Tenured Breast Cancer Student- Noelle
Name: Noelle Gray
Age at Enrollment: 35 (47 now)
Major: Metastatic Breast Cancer
Primary symptoms you had experienced prior to diagnosis:
NONE. The doctors asked me how I knew. I didn’t. Just a strong feeling I needed to have a mammogram.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor?
NONE. I’d asked my gyno for a year to send me for a mammo. He refused. After a year he FINALLY consented and breast cancer was found on my baseline mammo.
What did you think you understood about cancer prior to your own diagnosis?
That a diagnosis meant death. I watched a friend, Susan, wither away and die. I watched a girl in college who had beautiful long, red hair come to classes during treatment. Then one day she stopped coming to class. I understood that cancer can rob you of the things that are important to you. It can change what’s important to you. I understood that people with cancer needed to have very good support. I learned (through Susan) the best way to support someone is to make them forget their troubles and laugh.
What (if anything) was different about what you thought you knew about cancer after your diagnosis?
I resisted “the new normal” for years. Because there is a new normal after cancer, and you have to define what that is for yourself.
I thought doctors took care of the human patient. They just took care of the disease without much consideration for the human.
Medistinoscopy, bilateral mastectomy and lymph node removal, reconstruction, IV chemo, Pill chemo, IM shot chemo, chest radiation, brain radiation, cyberknife, brain operation x2, constant MRIs, CT/PET, xrays.
What you’d like other men (and women) to know about your specific type of cancer, or cancer in general:
Cancer comes in as many forms as there are people who have it. There is no cure. If you’re really lucky there may be a remission. Once you have cancer there is always a fear of it coming back. When people say they’ll pray for me it pisses me off for its insincerity.
Any helpful tips or tricks for other people navigating a diagnosis?
Find/Have a team you like. Do not be afraid to fire the doctors (screw their egos). Be your own advocate. Study. Find a good support group. Allow yourself to cry. Allow yourself to rage. Allow yourself to ask for and accept help. Don’t give your spoons/energy to people who don’t deserve you. You get one life. Live it. Allow yourself to rest.
RECORD EVERY APPOINTMENT YOU HAVE.
Anything you wished you knew prior to diagnosis?
That having chest radiation would be the plastic surgeon’s excuse for doing a reckless and damaging job on my second implants.
Has a cancer diagnosis changed your outlook on life? If so, how?
I only regret the life I won’t get to live.
Do you experience anxiety related to your cancer diagnosis? If so, any advice or tips on how to manage it?
TONS of anxiety. The medications didn’t work for me. I’ve tried every med given or suggested. I can’t sleep.
Did you learn anything about yourself?
I’ve been in many performing art forms: comedy imrov, acting, drawing, photography, dance and swing dance, teaching swing dance, DJing, stand up comedy.
I learned: Laughing at terminal cancer won’t kill ya!
I also learned: I don’t like the term “fighter” or “war” or “she lost her battle” I have cancer. It is part of me. To say it’s a war implies I am at war with myself. And I am not.
Cancer is like a passenger in a car. Sometimes it sits quietly in the back, sometimes it back seat drives, sometimes it the passenger, and sometimes it’s the driver. No matter what, I feel like I’m driving on flat tires, but at least I’m moving forward.
Cancer might kill me some day- But NOT TODAY!