On January 7, 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know no one expects to be diagnosed with cancer, but for me, all I could think was that it was really ruining my year. I was going to turn 50 in September and had plans to celebrate each month. From a food and wine show in Arizona, to Disney, to Vegas, to a family cruise.
Each time I visited with my breast surgeon and oncologist, I’d work on figuring out what I could still do throughout the year – after I recovered from surgery or in between chemo and radiation. But instead, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything, not only for me, but for everyone.
My cancer experience included a single mastectomy, followed by 16 rounds of chemotherapy, and 25 rounds of radiation. My active treatment was done in isolation. I went to every chemotherapy alone, except for two. My husband was allowed to go with me to the first day of AC and the first day of Taxol in case I had a reaction. They allowed him to be there in case of emergency. I attended every doctor’s appointment alone after March. In September, on my birthday, my sister drove me to radiation and waited outside. Instead of a big birthday party, we had lunch together. My friends and family still showered me with gifts, but it was very different from what I envisioned.
After active treatment, I met with the plastic surgeons to discuss DIEP flap reconstruction surgery. My plan from the beginning was to have reconstruction. However, after almost a year of active treatment and dealing with the isolation of the pandemic, I made the decision to forgo reconstruction. I opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy in March 2021 on my remaining breast and stay flat. I wanted to start living my life and didn’t want to have additional surgeries at the time.
At first, I was worried about what the reaction would be with a flat chest. I felt self-conscious and I hid behind clothes that had lots of ruffles, or I wore scarves, or a jacket. I was always covering up. But I knew that to move forward with my healing, I had to let go of that worry; I couldn’t let it drive my choices and my sense of self. I’m still navigating through the way that affects my identity, but I do know one important thing: I’m not here to make other people comfortable, I’m here to live fully, as myself.
I find that helping others helps me with my healing and emotional well-being. I have found several online communities that help me stay connected. I serve as an ambassador with For the Breast of Us, an organization created to empower women of color affected by breast cancer through education, advocacy, and community. I find energy when it comes to advocating for the importance of mammograms, providing information to women who are newly diagnosed, or to those who are contemplating aesthetic flat closure. Being of service is a healing component that isn’t prescribed by a physician.