Lessons Learned By a Breast Cancer Survivor

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, a sea of pink ribbons is a common sight and the smiling faces of bald women going through chemotherapy. As a breast cancer survivor, Pinktober has a different meaning. After being diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in April 2015 I have had a huge learning curve with all things to do with breast cancer. These are a few things I have learned following my diagnosis: Removing your breasts doesn’t guarantee that breast cancer will not return. For women under 40, 5% of the new cases will end up with Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage 4). For women under 50, this number increases to 27%. This means that your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, such as brain, bones, liver and lungs. Less than 5% of all money raised for breast cancer is spent on research of Metastatic Disease. We need more research money spent on studying the process of metastasis, how and why the cancer is spread. We need to give women affected with metastatic disease more options for treatment. We need to support these women and give them hope. I have learned that there are many types of breast cancer. DCIS (Ductal Carcimona In Situ), IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma), Inflammatory, Mucinous, Lobular, Tubular, Papillary, Cribriform. No two cancers are alike. Breast cancer is not “the good cancer”. Once you complete your surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, your treatment may not end. For those of us with hormone receptor positive cancers, our treatment with Tamoxifen and Aromatase Inhibitors will continue for 5-10 years. Sometimes the hardest part of breast cancer is when your treatment ends. Nobody talks about the emotional impact that breast cancer has on a woman. You endure an amputation; the physical scars will never go away. The emotional scars also run deep and sometimes digging yourself out of the post breast cancer hole isn’t easy. You need to heal both physically and emotionally and this takes time. Don’t feel like you are in this alone. Ask for help; seek out others who have been through a breast cancer hijacking. Lean on them for support, because they understand and “Get It”. They know exactly how you are feeling. When treatment ends, it never really ends. We always have to be aware of body changes. Every time you have a swollen lymph node you go into panic mode. Instead of thinking that your body is just fighting off an infection you immediately go back to that dark place and ask yourself, ‘is it back?’ This isn’t a club that I ever wanted to be a part of. Since my diagnosis I have connected with many amazing and incredibly strong women. Some of us are considered NED (no evidence of Disease), some of us are living with cancer or metastatic disease. I am thankful every day that I wake up healthy. I am thankful that I “get” to go to work. People always complain about having to go to work. For those of us who have been through BC, we are happy to be able to head to work every day. This means that we are healthy and able to contribute again. Returning to work and the real world post-cancer can be a challenge. You may have cognitive and physical limitations from your surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Yoga and Meditation are amazing healing tools both physically and mentally. I have chosen to take my experience and help others by offering support and coping skills to help with their hijacking. No woman should have to go through breast cancer alone nor should they feel alone.

Breast Cancer Support Saskatoon is an amazing support group that was started January 2017 by myself and four others. It has been a huge success. It is a peer-led support group. All of the facilitators for the group have had training from the Canadian Cancer Society. We have women in the group at all varying stages of treatment; from those who are newly diagnosed, those undergoing treatment, those with metastatic disease and long-term survivors. It is open to women who have had a cancer diagnosis. Meetings are held the second Wednesday of every month from 7:30-9pm at Edwards Family Centre 333 4th Ave N, Saskatoon. We can also be found on Facebook and breastcancersupportsaskatoon.com. I have also been involved in organizing an event called ‘Bra Day’. It is held across Canada and is supported by the Canadian Cancer Society. It is an evening designed to give women the information they need to make decisions regarding breast reconstruction. Our fi rst annual event will be held October 19th and we are currently sold out for this year. The response has been overwhelming.

Deanna Ratzlaff speaks to Rob and Shawna at the C95 radio marathon for breast cancer.

My involvement with the C95 radio marathon for breast cancer research was very humbling. To hear the stories from all the amazing survivors and to be able to support them was a very heartwarming experience. Raising $300,036. for breast cancer research that stays here in Saskatchewan is so very important. Don’t ever think that you won’t be the 1 in 8 that receives a cancer diagnosis. It can happen to you. Be aware of any changes in your breasts. Don’t delay heading to the doctor, I know it is scary but make that call. Get things checked out, it may
save your life!

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