I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2020 after a routine mammogram and ultrasound. That unforgettable phone call turned my world upside down. I was shocked, scared, angry, overwhelmed. I wondered how this could happen because there was no family history of breast cancer. I was supposed to be enjoying the nice summer days and preparing for a new school year (I am a second-grade teacher). Instead, summer became a blur of medical tests, appointments and decisions. I had a lumpectomy in September, followed by radiation. Due to Covid restrictions, I was alone for appointments, surgery and treatment, which added an extra layer of emotion. I am forever grateful to the wonderful doctors, nurses, and patient care techs who surrounded me with care, support and encouragement.
By late January 2021, I was a breast cancer survivor. Surgery was behind me, I was taking an aromatase inhibitor (AI), and I had my final radiation treatment. I was full of joy when I rang that bell! Finally, I could breathe again, after months of tremendous mental strength and courage. Though I was physically fatigued from radiation, I was ready to focus on building my stamina and my overall health – body, mind and spirit.
However, I didn’t expect the downward spiral of my mental and emotional health. This post-treatment “low” was surprising and troubling. My oncologist reassured me that these feelings were normal and quite common among cancer survivors. She explained that trauma from a cancer journey is real and she suggested I contact the Breast Cancer Coalition for support.
That was a game-changer for me in many ways. At my BC101 session, Holly validated my concerns and I was soon connected to a supportive PALS mentor. I was encouraged to participate in the Surviving & Thriving on Aromatase Inhibitors program. There I learned the importance of movement, mindfulness, and nutrition to off-set the side effects of my medication. It was inspiring to meet other survivors and draw strength from their journeys, advice and support. I felt validated and empowered. I learned that my AI side effects were manageable, that my emotions were real and okay, and that mental health is just as important as physical health for survivorship.
After completing the program, I began to reflect and consider how I want to live my life as a survivor. I wanted to give back to the Coalition and help others. To that end, I became a PALS mentor in January 2022, helping individuals who are newly diagnosed. I also stay involved with the Coalition through Brown Bag Discussion Group, a Support Group, Mindfulness & Meditation, and Evening Seminars.
The Coalition has had, and continues to have, a great impact on my life as a survivor. I have found support, kindness, friendship, inspiration, and a sense of community. Additionally, I have found purpose in my breast cancer journey, which is to share my experience in the hope of helping and inspiring others.