Breast Cancer Grad- Danielle Cooper
Name: Danielle Cooper
Age at Enrollment: 28
Major: Triple Positive Invasive Ductile Carcinoma of the Right Breast Stage 2 (almost 3)
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? Large lump in breast right below nipple – no other symptoms I was actually the healthiest I’d been in over a year.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I had been feeling the lump in the shower for 3 months prior to going in. Every month I’d feel the lump get bigger around the time of my monthly cycle and my stomach would do somersaults. I kept telling myself it was just a clogged duct from breast feeding or just hormones and that I was silly to think it was cancer. On Mother’s Day 2016 I had my husband feel the lump and he told me “That’s cancer you need to have that looked at” of course at the time he was joking but at that point his comment just stuck in my head. So the next day I found myself changing up my route home so my doctor could check it out. I didn’t have an appointment but she immediately took me in, referred me to get a mammogram and that’s when the roller coaster began. To be honest I still thought it was nothing up until I heard the words from my radiologist’s mouth.
What treatments did you endure (i.e. surgery, chemo, radiation, etc)? I was initially diagnosed ER/PR+ HER2- so I was assigned 4 rounds of A/C every 2 weeks and 4 rounds of Taxol every 2 weeks, 1 month of recovery, a bilateral mastectomy (non-nipple sparing) with a full node removal with tissue expanders above the muscle and radiation for 5 ½ weeks. During the biopsy of my tumor after my mastectomy they rediagnosed me as ER/PR+ HER2+ which meant I would need to begin Herceptin/Perjeta every 3 weeks for 6 rounds then Herceptin for another 12 rounds (1 year total). I also receive Zoladex shots monthly and am on Tamoxifin for 5-10 years. I still have my DIEP flap reconstruction surgery and a hysterectomy planned for this year…I cannot wait to have these AWFUL tissue expanders out of my body!!
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you get through it/them? Hearing the words – you have cancer was awful but by far not the hardest part for me…I’d say losing my hair was probably more emotional than being told I had cancer but I just held onto the knowledge that it’d grow back. The worst part is tied between hearing I was actually miss-diagnosed, and that I was actually HER2+, and would need an additional year of infusions. Also, making the decision to not have any more children was really difficult but I felt immediate peace with the decision so I know it’s the right choice for me and my family. Each time something didn’t go as I had planned (like my miss-diagnosis, hearing I’d have to have radiation, deciding to have a hysterectomy, etc.) I went and got a pedicure by myself but to be honest each of these was a huge hit emotionally and I found myself more and more angry at this whole process. I use that anger in a positive way to help fuel me to never give in or give up.
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? Acupuncture was probably the best thing I did for my symptoms. My acupuncturist and naturopathic doctors were my Angels during this whole process. I used them regularly – acupuncture the evening prior to my chemo and “Meyers Cocktail” IV infusions the day after chemo as well as 5 days post chemo to help my body to recover. I also maintained a constant workout regimen that I used to take out my frustrations…I’d say the row machine was the most effective way of getting out all my anger during chemo. You have to turn that anger into something positive or it’ll eat you alive. My acupuncturist used to tell me being angry was totally healthy and that I just needed to make sure I used it in the right way. Another great addition to my medical team was my Physical Therapist, especially during my post-mastectomy/radiation recovery. I highly recommend you find a team of people you trust and that have your best interests in mind. For me finding specialists who are more holistic and less inclined to push prescription medications was key.
How did your family and friends respond? They initially responded with sadness, anger and fear but once they realized I was facing each day with positivity and smiles it definitely helped them to stay positive themselves. I will say I HATED telling people I had cancer. You spend a lot more time comforting others when you have cancer then receiving comfort. My suggestion for family/friends who don’t know how to respond is to just say “I’m here for you, how do you need me to support you?” Don’t cry, don’t tell stories of other people you know with cancer; just be there. To me the worst thing you can do is to break down in anger or sadness…keep that for once you are away from that person so that they don’t feel the need to comfort you.
How did/do you find joy during this experience? I find joy in just pushing through the pain and doing my best to maintain my pre-cancer routine. I spent a lot of evenings after I’d put my toddler to bed in the week post chemo giving myself pep talks and saying “You’ve got this!”. Going to work, finding cute ways to style my wig, wearing a new head scarf or styling my post-chemo hair with cute bows and hair accessories, wearing new lipstick colors (makeup helped me feel like my old self) and just getting out is how I get through it. Did I overdo it during my active treatments? Yes, but I also spent time doing self-care and just reflecting on the things I could do different without compromising my lifestyle.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? I’m a badass! My body is strong and my mind is even stronger. Half the battle is mental and I definitely spent a lot of time giving myself positive affirmations and just remembering that I could do this. “Positivity brings about positive outcomes!” To say I was a bit low on the self-confidence scale pre-cancer is an understatement but getting cancer, kicking its butt and seeing all the amazing support I’ve gotten has built my self-confidence and taken me to a new level of positivity and joy in my life! I also learned a lot about my friends and family…they are also strong and I trust each of them with my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Finding renewed trust in those surrounding me was super helpful because I knew that when I needed them they would be there…I didn’t have to do it alone!!!