To Be Seen; A Personal Journey
Thanks to our incredible followers and supporters, we have another incredible survivor story that we are very proud to share with you. We hope these words bring you comfort, peace, and hope.
This hasn't been the spring that any of us could have imagined. But, we are still marching on. We are still here for you as you continue to fight your battle, continue to heal, and continue to carry on every day. A few months ago, we shared a survivor story about Savanna James. Her words continue to echo in our hearts and minds, and we hope they have stayed with you. Just a few weeks ago, another survivor story came into our world, and we are very proud to share it with you here today. We want to introduce Michele Wheeler, her story, and her incredible nurse, Jim. Michele has shared this story on her own website, and we are very thankful to her for allowing us to share it with you here today.
To Be Seen
The birthday party was going to be phenomenal. He stood over me explaining how his wife had to bake three cakes - three! - because they invited all the kids in both classes. I lay trapped in tubes and wires and blankets and gowns while his words passed through the air above me. Some people might think they were going overboard for a four-year-old. Other people might. Not anyone in this room of course. Radiologists rule in this room. I stared at the ceiling thinking What in the ---- is happening here? as the masked techs oohed and awed over those cakes and the balloons and the bouncy house. Trapped, I tried to ignore them all as he shoved a needle into my liver to grab the sample that would confirm if I was dying of cancer or not.
That was three years ago. The sample came back hot. Now, I was back in the exact same hospital, the exact same radiology department, for another biopsy. This time, we were looking for mutations that could provide more treatment options. I insisted on a different surgeon, and I got one, but the stench of frosting and the memory of that big fat needle were still very much with me. They told me, back then, that the meds would give me an I-don’t-care feeling, with a little amnesia mixed in. But I remembered. Oh, believe me, I did care.
And so I told them, now, how the baggage from the last liver jab was increasing my anxiety beyond the more “standard” biopsy stress. I’m just barely hanging on here folks, I told them. Please help me out by upping those I-don’t-care meds and skipping the talk about your outstanding personal plans, thanks so much.
Sounds fair, they said. That’s exactly what we’ll do.
I didn’t used to lay it out that way. I let uncertainty and fear overwhelm me into passive obedience. Because certainly all those nurses and doctors had been through whichever procedure far more times than I have. But after years of cancering, and too many appointments left feeling undervalued, I’ve matured into the realization that I am, in fact, an expert in Me. More so, I’ve come to appreciate how much doctors and techs really do want to get it right and telling them how I want it just makes it easier for everyone.
Does it actually need to be said that you shouldn’t talk about your kid’s happy party during a terminal illness reveal? And honest feedback, the part of me that gets angry every time I see a birthday cake, would readily join you in hanging up that first surgeon.
But the part of me that needs to let go of that anger remembers that not everyone has experienced the sharp side of the needle. And so yes, it does need to be said.
It needs to be said because maybe he was trying to distract me by talking about that party. And maybe it would have worked if he just would have said first, I am sorry that this is happening to you. Then I could have said, Tell me everything about that bouncy house.
My med guy came, Jim, came in then to introduce himself. He managed to strike up small talk that seemed well placed, asking me about my kids a bit, surface questions, with just enough about his own kids to keep the conversation going. He was gentle. He let me know that I’d get my I-don’t-care meds after just a little more prep.
He wheeled me into the biopsy room, and that prep got very active. There were at least another five masked techs hooking me up to wires and hoses. The radiologist came up then and reached across me to adjust the monitor he would use to look for a sampleable tumor with ultrasound. When he started pushing down with the wand on my stomach, just below my ribs, I told him, “Can you move that screen so I can’t see it, please?” As he did, I closed my eyes and said, “And no comments about the size of the tumors either, please.”
I could still feel constant motion around me, and then a quiet voice from just behind me, Jim, “Michele, I’m going to give you some of that anti-nausea medication now, okay?” I nodded, thinking but what about the I-don’t-care meds? Not wanting to sound like a junkie, I tried to be patient.
But I could feel it coming. Like the vibration on train tracks before any sound of the engine, before any hint of smoke coming from its stacks. I kept my eyes closed and wondered which would arrive first: the panic attack or the I-don’t-care meds.
Panic did. And I fought with it to speak, managing only, “I could. Now. The I don’t. Don’t care. Meds. I need them cuz I think I might run. I’m gonna…” I raised my hand just a bit to the radiologist, “So with the wand. It. The. Could you. Wait. Please?” He took it off my stomach and the room got very still. I kept my eyes closed to find the words, and finally managed, in a whisper, “I’m going to have a panic attack. I’m just about to and I need that anxiety medicine right now.”
With that, the radiologist patted my arm gently once, and let me know he’d wait outside until the meds kicked in. The rest of the staff left as well. But Jim stayed. He interrupted the quiet only to give me brief updates. I’m delivering those meds now, Michele. And then a few moments later, They should start working really soon.
It was more like I started leaking than crying. The tears just slipped easily from the corners of my eyes. With all the tubes and wires and blankets and gown twisted around me, I was helpless to do anything but let them fall. But I said nothing, because I thought asking for tear wiping was taking it a bit too far.
I didn’t have to ask. Before those tears reached my ears, I felt a tissue on either side of my face as Jim gently wiped them up. And yes, the tenderness of that did make me squeak out a few more tears. But it was far fewer than it would have been, had those tears fallen unnoticed and been left to soak my hair.
Thank you, I said.
You’re welcome, said Jim. And for the next few minutes, I lied there, leaking tears, and Jim sat behind me, wiping them up.
The meds finally kicked in, enough so that we could carry on with the procedure, but they didn’t erase the reality that put me there. I leaked, intermittently through the whole thing. One click. Two clicks. Tears slipped from my eyes as little bits of cancer and liver were pulled from under my ribs. I kept dripping while I counted three… four... five. I think it was Jim that kept wiping the sides of my face as I silently cried. I don’t know. I kept my eyes closed the whole time. But I do know that not one tear passed an ear, and that was an enormous comfort.
Because still wrapped in blankets and trapped in illness, I felt seen.
Thank you so much, Michele, for sharing your incredibly brave story. Our hearts were with you through every written word and will continue to be as you continue your journey. Thank you for lifting up the people in your journey, like Jim, who has helped you through it all. Thank you for sharing with us the need and the right you have to ask for what you need in every step of your treatment and beyond. You are an incredible warrior. Thank you for sharing this with us.
To learn more about Michele, read more incredible stories like this one, and to follow her journey check out her website by following the link below!
We would be honored to hear and share YOUR story too. We want to share your experiences to help to continue inspiring others just like Savanna and Michele have. If you would like to share, email us your story and a photo of yourself to email@example.com and you may be featured on our social media or in an upcoming blog post.
Receiving the news that you have breast cancer is difficult and life-changing information. But, what happens if you're pregnant and receive this news?
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is the last thing you want to deal with, let alone when you have the happy news that you're pregnant. There is still such a stigma connected to breast cancer that it only happens later in life, and after menopause. But, as we've mentioned in previous blogs, breast cancer doesn't discriminate. It doesn't pay attention to age or sex. Women and men at all stages of life are vulnerable and susceptible to breast cancer, and that includes pregnant mothers. Being pregnant and expecting a child should always be a time of joy and happiness, but a diagnosis of breast cancer changes all of that. What does this mean for you and the baby? How will this change your treatments? What will the next nine months of pregnancy look like? This will be a delicate and complicated journey, one you need to plan very carefully with your obstetrician and your oncologist. You need to be very well informed about your choices and options, and to choose what path is best for you and your baby. These decisions and the treatments need to focus on not just getting rid of or treating your cancer. They also need to be chosen to keep your baby safe and healthy as well. This limits and changes what kind of treatment options are available to you and when exactly you can receive them throughout your three trimesters.
The positive news is that yes, as a pregnant woman, you treat your breast cancer. The tricky part is deciding what route you can safely go to protect your baby and still conquer your cancer. This all depends on a handful of factors. They include how healthy you are overall, how far along you are in your pregnancy if the cancer has started to spread and if it has where it has spread to, the size of your cancerous tumor, and where that tumor is located. For a pregnant woman, two of the safest options are surgery and chemotherapy, while radiation and other hormonal therapy treatments are recommended to be avoided until after you've delivered.
This treatment is safe for babies in the second or third trimester, but not in the first. In the first trimester, some of the most important development and growth occurs, and chemo can seriously interfere in that process. It also runs a higher risk of losing the baby if chemo is used during this time as well. Many of you might be skeptical that chemo is safe at any stage of pregnancy, but studies have shown that when using certain chemo drugs like cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin during the last two trimesters of pregnancy is safe. They don't have the risk of birth defects, health problems, or loss of the baby. The only risk studies have found is the risk of an early delivery. If you do decide or need to have surgery during this time, you will be deciding between a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, with follow up treatments of chemo recommended for the second trimester or later. If your diagnosis comes during your final trimester of pregnancy, chemo is usually recommended after the birth of your child. After week 35 of your pregnancy (out of a total of 40) chemo is no longer recommended. Chemo at this point can bring on early delivery, and it also lowers the mother's blood cell count. This lowered cell count can lead to dangerous issues during birth including infection and serious bleeding. Deciding to delay chemo until after the birth allows the mother's blood cell count to return to a healthy level, so the birth can be as safe as possible.
This is one of the safest routes for a pregnant woman to take while battling a cancer diagnosis. It is the safest to do at any trimester, and you don't have to delay it unless your obstetrician recommends otherwise. Mastectomies are generally the most preferred surgery for a pregnant woman. You can have a lumpectomy, removing just the breast tissue that contains cancer, but it does come with a few risks. A lumpectomy generally requires radiation to follow up that surgery, and radiation is not safe for the baby. But, putting off radiation for the mother, if it is needed, is very dangerous and could increase the risk in cancer returning. The only time a lumpectomy is usually recommended with radiation is if the cancer is found during the third trimester. If the surgery is performed close to the due date of the baby or very shortly after, very small wait time or no wait time at all is placed on the recommended radiation treatments. The removal of a lymph node, or possibly a few, are also needed during surgery. There are two different types of lymph node surgeries, one, in particular, being safer than the other. The removal of lymph nodes under your arm called an auxiliary lymph node dissection, which removes multiple lymph nodes, is the first choice. The second is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This uses a small amount of blue dye and radioactive tracers that pick out the nodes that could contain cancer. The blue dye and radioactive tracers come with heavy concerns since radiation is very bad for the baby. This treatment, although it may help with removing fewer lymph nodes, is not recommended during pregnancy. It is recommended to happen after pregnancy or late in your trimesters and without the use of the dye.
TREATMENTS AND THINGS TO AVOID
During your pregnancy, there are some treatments and situations you will need to keep you and your baby safe. Keep these in mind as you move forward. Also listed are a few difficult situations that you might have to face, too.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
During this time, you already have a lot on your plate and a lot on your mind. We wanted to leave you with some closing thoughts to remember as you begin this process.
We know and understand the difficulties you are facing during this time. It is unique, scary, and full of unknowns. We want to help you celebrate the joy of your pregnancy, all while helping you conquer your cancer. If you have any concerns or worries, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to answer your questions, guide you through this process, and discuss any concerns you might have. Know you are never alone, and there is always hope.
Screen Time; Pros and Cons
It's so easy to get sucked into our cellphones. These handy and incredible objects that can connect us to the world and give us so much information in mere seconds can offer comfort, connection, fun, and a way to express ourselves. But does this stay true during your diagnosis, treatment, and afterward? Is there such a thing as too much screen time?
The unknown during diagnosis, treatment, and after can be one of the most painful parts of your journey. Finding the right kind of support and spending your time as you wish during your journey can be a battle in itself. Panic, fear, and doubt are a part of your everyday life, on top of trying to live your life as normally as you possibly can. Eliminating the negative things and people in your life during this time can be a very difficult decision to make. It can add another layer of worry and doubt to your life while trying to live and heal according to the societal norms around you. But what good are those negative people are things doing for you? Giving you extra stress, worry, hurting you, and possibly even making you angry? Why would you want someone like that in your life? The same thing applies to the cellphone that has casually become a permanent staple in your hand, back pocket, or bag.
We spend hours of our day scrolling mindlessly through our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts or on news sites, playing games, or surfing the web. We love posting about our families, the exciting things we're doing, looking up recipes, shopping on Amazon, and keeping up to date on the news. When going through treatment and afterward, social media and our connection to it can be a great form of comfort, reassurance, and an extension of learning more about what's happening in your body. There are so many inspiring Facebook pages and groups waiting to welcome you in with open arms, Instagram accounts that will keep you inspired, and brilliant websites to read and podcasts to listen to that will educate and comfort you on this journey. But what about everything else in between? How much time should you be spending on your phone, and when does it become a little too much? Is too much screen time a good thing or a band thing during your road to recovery or through treatment? This is an emerging topic that might cause a dispute or two. As you consider your path and choice of time spent on your phone, here are some things to consider and think about.
You may be following others on social media platforms that are going through a journey similar to yours. But, some of these people make it look easy, that it's not a huge challenge, and their pictures are inspiring or beautiful while doing it. Remember, what you post online is under your control. Filters are there to make everything look exactly how you want it to. You can control every aspect of your pictures and leave the imperfection and ugly behind. The days you get bad news, feel sick, don't look or feel like yourself, the messy house, the distraught or frustrated family members, might be left out of their posts. Even if they don't show these things, it's all still there, just like you. Seeing these cultivated and perfectly inspired posts over and over again can either keep you inspired or weigh heavily on you. Thoughts of doubt, comparison, and low self-esteem can become a daily part of your experience with social media. These posts can make you question why your life and journey doesn't look as easy or as inspiring as others, and make you question why it's not like that for you.
When comparison starts getting in the way, we suggest that it's time to put your phone down. Granted, these posts, these blogs, Facebook groups, and anywhere you can find a connection are there to serve a wonderful purpose. But when that purpose no longer applies to you or when it's making your journey more difficult or upsetting in any way, it might be time to reevaluate why this amount of screen time and what you're doing on your phone is important.
As in any decision you make while on your journey, make it for you. If you enjoy spending time on your phone, spend time on your phone! These are your decisions to make, so make them proudly. As you live through your diagnosis, treatment, and beyond, give yourself the joy and happiness you deserve in the best ways you can. We are here to give you the support you need, answer the questions you have, and guide you on the journey you want. Say yes to what to want, and allow yourself to say no to the things that are getting in the way of your life.
Breast cancer has never been a diagnosis that attaches itself to a particular age group or generation. Although it is most commonly found in women over the age of 50, there is still a high number of young men and women who are diagnosed every year. One of the scariest things? The tools to help with the diagnosis and to detect at an earlier age are still not up to par, nor do they help with diagnosis as well as one would hope. When it comes to awareness, it needs to begin at a young age and not be a topic or knowledge limited to anyone.
It's common for many women to not worry about the slightest possibility of breast cancer until they reach their 50th birthday, after starting regular mammograms around their 40th birthday. But for many young women, just starting families and very exciting careers, it's a different story. According to the Young Survival Coalition, "breast cancer in young women tends to be diagnosed in its late stages and is more aggressive. It is estimated that 12% of cases of breast cancer will be in women under the age of 40 and approximately 26,393 women will be under 45 years of age. Every year more than 1000 women under the age of 40 die from breast cancer." Some of these young women who are diagnosed are very healthy and come from a family never touched by breast cancer, so it can come as quite a shock to receive this information out of the blue. Which is why we have stressed in past blogs, that as soon as you can start educating yourself and understanding your body as a young woman, the better. Be aware of signs, symptoms, and what to look for. Learn how to give yourself self breast examinations, and never be quite if something seems out of the ordinary. Be proactive in mentioning anything to your doctor, and never let something go unsaid. They are there to help you with any step along the way. Women who do have family members who have been diagnosed need to be even more proactive, starting exams early and having mammograms as early as their mid 30's. It is also recommended to do the newest genetic testing available to test for the BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene mutation. If you test positive for either, it is more likely that breast cancer could be in your future. If so, become proactive as possible and learn to watch your body closely with your eyes and those of a professional.
Sadly, as common as breast cancer can appear in younger women, it still isn't a topic that is spoken about enough. This is why we want to spread more awareness on the topic and provide some eye-opening information. Please take all of this information to heart, and spread the awareness as much as you can. Care for yourself and the women around you. Share, support, and never be quite. We are here to help guide you through any of these steps.
The Facts and Diagnosis
How it Affects Younger Bodies and Lifestyles
We are here to also spread awareness and offer as much support and guidance as you need. Be aware that cancer will never discriminate based on age or sex, and that staying as educated and aware about your body is the best defense that you can have.
It Doesn't End with October
Awareness shouldn't and can't be reserved just for October. Let it be a daily thing, something you can practice with others, and find a path that works for you. As we end October, we wanted to add a little continuation to our last blog. You can do so much for those who are fighting their cancer battle, but there is so much that all parties can do to help themselves and the world at large.
We have been proud to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness for all of October's 31 days. We have proudly been wearing pink, standing up strong with each of you, offering all the comfort and guidance that we could, and talking about how you can offer love and support to those fighting hard against breast cancer. We were very serious when we pressed that as important Breast Cancer Awareness month is, it's important to make this awareness an all year battle. This is a daily fighting for so many, and to conquer the battle, we have to fight and show awareness at every opportunity possible. Designating October to be Breast Cancer Awareness month has opened up the conversation about risk, education, the importance of getting a mammogram, breast health, and screening. Now that the conversation has started and continues to grow stronger every year, let's not lose the momentum!
Find your support group. For those fighting, surround yourself with what and who you need to keep going. Those who keep you inspired, keep you loved, and keep you fighting. If you are a woman who has just hit her 40th birthday, it's time to start getting a mammogram every year and doing regular self-breast examinations once a month. Self-breast examinations should become a practice in your life as soon as you hit puberty, and it needs to be a topic that can be discussed at any age. Find your tribe and support group who can start you off on a healthy and positive path towards your best breast health. Once you start giving yourself breast examinations and begin mammograms, make sure to take anything you find very seriously. Nothing should be ignored. Early detection leads to a very high rate of getting rid of any cancer cells.
If this is a scary path to walk alone, this is a good time to call on or to form your own group. One that can support you and hold you accountable. Find friends going through the same thing, lean on your mom, your grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. They'll be there. It is very important to take these steps as well if you come from a high-risk family. Take the steps to care for yourself because of those in your family who have been diagnosed, and with the possibility that you could be too. Those from high-risk families should start their screenings at 30 and return once a year.
You can also go beyond finding a support group. Find a doctor you trust and who allows you to make your breast health important to you. All of us at The Breast Place are here for you and your journey. Once you have started, don't stop. Inspire others, nurture those around you, and teach as many as you can. No matter your age, keep a support group and offer support to others if you can. The term bosom buddies has never applied better.
Head to Toe
Keeping your whole body healthy is just as important to your body as it is to your breast health. Regular exercise, a healthy sleep schedule, a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and practicing limited alcohol consumption can seriously lower the risk of breast cancer. Practicing these things and setting an example for others, can be inspiring to those around you and in your own journeys.
Be a storyteller. Too many women have fought the battle against breast cancer, and every day we are getting closer to changing those numbers for the better. But your victories, hardships, setbacks, and triumphs need to be heard. You can listen to your doctors, teachers, the news, and any book out there. But the stories told by your peers and others who have been on the battlegrounds, are what will really stick with you. If you're not ready to or don't want to share your story, that's okay. But know that someone out there needs and wants to hear your story, and someone out there will always listen.
Be a fierce listener. If your loved one is going through this battle, don't fill a conversation with your experiences or opinions. Just give them your love and what they need to say your full attention. In reverse, if you need someone to talk to, surround yourself with those who will listen to you and respect what you have to say. This is an important part of your healing process, and you deserve it as much as anyone.
No matter what your journey is, you have so much to share. Once you win your battle, be there for those who need it. If you are fighting, find sturdy ground to lead to victory. We are here to always promote, fight, and support awareness and we will help you do so in any way we can.
Natural Breast Reconstruction
After a mastectomy, it's best to know all the options that are available to you and to make the right choice for your body and your needs. We want to see you first and talk about all of your options, of course. But Natural Breast Reconstruction is one of those options that offers its own path. Let's visit all of these options together.
It is our passion to be here for you in your journey. From the very beginning we want to be here with support, care, and knowledge. Your journey, your needs, and your recovery are just as unique as you are. Helping you along this journey and keeping you informed and comfortable to the options readily available to you is your choice and our main focus. Having another choice is always important. As you've gone on this journey with your doctors, nurses, and support team, I'm sure you have researched, had questions, learned a lot, and searched for more options since your diagnosis.
Making smart, healthy, and informed choices dealing with your body through this process is incredibly important. As your journey continues, you'll also need to continue to make decisions. This could include making choices as you're possibly facing a mastectomy. There are many options out there for you, and the choice varies personally from patient to patient and what their needs are. You might be looking at hidden scar surgery, nipple-sparing mastectomy, implant reconstruction, or natural reconstruction. Know your options and what is best for your body and your needs.
As we continue our journey with these blogs, let's talk about natural reconstruction. This procedure takes tissue from your body (like your stomach, thighs, back, or buttocks) and creates the reconstructed breast. The tissue used in this procedure is called a "flap", and there are a handful of different flap surgeries available to you. One is called a Free Flap. This removes tissue from its original blood vessels and is moved to your chest. This type of flap procedure requires your plastic surgeon to be skilled in microsurgery, which allows the surgeon to attach the blood vessels from the tissue flap to the blood vessels in the chest at its new location. This allows the tissue to receive the correct amount of blood supply it needs to thrive. The tissue is then formed into the shape of a breast and is stitched into place.
Another choice is called a pedicled flap. This allows the tissue to remain attached to its original blood vessels and is moved under your skin to your chest. Once it is moved to your chest, it too is formed and stitched into place. The newly reconstructed breast will have little sensation as you find with implant surgery. One of the plus sides of a flap procedure is that the tissue used is from parts of the body that are similar to breast tissue and feels very natural.
This natural type of breast reconstruction has become very popular over the years because it usually lasts a lifetime. After 10 to 20 years implants need to be replaced. After your mastectomy, and before you make any decisions on breast reconstruction surgery, we want our patients to visit with us first before making any decision on what's next. You have time after your surgery to decide what's next for you, the decision does not need to be made right away.
Depending on where the flap tissue comes from, there are different names for each type. These are some examples.
Flap Tissue from your Belly
Flap Tissue from your Back
Flap Tissue from the HiP/Buttocks
Picking the best flap for you all depends on your body type, breast size, if you plan on getting pregnant in the future, guidance from your surgeon and doctor, and what hospitals and surgeons are available to you. This procedure and the process it takes to decide is unique to your body, your lifestyle, and what you want your life to be. We are here to help guide and support you through this decision. Please don't hesitate to explore our website to learn more or contact us for more information. Today, as always, we celebrate YOU!