Breast Cancer Grad- Lisa
Name: Lisa Vento Nielsen
Age at Enrollment: 39
Major: Breast Cancer Stage 3A
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? NONE - in fact, I was working my first full time job in about 7 years and finding that “work/life” balance.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I had no symptoms; I was told after I had my son in 2010 that because I had great insurance that I should go for mammograms starting at 35. I went every year and in April 2016, I was told I had a slight calcification in the duct of the right breast and to just come back in 6 months. I went back in November (first full time job, and all that) and it was cancer. At my surgery in December 2016, I was already Stage 3A. I had no lump, symptoms and in fact had just done blood work and it was perfect. I had no clue.
Courses Completed: I did a bunch of stuff - MRI, PetScan on my 40th birthday, Nuclear Lymph Node Mapping, Radical right mastectomy and lymph node extraction (3 days after my 40th birthday), 8 rounds of chemotherapy (4 AC, 4 Taxol) and 30+ rounds of radiation.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them? The hardest part for me was being unable to function during chemotherapy. I was shocked to be diagnosed, of course, but I knew I was lucky because I had no symptoms, no family history and all that. I am a mom of 2 young children and having to explain to them that I had cancer was one of the hardest things I have ever done and on top of that was having them see me unable to function and do the things I always used to do. I worked full time during my treatments but I could not care for my children. They got strep throat like 4 times during my chemotherapy and all they wanted was me to hug them and care for them but I could not do it and had to stay away from them. That went against every fiber of my being as a mom. I learned I had to put myself first and that was my hardest lesson.
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? So many - I learned that you have to trust your doctors and not worry. I learned to focus on my faith and what I could do and control vs what I could not. I was taught how to survive chemotherapy by someone who had been through it and I posted about it on my blog. Most important is that I found my voice - I stopped hiding my illness and went public with my blogging and my videos and my advocacy that everyone needs mammograms and to know their bodies.
How did your family and friends respond? My husband, who I never thought would be there for me and even had a countdown clock to divorce him (only slightly kidding) was all about being there for me and helped me in ways I never imagined. My family and friends rallied around me in so many ways and helped me survive. I was “strong” but they made me so.
Have you created any meaning out of this experience? If so, what was it/how did you do it?
As I mentioned before, I am blogging and about 1000-2000 people per week are on my website. I am speaking with women around the world and around the corner about this disease and how to manage life with it. I am sharing and out there in videos and in sharing the many ways this “plot twist” of cancer has changed my life and how much I will always wish it never happened but that I cannot change it, so might as well embrace being the one boobed crazy lady that I am.
How did/do you find joy during this experience? Through my children and my sharing - I am joyful by nature and always have been happy no matter life’s burdens - I have lived through a lot and I am still standing. I embrace my body and my amazon like one-boob look and I am just so damn happy to be alive and plan to be here for as long as I can shouting from the rooftops that I made it and so can you - and that it sucks but it can always be worse. We are not in charge of what happens next but we can help each other through it.
How are you healing from this experience? I am healing by sharing - it is the best way for me though I have to deal with “pity” and people who do not get it - I am educating people one click at a time!
Did you learn anything about yourself or your life? If so, what was it? I learned that I worried entirely too much in my life before cancer and that I really had nothing to worry about. All of those things that seemed so large and unfathomable were nothing compared to cancer.