It started as just another routine day. I saw my gynecologist for my yearly exam, and all went well. The next stop that day was my yearly mammogram. My first sense of concern was when the technician told me that the radiologist wanted additional photos.
It wasn’t until the doctor (in her white coat) entered the room that I knew I was in trouble. This wasn’t going to be a routine mammogram visit.
Jump ahead to the biopsy and the test results. When my family and I met with the radiologist and the nurse navigator for the results of the scans, tests, and biopsy, I suppose I went into a state of shock. I could see the radiologist’s lips moving, but I couldn’t hear the words. It wasn’t until I felt the warmth of the tears running down my cheeks that I came back to reality. I had breast cancer. It was then that my gut told me, “Wipe away your tears, sit up straight, and get your ‘I can’ mindset and positive attitude ready to move forward.”
If I can pass on one extremely important piece of wisdom, it would be to join a cancer support group as soon as possible. I have never been for support groups before, but I knew cancer was going to be a challenge for myself and for my family. The only regret I have is not going to the meetings before my surgery. I think it would have eased a lot of unnecessary fear. Sharing feelings and asking questions in a group of former and current “warriors,” you will have hands-on answers to your questions from people who have gone down the cancer path. Yes, doctors are your main line of defense, and they need to be consulted for all your medical needs, fears, and questions, but in a group of your peers, you can ask just about anything without fear of judgment, embarrassment, or intimidation.
I attended 2 different support groups shortly after my breast surgery, and I still do 2 years later. One group is for survivors, and the second group is for survivors and their families, caregivers, and others. These are 2 different environments, run on different levels, and both serve different functions. Family and friends give us all they can, but they’re scared as well. They try to stay strong to not worry us, but it’s important that our caregivers also have an outlet to verbalize their thoughts and feelings.
My emotional and physical needs have improved drastically over the last 2 years. I still attend both groups sporadically, and I have offered some well-received advice to others who were just beginning their cancer journey. It’s very rewarding for me to pay it forward.
Acupuncture for Postmasectomy Pain Syndrome
An important topic for me to share is the use of adjuvant therapy for cancer in addition to traditional treatments. For me it was acupuncture, which helped relieve the pain associated with my postmastectomy pain syndrome.
I have used acupuncture many years ago before my cancer diagnosis for the treatment of shingles, and it worked very well. But after my breast surgery, I was so terrified of developing lymphedema that I thought I should not have acupuncture while dealing with cancer. I would just have to live with the pain from my surgery.
Surprisingly, my nurse navigator recommended acupuncture to treat the pain. The key is to find an acupuncturist who is skilled and trained in treating patients with cancer. The needles used to treat me are lovingly called “cats’ whiskers,” because they are so thin and pain-free.
My acupuncturist also treats children with different types of cancer. An environment of calm and reassurance is all part of the treatment. I have been able to obtain outstanding results through acupuncture for other problems as well, such as high blood pressure, asthma, back pain, and joint pain caused by the aromatase inhibitors that I take to lower my risk for cancer recurring.
By experiencing acupuncture firsthand, and hearing and reading about Western medicine recommending it more and more, I believe we are on the right track when it comes to treating the mind, body, and spirit of the whole patient.
Acupuncture gives me a sense of calm; that’s the best way I can describe it. I usually yawn all the way home after my appointment.
Our fast-paced technological world requires us to constantly respond to electronic gadgets, which can lead to stress and anxiety. Cancer has taught me to prioritize things. If something is not bleeding, or if it’s not life-threatening, I respond to events in order of priority, or maybe it goes on the back burner for a while, and I let it resolve itself.
My Glass is Half Full
I will leave you with the glass half-full or half-empty scenario. Yes, I’ve experienced cancer with all of the physical pain, fear of the unknown, and emotional roller coaster rides that accompany a cancer diagnosis and its treatments. But my glass is definitely half-full, thanks to the medical team I’ve been blessed with, and all the new friends I have met along the way.
These inspiring men and women would not have crossed my path without the cancer experience. Today is the new normal, and I can positively say I am a better person today in many aspects, because of living through cancer.