Meet Breast Cancer Grad, Lauren Koehler
Name: Lauren Koehler
Age at Enrollment: 24
Major: Stage 2 Grade 3 ER positive HER2 negative BRCA1 positive breast cancer.
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? I didn't have any symptoms except one. Which is the scary part now looking back at it. The only thing I noticed was a large lump (about the size of a golf ball!) on my upper right breast in the shower before work. It seemed to have grown overnight!
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I contacted my doctor immediately following my shower that morning. Knowing my mother and two of my grandmothers had a previous history breast cancer, I knew the drill.
Courses completed: I had multiple core biopsies and MRIs followed by a surgery that tested my lymphnodes. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy (I did not opt for nipple sparring due to chances of cancer spreading there) tissue expansions, a reconstruction surgery and an egg retrieval surgery once I completed my shots and hormone therapy. I underwent 16 weeks of TC Chemotherapy while using the Penguin cold caps to try to preserve (most) of my hair.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them? My most difficult moments were those after any of the major breast surgeries. It felt as though a ton of bricks were placed on my chest and the pain was unbearable, making it difficult to breathe or get up and move around on my own. I am a very independent woman and to have to rely on others constantly was a challenge. Losing about half of my head hair, eyelashes and eyebrows was also a difficult process. I am forever grateful that the cold caps were a success but it wasn't easy getting there. Sitting under a -40 degree cap for 12 hours each treatment was painful. But worth it!
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? Some advice: Seek out support from someone who is going through the same treatments and surgeries as you. Remember that each case of cancer is different and sometimes you'll be unable to relate to someone's experience but reading up ahead of time on what to expect and how to help yourself is something I wish I did more of. It doesn't have to be a support group at the cancer center.. it could be a YouTube page or a blog. There are a lot of people wanting to help you (including myself so please reach out if you have questions) and we should all take advantage of that. Knowledge is power people!
How did you find joy during this experience? I found joy throughout this experience with music. I've always been a very passionate person when it comes to music and I find that if you can find lyrics that you can relate to it seems as though you're not alone. It was an outlet for any pain or negative emotion I was experiencing.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? I learned that I am stronger than I realized. We all truly have so much greatness inside of us. Sometimes it takes a storm to see that. I always refer to one of my favorite French authors, Alexandre Dumas. One of his characters Edmond Dantès speaks of courage and bravery with a toast to his son,
"Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you."