A breast cancer journey
Why not embrace what we have?
“Life is so short. Why not embrace what we have?” The California native made these comments during a phone interview, while in the car, dashing from a doctor’s visit back to her Palm Springs home so she could pack for a trip to Mexico. She’s determined not to let cancer get in the way of living her life.
“I’m going to embrace the moment, embrace my husband and my children, and embrace life,” Nancy said.
While the American Cancer Society says research is inconclusive on the impact positive thinking has on cancer, the group recommends cancer patients should “find the strength and support you need to feel the best you can and have the best possible quality of life.”
Nancy doesn’t need any encouragement in that direction, but at the same time, she’s not ignoring the fact that she has cancer.
“I’m a practical person. You deal with what you’ve been dealt,” said the 71-year-old.
Nancy’s first breast cancer diagnosis in 2004 took her by surprise. She had nursed all three of her children and had no known family history of breast cancer, so she’d hoped she would escape the disease. While these factors do indicate a decreased risk, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society say most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors other than aging.
In 2004, Nancy had surgery, a mastectomy, and low-dose chemotherapy. In 2012, her breast cancer recurred in the other breast. This time, it was stage 4, estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, so in addition to surgery, she began a targeted therapy that helps stop the cancer cells from dividing and making new cells, thus, slowing the spread of the disease. US Bioservices delivers this targeted therapy directly to Nancy’s home.
While stage 4 means her cancer has metastasized, she had radiation to treat a spot on her lung and the cancer has moved to her spine, Nancy doesn’t let the staging of her disease trouble her much.
“There are so many people that live long in this stage,” she said. In Nancy’s point of view, staging is all about anatomical geography. “All it means is that it moved from the original place.”
Life after mastectomies
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Nancy moved to Palm Springs, Calif., four and a half years ago, right around the time of her second breast cancer diagnosis.
“I found a wonderful oncologist here,” Nancy said. “I’m very thankful for her and I believe in God, and I think between the two, they’re doing their jobs and I’m doing very well.”
Nancy is actually quite pleased with the results of her mastectomies. Ever looking on the bright side, and never failing to find the humor of a situation, Nancy exclaimed, “I’ve had reconstruction, and I’m adorable!” She explained with a laugh, “I look perky all the time, and I look younger!”
Nancy said she tries to impart this message to every woman she meets, especially young women, “don’t be afraid of mastectomies.”
In fact, to prove her point, this forthright, irrepressible woman often conducts what she calls, “show and tell” sessions with women to “let them see that there is life after mastectomies and you can even look cute after a cancer diagnosis.”
Love after cancer
Nancy said she thinks it’s important for women to realize that beauty and cancer are not mutually exclusive. She believes that feeling good about yourself is an important part of healing and for her, that includes feeling good about her appearance, which is why she chose the reconstructive mastectomy.
She admits with a chuckle, “I’m vain, but the good kind of vain where we take pride in ourselves, how we look. And of course, I just got married.”
Nancy married husband Jeff last year.
Making medication stress-freeNancy and Jeff frequently travel to Baja California, a state in the northwestern part of Mexico, bordering the U.S. state of California. Nancy said she appreciates how her US Bioservices patient care coordinator Steven proactively coordinates her refill shipments to ensure she has enough doses for her trips.
“We go to Baja so often that I start to hyperventilate if I think I’m not going to get my medication and Steven works with me. He’s just great,” Nancy said. “We’re trying to build a home down there. Steven helps it to be a little more stress-free.”
Steven said he’s glad to know his work makes a difference in Nancy’s life.
“I’ve been serving patients for years now, and my passion is driven by the fulfillment I get when making their lives just a bit easier,” Steven said. “I am always happy to make my patients’ pharmacy needs a stress-free process.”
Nancy said she also appreciates the support she receives from US Bioservices’ telephonic nurse, Maria, who calls Nancy periodically to assess her condition and monitor her for possible side effects. Nancy said she is fortunate not to have experienced many side effects other than fatigue.
“Maria is a sweetheart. Maria has been encouraging, loving. I feel she knows what I’m going through and she’s right there with me.”
Nancy calls herself blunt, but there is such openness and generosity in her words, the term just doesn’t fit. She may be 71 chronologically, but her infectious laugh, humor, and the barebones way she speaks about her disease belies an ageless soul. That youthful, playful side of her makes one wonder if parties at her house would last until dawn. Not quite. She said fatigue from her medication has moved her bedtime a bit earlier these days … so the parties start earlier now.
Nancy’s thoughts for women recently diagnosed with breast cancer
- Do what you have to do to get the healing. Get through it.
- Give yourself rewards for “good behavior.” I held out a carrot for myself and celebrated.
- There is life after mastectomies.
- Embrace life!
Reach to Recovery, a program sponsored by the American Cancer Society, matches specially trained volunteers, who are also breast cancer survivors, with women going through breast cancer treatment. The goal is to offer understanding, support and hope.
Cancer Survivors Network is an online community sponsored by the American Cancer society.
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