Andrea: My Support Network is a Blessing
My name is Andrea and I am 37 years old. After I noticed significant breast pain, I had a mammogram and biopsy, and I was diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, that metastasized to lymph nodes, in late February 2014.
My doctor recommended a double mastectomy but then a PET scan revealed metastasis to my vertebrae, belly, sternum, and clavicle, as well as additional lymph nodes. Rather than surgery, I began chemotherapy in April. I have a significant family history and found to be a BRCA1+ carrier.
AN EXTENSIVE SUPPORT NETWORK
Since I do not live close to my family, I decided early that I would have to rely on my friends and "work family." I have been blessed to have an extensive support network through my job. Working for 15 years in the same department has given me opportunity to experience growth as a person and a professional, and grow with my work family as they establish their lives and careers. These wonderful people are my primary support system and have organized fundraisers as TEAMSOSA.
MY CALIFORNIA ROOTS
I am originally from California's Central Valley, and came to the Bay Area to attend college and start a career in local law enforcement and the Courts. During the past 15 years, I have obtained my Masters Degree in Criminal Justice while working full time in a high stress, high demand workplace. I have established long term personal relationships with coworkers who have supported me as I progressed in my career. Over time, we have become family, and watched each other experience personal joy and hardship. As a member of that community, my coworkers have stepped up with Tshirt fundraisers and luncheons. TEAMSOSA is my support community here, and they help with everything from chemotherapy appointments, to daily visits, or food runs.
MY SUPPORT SYSTEM
I am single, and have no children, hence the need for a support system. Right after the diagnosis, I decided I was not doing this alone. I communicated with close friends and family about the new journey, and nearly everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive. I sent an email to my workplace announcing my leave of absence and support has come from people I never expected it from. I was also placed in contact with retirees and other breast cancer survivors, and learned quickly how this disease has touched so many lives.
MY FAMILY HISTORY
There is an extensive cancer history on mother's side including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and lymphoma. I have two sisters and two nieces, who are aware of my diagnosis and what to inform their doctors for their health. Also, my mother was treated and diagnosed for breast cancer approximately 20 years ago. She is a retired registered nurse, and cancer-free. My father has battled heart disease all of my life. My parents have been supportive with frequent visits and regular check-ins, and wear their TEAMSOSA shirts with pride.
CANCER SUPPORT COMMUNITY
I participate in activities at the Cancer Support Community; my doctor's office provided me with their information. Their facility and staff are courteous, professional, and empathetic. The Center is welcoming, and there are so many stories to be told within their walls. I attend a weekly support group, which has been very helpful in answering questions, as well as observing those progressing to wellness after recovery. I have met two other women who are my age, and also met other women who have gone through treatment for breast cancer. The resources there include exercise, creative activities, and a library, among many others.
I was diagnosed fairly recently-- in February 2014. I am undergoing chemotherapy as part of neo-adjuvant therapy. My treatment plan includes surgery and radiation. I have had four (of six) cycles of Taxotere and Cytoxan. The side effects have been rough, but manageable, through medication and rest. Mainly, I have experienced heartburn, hives, and fatigue. In between treatments, I try to get out of the house once a day, whether its to do an errand, or attend the CSC. I attend various sporting events with friends, including SF Giants baseball games (I'm a huge fan). My friends have been very good about inviting me to lunch or to go for walks, which reminds me daily that I am not alone.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BREAST CANCER
When I was first diagnosed, I took the time to individually tell friends and family. Each person provided me with an emotional response, as well as hope. No one said this wasn't treatable. Everyone said it was going to be rough. One person said "it would be a bad year," and another reminded me "it was not a brain transplant." Along with some other sage advice, I was grateful to learn I had the support of so many who were aware this disease was TREATABLE.
While most women, through early detection or genetic testing, have treatment options that eventually end, I am aware Metastatic Breast Cancer requires long term treatment. I am aware of the options I may no longer have because of the progression and behavior of the disease. However, I will continue to do what I can, until I cannot.
Editor'snote: Andrea blogs here.
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