As a young wife and mother, Christina, 32, was at peace with her life. She was blessed with a loving family, caring friends, a career she loved, and a strong faith. Little did she know that a trip to Maine for a whale-watching tour in September 2011 was literally “the calm before the storm.”
Within a month after the trip, the lump she found during a self-exam was confirmed as breast cancer and she was sitting in a doctor’s office to begin her fight against the disease.
After receiving her diagnosis, Christina continued to seek the support of God, her friends, and her family. She used a blog to update her support system and track sign-ups for meals, childcare and errands, and welcomed the help of others.
“It was such a blessing to receive the love and support of others during such a heartbreaking time,” she said. “The support I received was such an encouragement, even after finding out that a second surgery was necessary and then a month later that chemotherapy would be needed.”
Christina fought and won her battle with cancer, but then encountered several setbacks related to her diagnosis.
“At one point, I was so overwhelmed by lingering problems that I felt like I was in the middle of a hurricane,” she said. “The pressure of the storm was just overwhelming.”
Like many cancer patients, Christina experienced ongoing issues as a result of her cancer treatment. The disappointments she faced, including her loss of taste, ongoing fatigue, and the development of lymphedema (the inability for part of her body to move fluid correctly), are not uncommon among survivors.
“After seeking direction from God, I was prompted to create a list of significant issues I was experiencing and to begin exploring how to better manage them,” she said.
Once she was equipped with an action plan, Christina began to learn how to better function despite her obstacles and seek out the resources she needed to overcome her difficulties. Programs offered by Mount Carmel’s Cancer Services were some of those resources and have helped improve her quality of life.
“I signed up for educational programs, support groups, and exercise training and classes – anything I could – to help me find the me I knew was there.”
Now 34, Christina’s life is back on track and she’s excited for what lies ahead.
Heather’s mother, both grandmothers and mother-in-law all had breast cancer, yet she still thought it couldn’t happen to her. She did everything right, including having early mammograms, taking good care of herself, even then she found a lump. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of last year, and feels lucky that it was detected early and treated successfully. Now she’s making the transition into survivorship after being cancer free for more than six months.
The 39 year old knew her body would be different after her lumpectomy and she wanted to properly take care of herself. That was the original reason she signed up for Mount Carmel’s survivorship classes. After her first positive experience with a personal training class, she took part in a meditation class series and encouraged her mother-in-law, a breast cancer survivor herself, to join with her. Both women are now participating in Mount Carmel’s Gentle Yoga program and showing other women the positive lives they can lead as they transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor.
No one tells you what life is going to be like after cancer, but Heather hopes her story will help others and show just how critical early detection and understanding your cancer risk can be. Having a daughter of her own, Heather is confident that her daughter will be more aware and conscious of her own health.
Suzanne, a breast cancer survivor and associate professor of political science at Capital University, learned about cancer early in her life. Before she was born, her maternal grandmother died of breast cancer and ten years ago her mother was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. For six weeks she lived with and cared for her mother. Around this time Suzanne was in her mid-forties and had already had two needle biopsies for calcifications that were benign.
Ten years later, at age 57, a mammogram indicated an abnormality that led to her own cancer diagnosis. Based on her family history and results of her needle biopsy, Suzanne elected to have a total mastectomy. Thankfully her tumor did not invade her lymph nodes, giving her a lower chance of recurrence.
Early detection gave Suzanne favorable odds for recovery, but she credits Mount Carmel’s physicians, nurse navigators and many support services for putting her back on track, keeping her on the road to recovery and connecting her with a community of survivors.
“What I learned is that a community of cancer survivors connected with a community of caregivers is the best possible support structure for recovery from cancer,” she said. “That’s exactly what I got at Mount Carmel.”