A doctor with breast cancer and the ‘knowledge-based decisions’ she made for herself

From Yahoo! Life:

As a physician and surgeon, I know what cancer looks like. I have an idea how it progresses and how bad treatment can be. I wanted to get on with it, have the surgery and whatever treatment so I could recover and get back to my life. But with my first surgery scheduled for mid-March, now it looked like those carefully extracted five weeks weren’t mine anymore.

Oh, and did I mention, suddenly my kids were home all the time? They’re pretty much grown, so I have it easier than many, but the advanced clusterf*ck of trying to “home school” an attention-deficit high schooler while sympathizing with my college kid who was missing out on some pretty important stuff in her education and future career (she’s a dancer) deflated any zen I managed to scrape together in a hurry.

This is a tough time for teens and young adults who rely on their social structures more than ever, and suddenly mine were stuck with a sick mom and Zoom.

Despite being a pretty practical person, I haven’t always approached my health practically. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic at 42 that I finally started taking some things seriously. Perimenopause had added some belly fat and bumped up my bad cholesterol, so I — at last — started exercising regularly and taking medication, since eating better wasn’t enough anymore.

However, as someone with a family history of cancers, I’m a huge advocate of screening and started annual mammograms at 40.

I know a lot about health, particularly women’s health, because it’s my job. And I made a lot of decisions, together with my doctors, based on the knowledge I have. I wanted to share a few things that might help others have an easier time of it, COVID or no.


It might not prevent you from having health problems, but being fit can make it easier to handle the treatment and make recovery easier and faster.

Knowing my risks.

Diabetes, cancer, heart disease are all in my family history. Knowing that helped me make better choices. And the KRAS test prompted me to do the MRI that revealed the cancer while it was still early-stage. Knowledge matters.

Focusing on me.

When I got that pre-diabetes diagnosis, I decided it was time to get a handle on me – I’ve spent my life caring for others as a doctor, wife, and mom. I was trained in residency to “go until you drop.” But suddenly I realized I needed to focus on my own health too. I made changes in work and home life, ate better, took meds. I wanted to feel good and I did. And when this came up, I had good endurance, strong muscles, a strong cardiovascular system, even strong legs and abs to help me get out of bed when I couldn’t use my arms!

Prioritizing sleep.

For the past few years, I had managed my sleep patterns to feel better, and through all of this, I managed to — for the most part — still get good sleep.

Embracing the WTF moments and moving past them.

Because I made great decisions for a solid few years before this diagnosis, there was a little “WTF?” that I did everything right and still got this disease. But we live in a toxic world, I hadn’t always made great decisions, my work has at times been really stressful, plus, I just had some bad dumb luck. There’s always been that bit of pessimism in me because my family history indicates that I have at least one cancer in my future. But, I thought, this can be dealt with, I’m healthy going in, and I’ll take this one day at a time.

Being ready to live with my post-surgery body.

I’ve lost sensation in my chest area. I bump into things, and I don’t even know it. It’s weird, and I’m mourning the loss of sensation there, but I knew it would happen, and I was at least somewhat prepared. Make plans. Have a wedge for your bed. Know what the drain looks like coming out of your body. Know who will help you shower and who will make you laugh when your life just has so much yuck in it. Because there’s a lot of yuck; you’re going to need your sense of humor. And if yours is AWOL, borrow some from a friend.

Balancing practicality and emotion.

Just because I knew what was coming doesn’t mean I didn’t have emotions around it. I had to let myself grieve the loss of my breasts even as I was taking control of the decision to have the bilateral mastectomy. I had to stop being practical and allow myself to mourn.

Finding medical providers I connected with.

Living in Seattle, I am blessed with having so many amazing medical professionals in cancer treatment. But I also wanted to work with someone I was comfortable with, someone I trusted with my body, with my future. I needed to feel they were making decisions that worked for me. Please know that you’re not hurting a doctor’s feelings if you decide to move on from them because you’re not connecting well with them. It happens all the time, and docs understand how important it is that you feel comfortable. I picked people I felt great with and felt we were making decisions for the same reasons.

Finding the blessings when I can.

Hey, I get a tummy tuck out of this – get lemons, make lemonade! I’m not exactly going to be voluptuous, but I’m good with Bs or even really big As that look nice….

THIS IS A BIGGIE: Get a screening regimen.

Don’t rely on self-breast exams — even when I knew where my biggest tumor was, I couldn’t feel it. Also, some people are pushing thermograms, claiming they’re safer than mammograms, but they are NOT safer, so do your research before committing. A mammogram isn’t perfect, but it’s a good tool and has saved lives. And you won’t get breast cancer from mammograms. The radiation is minimal: you get more from walking around for two weeks in the world. Be informed about your choices before you make them.

I could have put off the reconstruction until next year, when there’s a chance COVID-19 will be behind us, and things will be back to whatever “normal” there is on the other side.

So that’s what I’m doing. Now go schedule your next screening.

Story source: Yahoo! Life.

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