OCTOBER IS NATIONAL BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH (NBCAM)
STORY #2 ~ KIM MICHEL
I was diagnosed at age 50, just two months after a large surprise birthday party. I had always gone for mammograms every year since age 40. At age 50, I started having hot flashes and went to a specialist for consultation. After he gave me a physical exam, he stepped back and told me he felt a lump deep…he had me scheduled for an MRI that Saturday. I knew it was important for him to act so quickly. My cancer was in both breasts with multiple tumors, Stage 2.
I had a double mastectomy one month after diagnosis and followed up with chemotherapy for 4 months. I also had reconstructive surgery. I picked this surgeon at the same time I picked my entire team. I chose a female doctor who supported nipple sparing surgery. When I had my mastectomy, she was there to make sure half my nipples were saved at the beginning of the surgery as most doctors just slice them off. After the mastectomy was performed, she stayed another 4 hours and intricately sewed the top part of each of my nipples back on! I later had the bottom half of the nipples tattooed on! It made a huge difference to my psyche to not have “holes” in my chest.
My doctors ended up being all female and I felt so protected, nurtured, and in great hands…they came from St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA. My own internist came to the hospital during my recovery period. For me, having a female team made sense – they were fabulous.
I felt that living optimistically helped me immeasurably. For me, I had NO option but to beat the cancer. I had too much going on in my life to give in to helplessness. I had my moments of being scared for sure, but I never really gave in to the thought that I could die from it – I just refused to go there. A positive attitude is imperative, essential and necessary!!!
I tried everything I could working around my full-time career and taking care of my two small boys ages 7 and 4 at the time. I did meditation and acupuncture to cope with the stress.
MY ADVICE TO WOMEN WHO ARE DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER
Find a friend that will hold your hand. Take someone to your doctor appointments to take notes – you can be so emotionally rattled, it is hard to remember what is said in the appointments. I kept a binder with each doctor in their own divider portion…kept notes, appointments, and materials organized that way.
I feel you should interview as many doctors as you must until you find one that you are completely comfortable with – do not settle. If they come recommended but don’t have a good bedside manner, go on to the next one…having a relationship with your doctor is so important…my team of doctors were my heroes!
Cancer is awful. It is no fun. It takes a lot out of you. I don’t wish it on anyone…having said that, you can survive cancer with early diagnosis, a great team of doctors and a support system. A cancer diagnosis may put you out of your A game for a year…but in the game of life, who cares about one year?
HOW I DEFINE MYSELF
I do not want to be defined by being a cancer survivor. I would rather be defined as a great mom, wife, career woman, sister and daughter. Cancer got in the way and I hated it, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. You need to keep walking forward toward that light because you know it is going to be better on the other side.
Los Angeles, California