires knowledge, strength, support, and patience. One of the best reasons to get up in the morning and what kept me going was my husband, Brian, and my two young daughters, Michelle (age 13) and Gillian (age 9).
I wanted to be well for them. I did not want their lives to be forever changed by illness, sadness, possibly death, and grief. I felt like I could endure anything as long as they did not lose me. I wanted to help them grow up.
The Key Takeaways From My Cancer Journey
Everyone is vulnerable to getting cancer or life-threatening disease. No one, no matter how healthy you are or think you are, is exempt.
Cherish your life and enhance it by doing everything you can to take good care of yourself. Self-care is a word casually tossed around these days, but it is vitally important.
Eat well, exercise, see your doctor regularly, and limit alcohol. All these things can make a positive difference in our lives, and even science attests to the same. If you find yourself facing an illness like cancer, be your own advocate. Ask questions, be well informed, and get a second opinion if you are uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!
Personal Lessons and Growth
I try to educate and motivate women coping with cancer every day through my company Cancer Be Glammed and as a patient advocate. I want them to see that they have options and solutions to feel better about themselves and to reclaim their dignity and sense of self.
As a survivor-entrepreneur, author, speaker, and patient advocate, I have the opportunity to empower and motivate patients and survivors every day, either in person or through my extensive online community.
As I tell others going through it, “Cancer is not a gift, but the people that it brings into your life are.” I am forever grateful to the doctors, nurses, technicians, support groups, friends, and strangers who came into my life when I needed them the most.
Cancer is an isolating illness, you may feel lonely, but you need to remember that you are not alone.