Meet Breast Cancer Grad, Lorena De la Peña
NAME: Lorena De la Peña From México City!
AGE AT ENROLLMENT: Age 29, I'm currently almost 31
MAJOR: Stage 3 breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma
WHAT WERE THE PRIMARY SYMPTOMS YOU EXPERIENCED PRIOR TO DIAGNOSIS? Tricky one… I started with some weird symptoms and none of them were related to breast cancer. I started having palpitations, headaches, hot flashes, my eyes hurt, I never felt like eating and something was killing my sex drive, so my husband immediately took me to the doctor (an endocrinologist) since I had all the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. She sent me for some scans and it turned out nothing was wrong with my thyroid. So I left it alone since my husband is a physician and I felt he was being paranoid like he normally is.
WHAT SYMPTOM(S) LEAD YOU TO GO TO THE DOCTOR? After I went to the endocrinologist I felt a little lump in my right breast- very tiny, like the size of a pea. I rushed to my OBGYN to get checked since my mom had just gone through breast cancer (very early stage). I didn't want to risk it. The doctor said I was "too young for cancer”, that it was just a cyst and that I should worry about something else.. PCOS. I thought, “Im not ready to have babies, I'll deal with this when I have to”. ONE YEAR later my husband and I decided 2016 was the year to try to have a baby. I went to a specialist in reproduction (OBGYN) to get checked so that I could get the "baby duty" on… He took one look at me and said that PCOS was the last thing I should worry about. He showed me the ultrasound of my right breast and that little pea was 5.5 cm (like 2 inches) wide. Naturally I told him “But I am to young to have breast cancer right? besides my breast are pretty small!”. He answered that those were the worst myths about breast cancer and that I should get a biopsy as fast as I could! Last Tuesday my oncologist said that the proteins of the cancer cells may have caused the hyperthyroidism symptoms, which is very strange, but it happens.
Courses Completed: I had a mastectomy on January 14th 2016. After that I had an egg recollection on February 11th, following 12 courses of paclitaxel (taxol) and 4 A/C treatments (Doxorubicin, Flourouracil and Cyclophosphamide). My chemo lasted from March 11th to September 5th 2016. Started Tamoxifen the day they told me I was in full remission (after a pet scan) on October 3rd. Im starting my reconstruction phase right now, plastic surgeon has filled my expanders with 360 cc so far.
WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST MOMENT (OR MOMENTS) AND HOW DID YOU YOU GET THROUGH IT/THEM? As you guys know, a cancer patient deals with a LOT of grieving. First you feel the loss of your health, then a part of your body, then your hair, followed by lashes and brows. I guess for me it was when all of it hit me at once. One day I sat down in my living room with all my labs and found that this was pretty shitty. I was 29 years old, trying to have a baby, in the best shape of my life, best point of my professional career, never better with my hubby… and it was all my fault in believing the first diagnosis, for not getting a second opinion. This happened the week I lost my brows and saw myself after taking a shower bald, with a big scar across my chest and no lashes or brows… I got out of it a little bit with self-cheering and with the pep talks of my husband. He always said the right thing at the right time. He once said that I was the prettiest cancer patient he ever saw… my response being “you're full of crap”. We laughed for about an hour.
ANY HELPFUL (TANGIBLE) TIPS OR TRICKS YOU DISCOVERED FOR DEALING WITH YOUR SYMPTOMS AND/OR CANCER? Yes! coconut oil works wonders for everything, sensitive scalp, mouth sores and dry skin!
HOW DID YOU FIND JOY DURING THIS EXPERIENCE? It might sound very, very cheesy, but my husband is my main joy. He is my everything, my rock and strength. We have no kids and both came out of very difficult past relationships. He was a very dear friend of mine and then we fell in love, and for 3 years we were in a constant honey moon until breast cancer. He has been there for me, holding my hand every step of the way. He made me laugh during the hardest times, and pushed me so that I could recover faster. We made fun of me with just one brow, we make fun of me with one big boob, we laughed when other people were looking at me with the pity face. We made fun of cancer, because there was no other option. If you don't laugh about the shitty things that happen to you, you will never get over it.
DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT YOURSELF? IF SO, WHAT WAS IT? Yes, I can be a very strong girl! My best friend called me a tough bitch after I walked out of the hospital after my mastectomy. I can carry physical pain very well, better than I thought, but emotional pain is awful- sometimes it's worse- and still I can handle it! Most importantly, I learned that I have to be the advocate of my own health. If you think there is something wrong, it's because there is something wrong.
HOW DID YOUR LOVED ONES HANDLE IT? After my diagnosis, my parents visited me at home. They both hugged and we sat down to talk about all of the things I had to do in order to save my life. My husband said, “This might me the worst battle of your life, but you are not alone. I’m gonna hold your hand every step of the way.” My dad asked me to call my sister to break the news. He hugged me and told me, “When you were 2 minutes old I carried my new born baby girl and promised her that as long as I was living you would never lack anything. I'll take care of you financially and emotionally.” Three months after my diagnosis he retired so he could be near me when ever I needed.
My oldest sister was very supportive. She told me that these things happen and that she would fly to be near me when I ever I needed, even if I didn't ask. When I had my mastectomy, she flew to Mexico and took care of me. She has two babies and lives in Madrid (thats like a 12 hour plane ride).
My middle sister told me that everything would be ok as long as I did what doctors told me. She asked a million questions that I didn't have the answers to at that time. I got the feeling she was mad at the fact that her baby sister was sick. She lives in Seattle, she also flew back home with her lovely husband for my second paclitaxel chemo, which happened to be a little while after my birthday.
WHAT IMPACTS DID/DO TREATMENT(S) HAVE ON YOUR DAY TO DAY LIFE? Hormonal treatments have always kicked me down. I’ve never taken birth control pills because they make me feel nauseous and dizzy, so with tamoxifen it was pretty much the same thing. I still haven't gotten used it, not to mention the hot flashes and insomnia. Sometimes I feel distress and start crying for no good reason. I was making fun of how my boobs look with the expander filled, laughing with my husband asking him how large I should go with my new neckline and all of a sudden I started crying because I don't recognize my body anymore.
HOW HAS CANCER CHANGED YOU? Im a more relaxed person, I'm way more positive, and I am way, way happier now. It's so much easier to be happy! I take one day a time, one step at a time and think every morning how truly blessed I am. Most importantly, I stopped taking my life for granted.