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As a health care provider who specializes in lymphedema, I had a unique perspective when I was diagnosed with cancer.
We all have our cancer stories or “journeys,” as they say. As a health care provider, mine is from a different perspective than some. I was a physical therapist assistant and lymphedema therapist, specializing primarily in breast cancer rehabilitation for 20 years when I received my diagnosis of stage 0, estrogen- and progesterone-positive, grade 3 ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS).
I cried alone for five minutes after being diagnosed. My first thoughts were, “my life, my hair, my kids, family, then I said…well why not me?” One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer. I can line up hundreds of female friends and family and it just happens to be my turn.
Being a specialist in the area, I called a female surgical oncologist with whom I previously worked closely with. She also had had DCIS while pregnant. I spoke with current patients who had breast cancer who were warriors dealing with lymphedema or trying to gain range of motion, endurance and/or strength from their diagnosis. I have also had male breast cancer patients over the 30-year span of my career.
At this time, I was new to my home state of Texas. I had lived most of my life in one county in California. Three years into being a Texan, I knew only the physicians who referred patients to me, so I began my interviews and found two doctors that my gut told me I could trust.
Once my care plan was established, my loved ones supported me in different ways,
I’m an only child. My mom and I are very close. She has always been my rock. She has taken care of me and my children every day. She’s my confidant and the epitome of a warm, nurturing mom. She was there for me every day of my surgery and beyond.
My husband of over 25 years was working in California and could not be the support I needed, as he was not physically present much. Also, he lost his mother when he was two years old. She died in a hospital, and so he sadly is not a good caregiver when sickness comes our way. He fears for death — a sad consequence of losing three immediate family members before he was 15 years old.
However, my husband is a good provider, a good man and the love of my life. He has supported me with all the changes we go through with our new bodies. I had double mastectomies, then a couple weeks following, my DIEP flap reconstruction.
The emotional part is hard for him, as it is for anyone who has not experienced cancer. I yearn to have him understand as he reaches for my numb breasts or highly sensitive and tender-to-the-touch abdominal scars. He just wants to love me physically and emotionally as we did before breast cancer. I love that he still wants me just as he did when we were 19. I am just not the same person after cancer. My body will never feel the same during intimacy, however hard I try.
The crazy part is I speak to my patients, thousands of whom I’ve had the pleasure to know. I’ve touched their lives as much as they have touched mine, both before and after. I’ve stayed friends with a few, watched some lose their battle and I still work daily with some.
After going through cancer myself, I like to think I have more empathy than others, but do I really? I’m lucky to have caught it early — no radiation or chemo needed here. Though I did have an infection in my new breast flap almost died. I had a PICC line and antibiotics for four days, hospitalized. My flap was saved. Then my abdominal wound separated, so I packed it for months because I didn’t want a wound vac. I had done wound care for eight years in my career and hated donning those contraptions on patients.
Do I feel my chest necrosis weekly, sometimes daily, stretch my chest, abdomen scars? Yes. I did have my journey though. I must remind myself of that. As I said, ours are all so unique. I’ve seen how different our rehabs are, how different we feel as we fight for our lives. Depression, anxiety, love, faith, negativity, positive attitudes. We truly are as unique as a face in this world of cancer.
My cancer helped to become an even better therapist. God had a plan. I still pray over my patients with my hands as I touch their scars and heal them. I’m a healer. I’m a woman, mom, wife, daughter, therapist, friend, cousin and a breast cancer survivor. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This post was written and submitted by Gina Ross. The article reflects the views of Gina Ross and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.
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