Early signs and initial reaction
My name is Martha. I’m 32 years old, and I was diagnosed with stage one, breast cancer in 2021. I did not have any symptoms aside from a small lump in my left breast found by my husband. I breastfed and pumped breast milk for my son for at least a year. So I assumed that that lump was a clogged milk duct or something benign. I didn’t schedule an appointment to have it checked for two to three months after my husband brought it to my attention
When I made the doctor’s appointments to get it checked out, I wasn’t nervous. But at the ultrasound and the technician and the nurses in the room got quiet and serious, that’s when I started to think it might be something serious. I hadn’t emotionally prepared myself for that. So, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was heartbroken and anxious. My family was equally in shock because I’ve just always been a healthy individual. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 20 years. I’m active and took care of myself. I’ve never smoked. So we’re really in shock. They were in denial at first. They remained so till I started my treatment and had surgical results.
I did a lumpectomy to just remove that lump. The further plan was to go through chemotherapy and radiation. However, after the lumpectomy, the pathology report showed that the margins around the tumour were not clean. They found a lot of DCIS in the margins of that tumour. So, we had to revisit our entire strategy. I opted to do a bilateral mastectomy. Through the pathology report from that surgery, I learned that my right breast was perfectly healthy, but my left breast had even more extensive DCIS than they anticipated.
So after the bilateral mastectomy, I did go through chemotherapy to reduce the chance of recurrence. And then after chemotherapy, I went through radiation on the left side, since the right side was healthy. It was just to kind of clean up the close margins from the surgery that we didn’t feel 100% confident about. It was optional. But for my own peace of mind, I needed to do the most to make sure that this didn’t come back.
Managing the side effects
Chemo was definitely tough for me. I had to take a lot of medication for nausea and vomiting. I remember during my first round of chemotherapy, I felt so nauseous a couple of days after, and I was waiting to take the medication until I actually got sick. That was a big mistake. I should have just taken the medication at the first sign of nausea because I would have been able to eat more and settle my stomach naturally. So I wish that I had been a little bit more proactive.
I did close testing and got approved. It’s still really groundbreaking technology and a very new option for chemotherapy patients. I don’t know if it is an alternative treatment but it was something new and I am happy that I gave it a try.
Managing my emotional wellbeing
It’s hard for a mother with a three-year-old kid to cope emotionally. All I wanted to do was shield my son from what I was going through. Hence, I internalised a lot of my dark emotions, and I only let them come out when I felt like I was in a private space with my husband or with close friends. I didn’t give myself room to work through my emotional feelings. What helped with my emotional well-being and healing was talking about it with my husband and friends. It took a lot of time but talking about it is what got me to move on.
Experience with the medical team
My experience with the medical team was fabulous. I am impressed with the care I received here. My whole oncology team in general was younger women who felt like peers to me. It made me feel seen and understood. So being with the medical team who felt like friends and peers to me made the whole difference in my journey. I felt like I was in good hands.
New positive outlooks
It took a long time to let go of my anger. I used to think why would this happen to me. But now, I would say that it has positively impacted me. I have more appreciation for my time. First, it had never occurred to me before that I might not necessarily live to be 100 years. Having breast cancer really shifted my perspective of life, which is never a guarantee. It’s an opportunity. You might not be your best self every day, but you have the chance to at least try and enjoy something in life. To find some meaningful connection or a higher purpose. So if I hadn’t gone through my cancer diagnosis and journey, I don’t know if I would have reached this awareness and appreciation for another day to live.
I didn’t make any major lifestyle changes. But I started taking processed soy in moderation and in smaller amounts. I didn’t cut on the natural soy, like soy sauce, edamame, tofu, etc.
I feel like I’m still learning so many life lessons. I learned that it’s okay to not be strong and happy all the time. When I feel devastated, I allow myself to move on. I’ve always felt a pressure to be happy and make people around me comfortable. But in doing so, I can push aside my real feelings. My cancer journey taught me to express my feelings.
Message to caregivers
I thank the caregivers. I know I would have struggled more if it weren’t for the amazing caregiver in my life ie, my husband. In some ways, I think that journey is even harder for caregivers because they don’t always know what to do. So it’s very complicated for a caregiver to navigate. For anyone who’s a caregiver out there, thank you for doing such wonderful work for patients like me.
Awareness about the age parameters regarding breast cancer has already started. Social media is bringing more awareness to young breast cancer patients who are young and think that they have no risk of breast cancer. Having no family history or a healthy lifestyle and absence of symptoms doesn’t make you immune to breast cancer. Social media, I think, is how we are connecting with our peers in our age group to be cognizant of this.