My 5th Surgery: Revision of My Reconstruction Surgery **WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS**

In a previous blog post, I wrote about my follow-up appointment with my surgeon on February 22nd. During that appointment, we agreed it was time to remove the lump under my left arm that has been bothering me for over a year. We scheduled my surgery, and I started to prepare for it. By prepare, I mean following the pre-op instructions that I am given, such as making sure I stop taking certain medications a few days before surgery.

My surgery was on Thursday, March 4th, at 9:00 am at the surgery center. This time I had to go to a hospital-associated clinic and get a rapid Covid test the day before surgery. I didn’t have to pay for the test, so that was a relief because I still do not have medical insurance, and I will have to pay the surgery center fee, my surgeon, and the anesthesiologist directly out of my pocket.

Just like my surgery in April 2020, my husband had to drop me off at the front door of the building. He wasn’t allowed to go up to the surgery center with me and sit with me until I went into surgery due to Covid, but he can come to see me once I am awake in post-op. Once my surgery was over, my surgeon called my husband and let him know that everything went well and that the post-op nurse would call him once I was awake.

I went through all of the pre-op steps with my nurses, such as changing my clothes, getting an EKG, checking my blood sugar, hooking up my catheter, signing paperwork, etc… My surgeon came by to take a look at the area he was removing and to mark a few spots as a guide for himself. He asked me if I had any questions; I didn’t as I am sadly getting used to this process, so he said he would see me soon and left. A few minutes later, my anesthesiologist stopped by to check on me and ask me a few questions. He grabbed a stool and sat right beside me, facing me, as he spoke with me. Little details like what he did just to talk with me is why I prefer to have my surgeries at the surgery center versus the hospital. At the surgery center, I do not doubt that I am getting the best care, one on one, which reassures me that I am being cared for by people who love what they do and want only the best for their patients.

Before I went to the OR for my surgery, I went to the restroom one last time. I know it probably sounds silly, but I always worry that I will pee during surgery accidentally, so I make sure to take care of that just in case. I have never asked anyone if it is even possible to do that, but I guess it is a superstition of mine as I have done it right before all of my now five surgeries. Anyway, when I came out of the restroom, I had two nurses waiting for me, and one of them said, “We are going to walk you straight to the operating room from here.” I laughed and said, “What, I don’t get a ride this time?” They explained that since I was already up and mobile from my bed, I may as well walk directly into the OR. It is a short distance as well, so why not walk in? I told them that I like walking into the OR better because I don’t have to perform the awkward maneuver of moving from my bed to the OR table.

This surgery was much shorter than my previous surgeries, being only about 30 minutes long. The last thing I remember is one of the anesthesiologists; I had two of them this time because one of them was shadowing, commenting on the smell of the mask he put over my mouth and nose; we agreed that it smelled like a new plastic beach ball, and then I was asleep. By the way, I have never had anyone ask me to count backward as I am falling asleep; almost all of the anesthesiologists I have had have told me to think of somewhere else I would rather be at that particular moment.

Everything went well with my surgery, and before I knew it, literally…hahaha, one of my post-op nurses was welcoming me back and asking if I wanted something to drink and what kind of crackers I wanted. When I had surgery at the hospital, they never gave me a choice; I had water and saltines, but the surgery center is different and better in so many ways, including giving me a choice of what I wanted. I sipped my water and ate a peanut butter cracker as I woke up a bit more and waited for my husband to arrive. As usual, I was nauseous, so the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. I did have the anti-nausea patch behind my ear, but it wasn’t working; it rarely works on me for some reason; I am not sure why.

I will update you about my recovery in a few days and how my follow-up appointment went with my surgeon, which is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Prepped for surgery!

Getting Back To Me

Cancer takes so much away from both patients and caregivers. A little over a month after my diagnosis, I had the first major surgery I have ever had in my life, and during that surgery, cancer took a portion of my left breast away from me. Once I started chemotherapy, little by little, the drugs and cancer began to take even more from me. Cancer took all of my hair, some of my toenails, it dried out my skin, it aged my face and body, it took my confidence, energy, health, and my overall well-being both mentally and physically.

When I heard from other cancer patients that it could take a year to two years to recover from fighting cancer, I didn’t believe them. Before cancer, I always thought that I was strong and doing reasonably well health-wise, other than having type two diabetes. I lost over 100 pounds a few years ago, and I had even discovered in October of 2018 that I was starting to enjoy running.

I am often asked if I had any signs that I had cancer before I found the first tumor during a self-exam in February 2019. Looking back, I did have symptoms, but I didn’t know it at the time. About one week before Christmas in 2018, I started a run, and five minutes in, I was out of breath and extremely fatigued. I was bothered that I couldn’t continue, but I just assumed that I was coming down with a bug or something, so I wrote it off and promised myself that I would get back to running as soon as I felt the energy to do so. When my husband and I went home to see my Dad for Christmas, I noticed that I felt even more exhausted than I had a few weeks earlier. It seemed like no matter how much sleep I got, it wasn’t enough, and the simplest task wore me out. Then a few weeks into January 2019, I woke up one day with my left shoulder blade, my shoulder, and the left side of my neck hurting. I thought that I had slept funny on that side and that it would work itself out in a few days; it didn’t stop hurting until I had my first surgery when all of the tumors were removed.

As I sit here two years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I am beyond thankful for so many things. Recently, I am most thankful for the fatigue I have been suffering from for so long, finally subsiding and helping me get back to me. I never really knew what real fatigue felt like until I had aggressive cancer and had to go through a rigorous schedule of scans, blood draws, surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments to save my life. But now, I am getting back to a regular schedule when it comes to working out, and with each workout, I feel better and better. Last night I ran 1.50 miles in 20 minutes, not bad for someone who has been through so much and hasn’t gone on a run in over 25 months! I am proud of myself and I am really enjoying working out again.

I am getting back to me, day by day….

Follow-up with My Surgeon & Another Big Milestone

Yesterday I had my six-month follow-up appointment with my surgeon. It has been six months since I received my clear mammogram and ultrasound results and ten months since my last surgery. Two years ago, I met my surgeon for the first time, and he knew just by looking at the ultrasound he was performing in his office that I had cancer. The next day he did my first biopsy, and a few days later, he diagnosed me with breast cancer. I can’t believe that it has been two years since that horrible day, but I am grateful that I have had him by my side, helping me fight this horrible disease over the past two years.

Everything looks good as far as healing from my last surgery, and I have no signs of complications. I told him about a few areas where I am having some pain when pressure is applied, like during a self-exam. He said that the pain is nothing for me to worry about; it’s very normal considering I have had multiple surgeries and radiation.

I also mentioned to him that the area under my left arm that has been painful on and off since my first reconstruction surgery back in November of 2019, is still uncomfortable. The area bulges out past the curve of my breast, making it difficult to wear a bra for an extended period of time; plus, when I am not wearing a bra, it is obvious if my shirt isn’t completely loose. I have tried lifting weights and working out when I have had the energy, but it hasn’t helped reduce the area at all. He said that I wouldn’t be able to exercise the area to reduce the size or for it to go away, and offered to cut it out if I would like him to. So, we scheduled my surgery for next Thursday, March 4th, at 9:00 am.

Do I want to go through another surgery? Not really, but the discomfort and the way the area feels and looks to me are enough to override my feelings about having a fifth surgery. Luckily this surgery will be quick like my port placement was, about 30 minutes, so my healing and recovery should be relatively easy to get through.

I will keep everyone updated as to what happens.

Dermatologist Update

I just realized that I hadn’t given an update on how things are going with my dermatology appointments in quite some time. As a reminder, after my radiation treatments were over at the end of January last year, I was left with three blue radiation tattoos that are deep in my skin and much larger than they should be, so I decided to have them removed. I found an excellent doctor in Atlanta that does laser treatments to remove tattoos, and he removes radiation tattoos for FREE for cancer patients. On February 25th, 2020, I had my first appointment with him, and I can’t lie; it does hurt, but after a few hours, the pain turns into soreness, and a few days later, it doesn’t hurt at all.

Recovering from all of the surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, and radiation treatments is a very personal and challenging part of the cancer journey. I have found when talking with other cancer patients that they don’t mind the radiation tattoos, but for me, it is a reminder of a terrible time in my life, and I don’t want to see them on my body. What is odd to me is that my port scar, which is visible with most of the tops that I wear, doesn’t bother me; it is like a badge of honor to me. My scars from my multiple surgeries to my chest are still fading away, and some of them are almost entirely gone, so they don’t bother me either. But the radiation tattoos…I can’t stand them! I know that none of this makes sense, but it’s how my mind works; I guess what counts is that I am doing what I need to for me and no one else.

So far, I have had eight appointments, and the tattoos have faded quite a bit. I was trying to go every four weeks, but between the doctor needing to reschedule me a few times, me going through another surgery last April, and the holidays, I have missed about five months. My doctor is wonderful and very understanding, so when I saw him earlier this month, he assured me that we would keep going until all three of the tattoos are gone; he exclaimed: “We will finish the treatments this year for sure!” I will post images from my before and now progress in the next dermatologist update.

Side note: I asked the nurse the other day how much my appointments would generally be, and she said $125 each. Dermatologist appointments are not covered by insurance because they are considered cosmetic, so it doesn’t matter that I currently do not have insurance. I must say that I am so grateful that I found this doctor because I would already be $1000 into the cost of having these tattoos removed, and that is quite a bit of money when I think about it.

The 14 Best Foods for Hair Growth

About ten days after starting my chemotherapy treatments, my hair started to fall out. I had eight inches of my hair cut off before I started my treatments, so my hair was much shorter, but it was still devastating to see handfuls of my hair fall out. My hair started to grow back around one month after my treatments were over. Fifteen months later, my hair is wavy and about six inches long, so it has been a little slow to grow back, and I have a few thin spots, so those spots are not growing as quickly as the rest of my hair. I have been taking Viviscal for the past seven weeks to help promote my hair growth. It is recommended that you take it for at least three to six months, so we will see if my growth improves with more time, as so far, I do not see much of a change. I do eat most of the foods that are listed below, and I am taking vitamins and supplements as well, so I feel like I am doing all I can to help my hair grow back healthy and strong.

Written by Ryan Raman, MS, RD on April 9, 2018

Many people want strong and healthy hair, especially as they grow older.

Interestingly, your hair grows around 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) per month, and 6 inches (15 cm) per year. How fast it grows depends on factors like age, health, genetics and diet.

Although you can’t change factors like age and genetics, diet is one thing you have control over. In fact, consuming a diet lacking the right nutrients can lead to hair loss.

On the other hand, eating a balanced diet with the right nutrients can help promote hair growth, especially if you’re experiencing hair loss due to poor nutrition.

Here are the 14 best foods you can eat to promote hair growth.

1. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein and biotin, two nutrients that may promote hair growth.

Eating adequate protein is important for hair growth because hair follicles are made of mostly protein. A lack of protein in the diet has been shown to promote hair loss (1Trusted Source).

Biotin is essential for the production of a hair protein called keratin, which is why biotin supplements are often marketed for hair growth. Research has also shown that consuming more biotin can help improve hair growth in people with a biotin deficiency (2).

However, biotin deficiencies are uncommon if you consume a balanced diet. There is little evidence to show healthy people benefit from consuming more biotin (3Trusted Source).

Eggs are also a great source of zinc, selenium and other hair-healthy nutrients. This makes them one of the best foods to consume for optimal hair health (4).

Summary Eggs are a great source of protein and biotin, which are important for hair health and growth. A deficiency in either of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss.

2. Berries

Berries are loaded with beneficial compounds and vitamins that may promote hair growth.

This includes vitamin C, which has strong antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants can help protect hair follicles against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. These molecules exist naturally in the body and the environment (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

For example, 1 cup (144 grams) of strawberries provides an impressive 141% of your daily vitamin C needs (7).

Also, the body uses vitamin C to produce collagen, a protein that helps strengthen hair to prevent it from becoming brittle and breaking (8Trusted Source9Trusted Source).

What’s more, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from the diet. Low iron levels may cause anemia, which has been linked to hair loss (10Trusted Source).

Summary Berries are loaded with compounds like antioxidants and vitamins that may promote hair growth. For example, strawberries are rich in vitamin C, which aids collagen production and iron absorption, two factors that may promote hair growth.

3. Spinach

Spinach is a healthy green vegetable that’s loaded with beneficial nutrients like folate, iron, and vitamins A and C, all of which may promote hair growth (11).

Vitamin A helps the skin glands produce sebum. This oily substance helps moisturize the scalp to keep hair healthy (12Trusted Source13Trusted Source).

A cup (30 grams) of spinach provides up to 54% of your daily vitamin A needs (11).

Spinach is also a great plant-based source of iron, which is essential for hair growth. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body to fuel your metabolism and aid growth and repair (14Trusted Source).

What’s more, iron deficiencies have been linked to hair loss (10Trusted Source).

Summary Spinach is loaded with folate, iron, and vitamins A and C, which may promote hair growth. A deficiency in these nutrients may result in hair loss.

4. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel have nutrients that may promote hair growth.

They are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to hair growth.

A study in 120 women found that taking a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as antioxidants reduced hair loss and increased hair density (15Trusted Source).

Another study found that taking a fish oil supplement significantly reduced hair loss and increased hair growth in women with thinning hair (16Trusted Source).

However, there are only a handful of studies on omega-3 fatty acids and hair growth. More studies are needed before health experts can make any recommendations.

Fatty fish is also a great source of protein, selenium, vitamin D3 and B vitamins, nutrients that may help promote strong and healthy hair (17).

Purchase salmon online.

Summary Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improved hair growth and density. However, there are only a few studies in this area, so more are needed.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene. The body converts this compound into vitamin A, which is linked to good hair health.

A medium sweet potato (about 114 grams) contains enough beta-carotene to provide more than four times your daily vitamin A needs (18).

Research has shown that vitamin A promotes the production of sebum, which helps keep hair healthy.

What’s more, vitamin A could also speed up the rate of hair growth and encourage the growth of thicker hair, all while preventing other hair follicles from regressing (1920).

Summary Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, which helps aid sebum production. Additionally, it has other factors that may help speed up the rate of hair growth.

6. Avocados

Avocados are delicious, nutritious and a great source of healthy fats.

They are also an excellent source of vitamin E, which may promote hair growth. One medium avocado (about 200 grams) provides 21% of your daily vitamin E needs (21).

Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.

In one study, people with hair loss experienced 34.5% more hair growth after taking a vitamin E supplement for eight months (22Trusted Source).

Vitamin E also protects areas of the skin, like the scalp, from oxidative stress and damage. Damaged skin on the scalp can result in poor hair quality and fewer hair follicles (23Trusted Source24Trusted Source).

What’s more, avocados are a great source of essential fatty acids. These fats cannot be produced by the body, but are essential building blocks of your cells. A deficiency in essential fatty acids has been linked to hair loss (25Trusted Source).

Summary Avocados are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that may promote hair growth. Additionally, they are a great source of
essential fatty acids, which appear to be crucial for hair growth.

7. Nuts

Nuts are tasty, convenient and contain a variety of nutrients that may promote hair growth.

For example, an ounce (28 grams) of almonds provides an impressive 37% of your daily vitamin E needs (26).

What’s more, they also provide a wide variety of B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids. A deficiency in any of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss (9Trusted Source).

Nuts have also been linked to a wide variety of other health benefits besides hair growth, including reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease (27Trusted Source).

This makes nuts an excellent and easy addition to your diet.

Buy almonds online.

Summary Nuts are packed with nutrients like vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids, all of which may promote hair growth and are linked to many other health benefits.

8. Seeds

Seeds deliver a massive amount of nutrients with relatively few calories. Many of these nutrients may also promote hair growth. These include vitamin E, zinc and selenium.

An ounce (28 grams) of sunflower seeds provides nearly 50% of your daily vitamin E needs, with a wide variety of hair-healthy B vitamins (28).

What’s more, certain seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds also provide omega-3 fatty acids.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of flaxseeds provides 6,388 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. That’s more omega-3 fatty acids than half a fillet (178 grams) of salmon (1629).

However, flaxseeds provide a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is not used by the body as efficiently as the omega-3s found in fatty fish. Nonetheless, it’s a great addition to the diet.

In order to get the widest variety of nutrients, it’s best to consume a mixture of seeds.

Shop for sunflowerflax, and chia seeds online.

Summary Like nuts, seeds are rich in vitamin E and other nutrients that may promote hair growth. Some seeds also contain omega-3s, which have been linked to hair growth.

9. Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which may aid hair growth.

In fact, one yellow pepper provides nearly 5.5 times as much vitamin C as an orange (30).

Vitamin C helps promote collagen production, which can help strengthen your hair strands. It’s also a strong antioxidant, which can protect hair strands against oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system. It has been linked to hair loss and the graying of hair (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

What’s more, sweet peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin A.

This vitamin may help speed up hair growth while stimulating the production of sebum, which helps keep hair healthy.

Summary Sweet peppers are a rich source of vitamins A and C, two nutrients that help ensure hair stays healthy and that may aid hair growth.

10. Oysters

Oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc (31).

Zinc is a mineral that helps support the hair growth and repair cycle (32Trusted Source).

A lack of zinc in the diet may promote telogen effluvium, a common but reversible form of hair loss caused by a lack of nutrients in the diet (33Trusted Source).

Studies have shown that taking a zinc supplement can reverse the effects of hair loss caused by a zinc deficiency (34Trusted Source35).

However, taking too much zinc could also promote hair loss. That’s why getting zinc from foods like oysters may be better than taking supplements, since foods provide zinc in small but healthy doses (36Trusted Source).

Summary Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc in the diet. This mineral helps support the hair growth and repair cycle.

11. Shrimp

Shrimp are popular shellfish rich in many nutrients that have the potential to promote hair growth.

For example, shrimp are a great source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron and vitamin D. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of shrimp provides 38% of your daily vitamin D needs (37).

Interestingly, studies have linked vitamin D3 deficiency to hair loss (38Trusted Source39Trusted Source40Trusted Source).

Despite being very low in fat, shrimp also provide a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved hair growth (16Trusted Source37).

Summary Shrimp are a great source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron and vitamin D, which may aid hair growth. They also provide a small amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

12. Beans

Beans are a great plant-based source of protein, which is essential to hair growth.

Like oysters, beans are a good source of zinc, which aids the hair growth and repair cycle. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of black beans provides 7% of your daily zinc needs (32Trusted Source).

They also provide many other hair-healthy nutrients, including iron, biotin and folate (41).

On top of all these benefits, beans are highly versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an easy addition to the diet.

Find a selection of beans online.

Summary Beans are a great source of protein, iron, zinc and biotin, which are all essential for optimal hair health. Together, they may aid hair growth.

13. Soybeans

Studies have shown that compounds in soybeans may promote hair growth. One of these compounds is spermidine, which is abundant in soybeans (42Trusted Source).

For example, a study of 100 healthy people found that a spermidine-based nutritional supplement prolonged a phase of active hair growth called the anagen phase. The longer a hair follicle stays in the anagen phase, the longer it will grow (43Trusted Source).

Test-tube studies have also shown that spermidine promotes human hair growth (44Trusted Source).

However, the research on spermidine and hair growth is fairly new, so more studies are needed before health experts can make recommendations on spermidine intake.

Summary Soybeans are one of the best sources of spermidine, a compound that may prolong the active phase of hair growth.

14. Meat

Meat is a staple in many people’s diet and is rich in nutrients that may aid hair growth.

The protein in meat aids growth and helps repair and strengthen hair follicles. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked sirloin steak provides as much as 29 grams of protein (45).

Red meat, in particular, is rich in a type of iron that’s easy to absorb. This mineral helps the red blood cells deliver oxygen to all cells in the body, including hair follicles (14Trusted Source).

Deficiencies in protein and iron have been linked to hair loss (1Trusted Source10Trusted Source).

Summary Meat is a great source of protein, which is essential for healthy, strong hair. Red meat, in particular, is rich in iron, which may aid hair growth.

The Bottom Line

What you eat can have a huge effect on the health of your hair.

A lack of the right nutrients including vitamins A, C, D and E, zinc, B vitamins, iron, biotin, protein and essential fatty acids may slow down hair growth or even cause hair loss.

Fortunately, correcting a deficiency in any of these nutrients may help treat hair loss and promote the rate of hair growth.

If you think you’re lacking any of these nutrients, try adding some of the above foods to your diet.

How I Learned to Adjust to Post-Cancer Life

Going in line with my last entry, here is an excellent article about adjusting to life post-cancer. It’s so easy for people to think that just because you are done with the surgeries and treatments, that you are back to normal. I get so tired of people asking me if I am done with “everything” and then responding with “so you are all good now” when I respond by saying that yes, I am done with the surgeries and treatments, but I am on medication the next ten years. I generally don’t say anything more as it is clear that the person I am talking to doesn’t even remotely follow what is going on with me. I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me, but it is somewhat insulting when someone I thought was a good friend, has such a conversation with me. I can say, though, that I have had this happen a few times, but they are still my friends, and I love them, so I am still here to talk whenever they want.

This article describes the hell that I am currently dealing with, and have been for months, and in many parts, it is almost as if I had written it myself. As I try to get through the bad days as best as possible, I have had a very positive change, thanks to this article. I have finally been able to get a handle on my issues with not being able to sleep, and I credit two things for that; the first is that I have found an app that works well for me when it comes to relaxing at bedtime, so I can fall asleep quickly before my mind has a chance to race and keep me awake. {the app is called loona}. The second is that now that the neuropathy is mostly gone from my hands, I am making jewelry again, which makes me very happy, so my stress level is much lower on most days. {My website is mmillsdesigns, where you will find my online shop and blog about my small business}.

I want to conclude by saying that it may sound odd to anyone who has not been in the position of having doctors by your side for many, many months, saving your life from cancer; that the routine, even if it involves the terrible experience of chemotherapy treatments or many surgeries, becomes something that you depend on and get used to as time goes by. It’s almost effortless to get emotionally attached to your doctors when you see them regularly, especially in the beginning after being diagnosed. I was going to appointments twice a week for months as the severity of my breast cancer was coming to light. My chemotherapy treatments were every week for four months, and my Radiation treatments were every weekday for five weeks. So when you have been deemed a survivor, for me, it was after my last clear mammogram on August 17th, 2020; there is a sense of relief as you hear the words “no evidence of disease,” but there is also an overwhelming feeling of loss as well because now all of the hustle and bustle centered around saving your life is going to slow down a lot as the doctor’s appointments become less frequent; I currently see my oncologist every three months, and I see my surgeon every six months. As I have said in past posts, the first two years after the end of my treatments is the most critical time in survivorship because the chance of re-occurrence is at its highest. After two years have passed, the chance of re-occurrence will drop slightly, and when I reach five years with no re-occurrence, the chance will substantially drop; so, that is why my doctors are closely monitoring me for the next few years.

After reading my commentary and the article below, I hope that you, my dear readers, will understand a bit more about the complexity of post-cancer life and survivors’ experience.

Medically reviewed by Jenneh Rishe, RN — Written by Jennifer Bringle on December 17, 2020

Moving on and finding some semblance of normalcy is much more difficult than advertised.

I’d just closed my eyes for a nap when the trill of the phone ringing snapped me back to consciousness. Gingerly reaching for the receiver, I answered hesitantly, nervous as to who might be on the other end.

It was my surgeon, calling with the results of my mastectomy pathology.

“The tissue from your breasts was totally clear,” he said with a smile I could literally hear in his voice. “And your lymph nodes were all normal, too. There was no evidence of disease.”

These are the four magical words every cancer patient longs to hear: no evidence of disease.

They’re the goal — the best possible result of months of grueling treatment. They mean you get to live.

Months earlier, I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear those words. After finding a lump in my left breast, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, along with the BRCA2 gene mutation.

I faced a gauntlet of chemotherapy followed by a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

There were bumps in the road along the way — an emergency room visit and an allergic reaction to one of my chemo drugs — but I’d finally reached the end.

I could finally relax and get back to my “normal” life.

The first clue that this would be easier said than done came a few weeks later, when I found myself in tears after being released by my surgeon for annual visits instead of the every few weeks I’d been seeing him up to that point.

Driving home that day, wiping away the tears suddenly spilling down my cheeks, I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. Shouldn’t I be happy?

What I would soon learn is that this is a common occurrence among cancer survivors.

Once treatment ends and we get the all clear, the world expects us to move on, find our “new normal,” and become those smiling survivors we see in marketing campaigns.

The reality is, moving on and finding some semblance of normalcy is much more difficult than advertised.

In the days and months after completing treatment, I dealt with an array of unexpected emotions.

Sadness at the end of a comfortable routine with my doctors, whom I’d become very attached to during the months they stood alongside me, trying to save my life.

Fear that every little pain or cough could be a sign of new cancer or cancer that spread.

And grief over all I’d lost — my breasts, my hair, and trust in my own body.

As time wore on, I realized instead of becoming happier and less afraid, my anxiety was reaching new levels.

Fearful — often irrational — thoughts about cancer recurring or metastasizing began to disrupt my daily life.

Instead of paying attention to my son and husband, I was often distracted, Googling symptoms on my phone.

Even happy moments like birthdays and vacations were marred by my irrational fears that a headache was a brain tumor, or my backache was more than simply a pulled muscle.

I knew I had to do something to get my anxiety under control.

Though I’d resisted asking for help, pridefully insisting I could handle it myself, I realized the time had come to seek professional assistance.

I scheduled a therapy appointment with a counselor specializing in the needs of cancer patients and survivors.

Even though she couldn’t personally understand what I was going through, her training and experience gave her a level of empathy and insight that made talking to her about my anxiety calming and productive.

During those sessions, she taught me another valuable tool to help quell my anxiety: meditation.

Through basic mindfulness techniques like focusing on my breath and learning to acknowledge and then dismiss negative thoughts, I became better able to manage my anxiety on a daily basis.

Using a guided meditation app before bed began to replace my nightly symptom Googling, leading to easier sleep.

While working on my mental health, I also started focusing on improving my physical health.

Cancer treatment left me weaker and more sedentary, so I started incorporating walks into my daily routine to rebuild my strength. Whether it was a quick jaunt on my lunch break or a treadmill workout in the evening, adding vigorous-yet-gentle physical activity helped me feel stronger and more energetic.

I also began paying more attention to what I ate. While I certainly still indulge in my beloved sweets, I also try to eat more fruits and vegetables daily.

These manageable changes to my diet and exercise may not prevent my cancer from returning, but they will help me build a body that’s strong enough to endure treatment again.

While all these new things certainly helped me adjust to life after cancer, I knew I needed something else to help manage my anxiety. After talking with my doctor, I made the decision to give a mild antidepressant a try.

I’d been resistant to adding another medication to my daily regimen, but I also reminded myself that I didn’t question taking a pill that might prevent my cancer from returning. So why was I so reluctant to take something that could help me with the anxiety that had taken over my life?

For those of us who’ve survived cancer, there’s a great deal of pressure to live up to the persona of strength that gets bestowed upon us during treatment.

We’re treated as though we’re almost super-human — the ones who beat death.

But the truth is, that fortitude is often a facade, masking the fear and pain that cancer survivors live with after treatment ends.

The process of working through those emotions to achieve a sense of normalcy in our lives is an ongoing, personal journey.

While what worked for me might not work for everyone, finding my own formula has allowed me to regain something I thought I’d lost after cancer — happiness.

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