Advice from a Handful Survivor -- Lora
In 2006, at 16 weeks pregnant, she learned that she had breast cancer. Meet Lora: Breast Cancer Survivor. Mom. Badass. She sat down to answer our questions. Here’s what we learned…
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed in 2006 when I was 16-weeks pregnant with my daughter. Skip to present day, she just entered her Freshman year of High School and I’ve been here to celebrate every single milestone!
How was your support system during your treatment journey?
Without a doubt, my husband Andy was my rock. I know I’m one of the lucky ones whose husband rose to the occasion. He attended every single appointment with me, took notes, read the latest research and kept up to date on all the things I didn’t have the emotional energy to do myself.
How was your breast cancer initially detected?
I had a palpable lump in my left breast three years before I was properly diagnosed. It was initially dismissed by my primary care doctor at my annual appointment because I was “too young (33) and had no risk factors or significant family history.” The next year that doctor was on maternity leave, so I saw one of her partners who sent me in for a mammogram (showed nothing, which happens to be common with young, dense breasts) followed by an ultrasound where they determined it was “the structure of my breast,” which I knew was not true. I did consult a friend who is a radiologist and asked him to look at their report but didn’t pursue it further as my mother had several benign lumps removed in her 40’s, so thought it may just be part of getting older. It was finally the following year when I started seeing an OB/GYN after becoming pregnant that the breast cancer was finally diagnosed. At my 12 week appointment she did an exam and stopped cold when she felt the lump and was like WTH?! She immediately sent me in for an ultrasound (again, nothing), but had me follow up with a breast specialist who did a needle biopsy all the while reassuring me that it was almost certainly nothing, until the cells came back abnormal. Even then, she felt it was unlikely breast cancer, but needed to follow up with an open biopsy, which turned into a lumpectomy followed by a mastectomy one week later.
My advice to those just starting out, ask questions and learn to self-advocate. Questions like, what is the right screening tool for someone of my age, risk level and breast density? Mammograms are great, but they are by no means a perfect tool. You know your body better than anyone, so if you know something is not right, say something and keep saying something until you get to the root of the problem. Our medical professionals are busy and rarely follow-up. Take it upon yourself to follow-up and advocate for yourself.
What's something you wished you knew before you started your treatments?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. You may want to project manage the heck out of it. That’s great, but know you have to be flexible. Your treatment plan and healing are on their own schedule and it’s not linear. Be patient and be flexible. You’ll get through it, but it’s almost never going to work out the way you thought it would.
Nobody asks for breast cancer and certainly nobody wants to be part of that club. But sometimes life hands you things and you just have to deal with it. I’m grateful for the people that have come into my life as a result of breast cancer. That’s my silver lining.
My advice is to find a survivor community you can lean on. I was so lucky to have been connected with another pregnant woman three months ahead of me in the process. I was able to ask questions and find reassurance when her daughter was born healthy. She in turn introduced me to a Young Survivor group that met monthly at a local Starbucks where we could talk freely and ask advice and compare notes. It was invaluable in making decisions on my treatment plan and my mental health, quite frankly. Fifteen years later we still get together, although not monthly. I consider my survivor sisters some of my dearest friends - we love each other, support each other, sadly, we attend funerals together, check-in on spouses and children that were left behind, but most importantly, we support each other with a level of understanding that can’t be shared by anyone else.
How did you manage the stress of going through treatment during pregnancy?
For me, being pregnant while going through breast cancer was very traumatic- wondering if my child would survive, wondering if I would survive, and if I did if I’d be around long enough for her to remember me. Fortunately, the answer to all those questions is a resounding yes, but at the same time it makes me sad to have attended the funerals of breast cancer sisters who did not survive. Those moments are heart-breaking.
How's life, 15 years post-treatment?
Fifteen years out, my life is amazing! I think having a traumatic event occur in your life changes how you live your life in the present moment! I changed careers to something more flexible after BC so I could be home with my daughter. We travel at every opportunity we get. Tomorrow is not promised, so I actively seize the day.
Do you dwell on the possibility of a return of your cancer?
Honestly, breast cancer is so far in the rear-view mirror I rarely think about it anymore. I know that it could come back and every once in a while I hear about cancer returning after 20 years. That can stop me in my tracks. But, I’m a big believer in celebrating milestones and at this point statistics are on my side. So, I continue living my best life while remembering those we loved and lost.