Breast Cancer Survivors Stories
AMY FULLER IN HER OWN WORDS:
1. Anything you’d like to share about your treatment process? Walking into a chemo infusion center can be a bit overwhelming and scary. But, I started to see it as a place that would be life-giving to me. I looked beyond the chemo itself to what the chemo would do for me. The medical staff in those places are amazing people who care. I loved my nurses and those who cared for me. I cannot imagine the stories they experience every day and yet they treat every person with care, love and dignity. I learned how to pay close attention to my body and how it speaks to me. Listen to your medical team and ask questions.
2. What advice would you give women who are newly diagnosed? Find someone who has gone through what you are about to and ask a ton of questions! I had two women that I could lean into who helped me anticipate all of the good, bad and ugly that I faced. And another friend shared this with me, "It isn't your job to manage the feelings of others and how they are reacting to your diagnosis. Your job is to manage yourself." That helped me to focus on my own feelings and all of my own stress. A cancer patient doesn't need to add more to their own worries. We need others to be helping us.
3. What was the most difficult part of your journey and how did you overcome it? I think the hardest thing was managing it all and so I became an organizer of all things! It is overwhelming to suddenly be thrown into a whirlwind of tests and appointments and medications with side effects. So, I set up calendars to stay on top of it and to keep family informed. I used a journal to track to my feelings and my side effects. I am still using my daily gratitude journal and will ALWAYS keep one. It's one way to remind myself that there is always something to be grateful for each day. And I used an online journal to share my story with others and invite people to walk along with me.
4. Is there a family history of breast cancer? None. My dad is a 32 year non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and I have uncles who had prostate, but no breast cancer history in my family.
5. What message would you like to provide women in your/our community? Do not put off any of your annual exams - regular physicals, mammograms, colonoscopies, etc. Technology has come such a long way that with early detection, a treatment plan can be as "easy" as surgery without chemo or radiation. It is still not something you want to face but if you can save your own life, isn't it worth the 20 minute exam?
6. Anything else that you’d like to add that’s important to share about your personal journey? Everyone has their own story and journey to share, or not to share. I'm so thankful to have been surrounded by people who listened to me, asked questions to understand more, and supported me as best they could, when they could. And, as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life, I found comfort knowing that there was someone there 24/7 at their best resources of 1-800-227-2345 and www.cancer.org
KAREN HEZLEP IN HER OWN WORDS:
1. What’s the importance of screenings? October is breast cancer awareness month, but this is something we should be thinking about year-round. Women need to advocate for themselves, and the best way to do that is to be well informed
2. Talk about the importance of early detection. I can’t emphasize enough how important early detection is. On average, 1 in every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. So, it’s important for every woman to do screening and mammograms because most women who are diagnosed do NOT have a family history of it. But then it’s just crazy important to do these things if you have any high risk factors like a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) or dense breast tissue.
3. Anything you’d like to share about your treatment process? It’s a marathon not a sprint. At the beginning, I just thought I would have a surgery and then go back to my life the way it used to be. But cancer changes your biological makeup so greatly that you have to learn to live with a new normal.
4. What advice would you give women who are newly diagnosed? Look for a doctor that you trust and are comfortable with – don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Find good resources to help you make decisions, whether it’s a friend who’s already gone through it or an organization that can provide support and information. You have to advocate for yourself, and the best way to do that is by being well informed. Ask for help and take it when it’s offered. Rest and recharge when you need to, and don’t feel guilty about it.
5. What message would you like to provide women in your/our community? First, do not put off getting checked. October is breast cancer awareness month, but this is something we should be thinking about all year round. Look at the risk factors and if you have any of them, whether it be genetics, family history, or density, make sure that you ask about advanced screening like 3D mammograms (tomosynthesis) or MRIs. Second, if you know someone that’s going through this, reach out to them. I had a friend who was unfortunately battling cancer around the same time I was. She sent me a card every single week to let me know she was thinking of me and to encourage me. It was a simple act but it helped me so much.
6. Is there a family history of breast cancer? Aside from both of my sisters having it, I also had a cousin who was diagnosed and passed away. But other than that, there is not a long line of relatives in my family who have had it.