Eight Things I’ve Learned About Breast Cancer
1) You can get breast cancer twice — and survive it twice!
My first breast cancer was treated and cured. And then I got a second, totally unrelated, different form of breast cancer — in exactly the same spot as the first. How lucky can you be, right? But because I was extra vigilant, I found it early, and because I’d been through treatment before, I knew I could get through it again — and I did. Today I am healthier and stronger than ever — and once again, cancer free.
2) You can have more than one double mastectomy!
What? Yes — a mastectomy merely means the removal of breast tissue; and surgeons do tell you that they can’t be sure they’ll get 100% of the tissue that makes up your breasts. Even if you’ve had a double mastectomy, you can get breast cancer again if even one of those cells mutates; and any surgery to remove it will be a mastectomy! There’s no such thing as a guarantee, so it pays not to become complacent about your cure.
3) Genetic testing is covered by your health insurance!
Back when I was diagnosed, I was unaware of my family’s hidden time bomb: the BRCA2 genetic mutation that had been passed down through generations, causing literally every female member who carried it to develop breast cancer. This knowledge was discovered with genetic testing, and helped me decide what course of treatment to undertake. I also know what risk my children carry, so that they can be monitored early enough to catch any cancer that develop right away.
In 2008, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act made it illegal for health insurance companies to discriminate based on one’s genetic profile. In addition, there are now several genetics testing companies to choose from, which has driven the cost of testing down.
4) A change in health insurance doesn’t have to mean you have to find new doctors!
Even though none of my doctors or hospitals are covered by my insurance company any more due to a policy change, I can still see them at in-network rates because continued cancer care is recognized as being very important. No-one wants to have to establish new relationships with the medical teams who overlook your care, especially the ones who have been with you through thick and thin on this profoundly personal journey. Continued cancer care means you can also continue to get treated at specialist centers unique to your area, even if they are not normally covered by your insurance.
5) You can get chemo twice!
While you can’t get the same kind of chemo twice — too much of any of those drugs can cause more damage than it prevents — your oncologist does have options to treat additional cancers, should it be necessary to do so. Not all regimens are the same, however; the side effects you experience with one will likely be different with another. And while getting any chemo is pretty awful, you get plenty of bragging rights having doubled up on it!
6) Radiation isn’t all that bad.
People say that if you’ve had chemo, then radiation is a breeze, and it’s true. Lying in the Accelerator every day for six weeks gives you special powers which turn you into a superhero, a special “glow,” and your well-earned Badass stripes. (It’s up to you to provide the cape, however.)
7) The internet can be your friend.
When I was first diagnosed, there wasn’t Facebook to update my friends and family on how I was doing; there was no Skype to let them see me and me see them; there were no online communities to provide information and support; and I didn’t know if I could trust the information I did find. Today, anyone can benefit from an abundance of online help, making the entire process far less scary, isolating, and confusing. MyBCTteam, for example, is a wonderful resource, and the major cancer organizations all have very good sites you can use to make sure you’re armed with all the information you’ll need to make the right decisions about your care.
8) Post-cancer physical therapy is SO worth it!
Let’s face it: after a year of cancer treatment, no-one is at their physical best. Lax muscles, scar tissue, burned skin, lymphedema and more all contribute to the feeling that you’re a shadow of the woman you once were. Physical therapists can change all that with massage, gentle exercises to re-stretch those stubborn and traumatized muscles, getting those nerve pathways up and running, and loosening that stubborn scar tissue. Soon, you’ll have a fabulous new physique to go with that new hair and winning attitude!
Sneaky #9: Certain “alternative medicines” aren’t as alternative as they used to be…for some!
The tide is turning in many states. This is good news for all people with cancer.