I met Colleen through the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas Facebook group. Here is her story…
Tell us your story / stats:
I was officially diagnosed 5 days after my 37th birthday (happy birthday to me!). The diagnosis was Stage 2A Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma in-situ (breast cancer) with definite lymph node involvement (they could see it on the ultrasound so were pretty sure right from the screening that it was in my lymph nodes). I was married and already a mom of one, my daughter Peyton who was 7 yrs old, and 9 weeks pregnant with my second. We had been trying to get pregnant for 2 years and had finally started the adoption process when we found out I was pregnant! I found the lump in the shower at Christmas right when we told our families that we were expecting.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
I was so scared and so sad that having my baby wasn’t going to be possible. I didn’t want to die and leave my 7 yr old without a mom.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
Honestly, I think the coping skill I use the most is avoidance. I just didn’t think about it – I did the treatments the doctors told me to do and just kept on going. It may not sound like a lot but just continuing to move forward and live your life, do the treatments, and make it out the other side intact is an accomplishment.
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of.
Family and friends came out of the woodwork when I told them about my diagnosis. It was very moving to see how many people cared. Unfortunately, my husband just couldn’t process it all and was not very supportive. Ultimately, our relationship ended after treatment. I became closer with my family and close friends during the whole cancer/divorce process and they listened to me vent and cry with such patience. I really leaned on them a lot. The KACM site was also very helpful to see that I wasn’t alone and that my baby would be ok.
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?
When I went in for my mammogram and then immediate ultrasound and biopsy they could tell right away that it was cancer. When I asked about the baby I was told “chemo kills swiftly dividing cells so I don’t think the baby would survive”. Luckily, google exists and I found out pretty quickly that you CAN have chemo while pregnant and the outcomes for the baby are excellent. But even at a large Bay Area facility that treats thousands of cancer patients, the scanning staff didn’t know that. During the initial meetup with potential oncologists/breast surgeons, etc. I was lucky enough to come into contact with two doctors that had treated a pregnant woman with breast cancer the year before they met me. It was amazing! Even so, there was still an oncologist who suggested termination as a solution. I’m so surprised that this is still suggested when outcomes for the mom do not change regardless of whether they are pregnant or not. In addition, there are national guidelines for treating cancer in pregnant women. All doctors should be aware of these at a minimum.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?
That I am important. It’s a lesson that I’m still learning but cancer made me realize that what I need or even just want is important too.
Do you have any lasting side effects- mental, physical, etc.?
Yes, definitely. I am 3 1/2 years out from treatment and I still struggle with word recall and memory. I also have trouble sleeping and have aches/pains due to early menopause and the medication I have to take for another 7 years to help prevent a reoccurence. Looking back, I can tell now that in the first year or so after treatment I was still very emotional.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
“Look on the bright side” done with a sing-songy voice and jazz hands! This was just a joke in our family but I really do believe that you just have to move past the bad stuff and look at the good.