Breast Cancer Grad- Vida
Name: Vida Ellen Rhodes
Age at Enrollment: Newly 33
Major: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Triple Negative Stage II
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor?
I had stepped out of the shower and was putting lotion on my body just as I always do and felt a very prominent lump in my right breast. I made an appointment right away. The PCP I had at the time said it was probably just a cyst and I could get a mammogram if I wanted to. I scheduled my mammogram for the very next day.
-16 rounds of chemotherapy.
-Multiple surgeries including mastectomy & diep flap reconstruction.
-6 weeks of radiation.
All in all it was 2 years of treatment & reconstruction.
I also participated in a clinical trial.
How did you respond when you heard the words “You have cancer”?
I was breathless.
I was at work when I received the call. I immediately went into the stair well and went to the top floor. I cried like I have never cried before. I pulled myself together, told a few necessary people at work so I could leave and then contemplated how I was going to tell my then husband – that was in our first year of marriage.
What has been your hardest moment(s) since your diagnosis?
Well where do I start…
Hardest moments… there were so many.
Picking up the heaviest phone in the world …to call my parents… my older brother… my older sister… trying to tell them; trying to get the words out of my mouth “I have cancer”.
Really experiencing mortality even though I always thought I would be ok with it.
Not recognizing whom I saw in the mirror. Having people that I knew walk right past me as they didn’t recognize me either.
Enduring the ridiculous comments and questions from people, especially men, in regards to my hair and looks.
Having people stare at me everywhere I went.
Trying to accept that I was going to lose my breasts.
Finding a new normal.
How have you moved forward through them?
The easiest to move through was divorce; I saw it as a new opportunity to find someone that is better suited for me. Plus having someone cheat on you is devastating enough but especially during such a time is even worse.
As far as the cancer experience; I am still trying. It is a process. Finding a new normal is not so easy. I try to live above the fear it leaves you in, and to slow the rush I feel to experience as much life as possible. Now if I had others around me that wanted to experience as many things, new foods and new places as me then game would be on!!! But for me the fear doesn’t lessen as time goes on like you think it would; it grows… retreats…hibernates…comes back out.
What has been your biggest accomplishment since your diagnosis?
Becoming a nurse.
What do you believe are the unmet needs of young adult patients within the cancer community?
Finding others that have experienced or are experiencing what they are going through so they don’t feel so alone.
What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed?
The best advice I was given and did my best to live by was to do your best to live your life. Don’t stop living, don’t stop working and don’t stop having as much enjoyment -if possible. I know this is not always possible.
My own advice is to laugh every chance you get.
What advice would you tell them to ignore?
I say ignore the statistics. We are more than a number.
What advice would you give to the caregivers?
Don’t stop living your life either and bring us stories about what is going on in your world because as you can see not too much other than cancer is going on in ours. We know people mean well and want to show they care but we get tired of being asked how we feel. Chances are most can’t handle the truth of how we feel anyways. And please please don’t add the pressure of “keep fighting”.
How did your family and friends respond?
The few that knew stepped up to help however they could. I do admit I didn’t tell many people until I knew how treatment was going. I just didn’t want the added pressure and the constant questions or negative stories. Unfortunately, a lot of friends didn’t get a chance to respond until after treatment. My work family was absolutely amazing.
Family members, friends and strangers would ask what stage/type but I chose not to share it with them. I felt like they didn't really know how to interpret all of that and that they were just trying to gauge my chances of survival. And being that I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer; I most certainly didn't want them googling that.
When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, what do you do for relief?
An anti-anxiety pill? Just kidding. Well sometimes. I try to fight it with the words that I repeated throughout my treatment “thank you for my healing”.
Do you have any new daily/weekly routines since your diagnosis? If so, what are they? How have they improved your quality of life?
I exercise more. Initially my heart had shown some damage from the chemotherapy. With increased exercise it is now back to normal.
What did you know about the type of cancer that you were diagnosed with prior to your diagnosis?
Never heard of it.
What do you now want people to be aware of?
Only 10% of those diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history.
I think the emphasis of family history gives people a false sense of security.
I had no family history.
Have you experienced any shifts in your outlook on life due to your diagnosis? If so, what are they?
I have. I no longer put off the things I want to do. While my travel has slowed down a bit; I have traveled the most I ever have since diagnosis. I have a more positive outlook on life. The things that matter to me now are so different than before. For me life is about enjoying, experiencing and trying to do for others. I don’t let myself get caught up in the little things and I try to laugh as much as possible.
Have you created any meaning out of this experience?
I know I am meant to help others but sometimes I feel stuck because I feel like I am still trying to accept and deal with the experience.
How did/do you find joy during this experience?
Knowing that an experience could be the last; I enjoyed everything and try to ensure that I still do the same. I enjoy seeing the sun, I enjoy nature. Getting to see Christmas lights right after diagnosis knowing it was possible that it would be the last time I would see them – best Christmas lights ever.
What has your cancer experience taught you?
It taught me to live now; yes- plan for a future, but live as you want to now. Not when you reach retirement, not when you lose 10 pounds, not when you finish school, not when you reach a certain financial status, because life holds no guarantees.
If you could write anything you wanted on a billboard in NYC’s Times Square that would reach millions of cancer patients, what would it read?
I would write this, though it would be for others about cancer patients or survivors:
“The thing is; you never really beat cancer it always fucks with you.”
I hope that is not too negative but I believe it holds truth for many.