It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I don't want you to be thinking it is not a disease you need to worry about if you are young. I hate to use scare tactics, but younger and younger women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer!
I had the pleasure of talking to one plucky lady, Carolyn Dippel, and learning the story of her battle with breast cancer. Carolyn is a fighter and her tale of breast cancer is eye-opening! She was young when diagnosed — under 30. She sported a mohawk for part of her chemo treatment as her hair was falling out. Cupcakes were a major part of her treatment plan.
To see how all the pieces of Carolyn's story fit together just read more
FitSugar: How old were you when you learned you had breast cancer? Do you remember your initial response?
Carolyn: I was 29 when I was diagnosed; I delayed going to the doctor when I first found the lump because I thought I was too young to have cancer. After I finally went in, I remember seeing the crazy octopus looking growth in the ultrasound they did on me (after the mammogram and the x-ray), and thinking "crap, that's cancer." After they got the results of the biopsy, they told me it had been growing for years. I had breast exams by professionals many times in the years preceding the occurrence, and no one had ever caught it since it was so deep under the tissue.
FitSugar: How did you first detect the cancer? Self breast exam or clinical breast exam?
Carolyn: I first found the lump by self-exam.
FitSugar: What was your course of treatment?
Carolyn: After I was squished, scanned, prodded and pricked, they determined I had cancer, that it was too far along (stage 2B) just to do a lumpectomy, and that I would need to have a mastectomy. I opted to have a double mastectomy, for one, because it would greatly reduce my chances of recurrence, and also, I thought it would be weird to have one boob (no matter how good they claim to be able to make fake ones, they are just not the same… can you imagine being 70 with one little perky boob, and one hanging down to your belly button?). After that, I chose to do chemotherapy treatments every three weeks for eight rounds, as opposed to a more concentrated treatment, so I could keep working (toward the end of it, you really feel like you're not going to make it through). After the chemo was over, I had radiation every day for a month on the offending side of my chest. They give you a few little tattoos — dots so they can line you up in the exact same position every time you come in. The whole experience is pretty crappy.
FitSugar: Did you try any forms of alternative medicine (acupuncture, herbs, diet etc.) to battle the cancer? If you did, do you think they helped?
Carolyn: Cupcakes! Really, I always had cupcakes after a chemo treatment, which I know is not the appropriate diet for a chemo patient, but they were one of the only things I could keep down. As far as alternative treatments go, I was rushed into traditional treatment so fast; I didn't really have time to think about alternative treatments. Since then, I have looked into them, and I'm really not sorry that I didn't do them. They don't generally seem to have a great success rate on their own.
The one thing I have changed is my diet, after all the treatments were finished, I had gained a lot of weight (probably all those cupcakes), and have since taken a much larger interest in eating a healthy diet (no more cupcakes) keeping myself active and at a healthy weight. In all the articles and information out there, the one constant is that people with lower body fat have a lower rate of developing cancer or having a re-occurrence.
FitSugar: Do you receive any form of follow up tests or preventative care?
Carolyn: I'm very happy to say I don't have to [have mammograms] since I no longer have boobs ;-) I do still go in for annual PET scans to check for recurrence. My one experience with mammograms was horrible! WHY hasn't someone invented a better way to image the boob?
FitSugar: Now that you have survived the disease, has your life changed dramatically in other ways?
Carolyn: I don't know that you can ever say you have survived cancer; there is always a risk of it coming back. As far as changes in my life, other than the eating right and exercising as a deterrent from recurrences, I haven't made any changes in my life. I never held back from what I wanted to do to begin with... If it takes a life threatening disease for you to have the guts to do the things you want to do, something is wrong. Well, OK now that I've said that, I did take the opportunity of losing my hair to do one thing I've always been too chicken to do…for a week before my hair fell out, I sported a full mohawk.
FitSugar: Do you have any words of advice for women currently battling cancer?
Carolyn: Hang in there! Once the treatment is over, you probably won't even remember it. (Plus seeing the natural color of your hair after it grows out is pretty cool).
FitSugar: When you see the Pink Ribbon what do you think/feel?
Carolyn: I think "Why couldn't they have chosen a different color?"
I find her story inspirational. Her sense of humor really cracks me up. If you feel moved, please leave Carolyn a message in the comment section below.