My journey with breast cancer started with a lump I found during a routine self-check. I went to my gynecologist who sent me for a mammogram and a biopsy which confirmed it was cancer. My gynecologist recommended breast surgeons, and that’s how I found Dr. Vargas. When I was initially diagnosed, I shut down most emotions and went into get it done mode—I told Dr. Hernan Vargas anything he needed to do, I am all in.
There were many tests I would need to get. Dr. Vargas pulled out a piece of paper and explained the information and feedback we’d get from each test. Before we talked, I didn’t even realize there was more than one type of breast cancer. I didn’t know how the results of testing would develop into a treatment plan. He gave me choices. I asked him which he thought was my best option. Once we agreed to the treatment plan the rest of team came in and made everything happen. They said here are all of your appointments, anything you need, we’re here for you. That made me feel taken care of. There was always an open line of communication, and that gave me some amount of peace.
When the oncologist I had during my cancer treatment moved on to a different hospital, I was a bit apprehensive about starting with a new one. But my first meeting with Dr. Favret set me at ease–she was warm and compassionate, and I felt like she had been part of my team from the start.
Treatment started very quickly, which I was happy with. My team was able to get all the testing done in one day, and I was in treatment within a couple of weeks. I really believe that helped me get to where I’m at now—a survivor, five years out. I couldn’t ask for a better medical staff than my team at Virginia Cancer Specialists. They gave me so much information, openly and honestly. If you ever need a second opinion, I highly recommend my doctors.
When everything moves so quickly, you don’t have a lot of time to sit and dwell. I kept working while I received treatment. My son was ten at the time, and he was in sports. We continued to do our regular activities. I was very lucky to have a lot of family support. My husband took me to nearly every one of my appointments. My mom lived close by and came over often to help us and our son. My mother-in-law was going through ovarian cancer treatment at the same time and having her to talk to was a huge help.
Eventually, I had first one, then a second and third coworker of mine who had been diagnosed with breast cancer reach out for tips and advice, and after giving them all the same information to start with, I decided I should write it all down. I started writing a book called More Mighty Than Cancer. My best friend invited me to come to a writer’s group she was in, and I started bringing chapters of my book to the group for feedback. They said they want to see more of “me” in the book. This feedback made me realize that I needed to be more open with the information I shared, as well as my feelings. That was an uncomfortable place for me, but I knew that by sharing more, I could offer more support to others.
I’m not a medical expert, but I can talk about the non-medical things I experienced. I can help others know what to expect when they’re starting treatment. In the book, I talk about food, and how that made me feel better. I talk about how my first and best piece of advice is to “Drink More Water!” I share ways friends and family can help someone who has been diagnosed. I try to talk about the things that were uncharted territory for me.
I’ve been very candid with people about my cancer experience. As sad as it makes me to learn someone else has been inducted into the club, I’m glad to be able to offer my support and advice if they want it.
I know I need to listen to my body. I know I need to exercise. I know sometimes I need rest. I know healthy foods are healing foods. These are things that make me feel better. I’ve learned that the hardest part is admitting to yourself and others that you need to rest.
Now, my focus is enjoying life. I prioritize spending time with my family, and don’t beat myself up for not accomplishing things. I used to work a lot of extra hours, not because it was expected of me, but because it was how I approached my work. Now, unless there’s something super important, I don’t feel obligated to give that uncompensated time. If laundry has to wait a couple days to get done, so be it. I’m not putting undue pressures on myself, and I’m enjoying my time. Every day is a gift, and I want to make the most of it.
Anita’s book, More Mighty Than Cancer, was written as an easy reference guide to help during all stages of treatment, and is available on Amazon, or online through any bookstore.