From Hair Loss to Menopause, a Look at the ‘Good Stuff’ From Cancer Treatment

Cancer tried to kill me, but I came back even stronger than ever.

In 2007, after a routine mammogram at age 44, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As if having two teenage daughters and a husband who was running a small business wasn’t challenging enough, life threw me this curve ball.

The surgeon gave me a choice: have a lumpectomy and keep the breast or have a mastectomy. Amid his explaining things, he got an emergency phone call and left my husband and me alone with our thoughts.

When the doctor came back into the room, he seemed distracted and didn’t explain things to me like perhaps he should of.I knew nothing about cancer and treatments or mastectomies. I didn’t know what to ask. It just struck us as odd to be given the choice.

I decided,“well if given the choice, of course I will keep my breasts.” I was 44 and wasn’t ready to give them up. But in hindsight, if he never left the room, if I knew what to ask, if I knew what the biopsy was going to reveal, I would have had the mastectomy.

Initially I was told there would be no chemo, just radiation. After the lumpectomy, the doctor advised the cancer was aggressive and now I needed chemo treatments and a year of Herceptin (trastuzumab) infusions. Not just any chemo, but a high-octane cocktail that knocked me to the moon; I had to claw my way back to earth after every treatment.

I read all the material they gave me to read on chemo. There was no mention of anything good, only that it was going to cure me and poison me at the same time. I want to share the good. If there was one thing I knew going in, it was that I was going to go bald. I didn’t mind because I had long, thick, frizzy hair and some nurses even told me it would grow back straight and smooth (didn’t happen).

Being bald was wonderful, I could shower and not have to rinse and repeat. I didn’t have to blow dry and style, just shower, dry off and done. I had fun picking out and wearing a wig. After the second chemo treatment, the other hair started to wipe off. It wasn’t just happening on my scalp but everywhere, legs, arms, eyelashes, and yes even “down there.” The only area spared were my eyebrows they held on with a vengeance.

To this day, some hair on my body has grown back but I haven’t had to shave under my arms since.

You know how you remember where you were, what time it was and what you were doing when a major event happened? For me it was Oct. 30, 2007, approximately 6 p.m. in an isolation room in the hospital. I was there because of a depletion of white and red blood cells. My period started and before the nurse could come back with sanitary supplies, it ended and never came back.

Here now at 60 years old, I have yet to experience any menopause symptoms and as an added bonus, my hormonal migraines left that day, never to return.

My adult acne cleared up and I think I have a bionic immune system now as I rarely have colds, never got COVID-19 or even had to be tested.

I reflecton 2007 with mixed emotions. The year that tried to take my life and the year that I grew stronger than ever.

Chemo made me feel invisible. When it was time for radiation treatments, I was ready for them to bring it on. I knew if I could get through chemo, I could get through anything. As a 15-year survivor I still use that philosophy every day.

This article was written and submitted by Joan Tumminello; it reflects the views of Joan Tumminello and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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