Looking Back on My Cancer Experience, I Would Have Done Things Differently

I underwent cancer treatments during my lunch breaks at work. Looking back, I wish I took some time off.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45, I was stunned. I was diligent with my regular exams and check-ups, thankfully, because the tumor was seen on a routine mammogram. After being diagnosed, I scheduled doctor’s appointments to not interfere too much with my job.

There were numerous things that could have been done differently to make my experience easier. I know that doctors and nurses are very busy, but when you must wait for news of some kind, especially not good news, your mind can be (or at least my mind was) scrambled.

I waited so long to get results from my biopsy that I called and left a message for the doctor to call me. He did. “It’s cancer,” he said.

My first biopsy was done by the surgeon in his office. Near the end, the anesthetic that had been injected was beginning to wear off.

“I felt that,” I said. “I need more anesthetic,”I said.

“I have only one sample left to take,” he said.

He did the last sample and I jumped. Then I bled — blood was running from the site and running up my neck (since I was lying down), and into my hair. The doctor left the room, and the nurses came in and rushed me out as I was trying to wash some of the blood out of my hair.

I left in tears. The biopsy had to be redone at the surgery center, because the surgeon didn’t get what he wanted. Luckily, he didn’t do the biopsy this time, and the female doctor who did the second biopsy made sure that I didn’t feel anything.

My treatments after surgery were not as emotionally taxing as the procedures that I had to endure to get to the surgery. Since I had a lumpectomy, needle localization was done, where they inserted long needles into my breast to surround the tumor. I wondered why, after the X-rays, mammograms and ultrasounds, they couldn’t use those. I think of people who have more advanced cancer and what they must withstand. (I had early-stage breast cancer with no cancer in the lymph nodes).

After recovering from surgery, I underwent chemotherapy. It was my choice, as my care team didn’t have the means to be able to tell whether I needed it or not, since my cancer was early stage.

I had 4 rounds of chemo, which left a metallic taste in my mouth. I couldn’t eat some of my favorite foods or drink tea because they tasted like metal. I craved salt. My long, blonde hair that hung to the middle of my back all fell out. I wore an itchy wig that looked so much like my hair, that even some of my coworkers were clueless.

One of the chemo nurses, as she was putting the line in my arm said, “You know this is going to make your hair fall out.” I wanted to scream at her and tell her that my doctors had already given me that information and her job was to make sure that I was getting the medicine and that if I threw up, she was there to make sure that I was OK. I didn’t say anything, but luckily, she wasn’t my nurse from then on, and my next chemo nurse was sweet and caring.

The next day, I returned to get an immune-boosting shot that left me sore at the injection site and achy all over. People would want to hug me, and even that hurt. The shot made me feel like I had the flu. I would take that day off and then return to work, feeling lousy.

After chemo came radiation. For one solid month, I would leave work on my lunch hour, get the radiation, go back to work, suck down my lunch, and work the rest of my day. The radiation was a breeze as far as pain, for which there was none. I did get a little burn, which left a dark mark under my breast, a small reminder along with my surgery scar, that I had been through a lot, but I’m here.

I see my scars and marks as “war wounds.” That’s why people say, “cancer battle,” because that’s what it is.

That was 18 years ago. I still have what I call PCSD (post-cancer stress disorder) when I go in for mammograms. I will have that for the rest of my life.

If I had to do it all over again, I would take better care of myself and take more time off. I’m not the same as I was 18 years ago before my cancer journey started. I’m a whole lot stronger.

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

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