I met Jin through the Kick Ass Cancer Mamas Facebook group. Here is her story…
Tell us your story / stats:
I was 37 years old and 36 weeks pregnant with my daughter when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was on top of the world–my husband and my careers were on point, we were financially stable, and ready to start a family. I randomly found a lump on my breast, which I had chalked up to a clogged duct. I made a mental note to show my OB at my 36 week check up. My OB wanted me to be seen by the breast specialist the next day, which should have clued me in to the fact that something was wrong but never in a million years did I suspect it might be cancer. I pushed it off for a few days, as I had some things I needed to wrap up at work before starting my maternity leave. On my very last day at work, before going on maternity leave, I was told I had cancer.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
Fuck…I’m going to die and the child I’m about to bring into the world is going to grow up without her mother. Please, please, please let me live long enough for her to know who her mommy is.
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
The thing about cancer is that it really helps weed out your friends. There were close friends who I thought would be there in my time of need who weren’t…and then there were acquaintances who came out of the woodwork to be there. One of cancer’s greatest blessings was it brought my family closer. I had never been close to my parents growing up…our relationship had always been rather strained. With my cancer diagnosis, I was able to let go of a lot of the resentment I held toward my parents and allow them to be there to support me and my family. I was incredibly lucky to have a strong network of support. My husband got into a motorcycle accident shortly after my cancer diagnosis and shattered his ankle, requiring two surgeries. My sisters and brother-in-law came up from LA and took care of us, and our daughter, as we both recovered from our surgeries and my parents watched my daughter while I went to chemotherapy. I also had some amazing friends who brought meals, provided distractions, and always offered up words of encouragement. I was also incredibly lucky to have a job that allowed me to take an extended leave without ever feeling like my job was in jeopardy.
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?
Given that I was diagnosed later in pregnancy, they opted to wait until I delivered to start treatment. My daughter was induced at 38 weeks. I was given the option of starting chemo right away or having surgery first. I opted to have surgery first so that I could nurse my baby. I was able to nurse her for 3 months before I started chemotherapy.
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
I didn’t share my diagnosis with very many people. In fact, I didn’t go “public” with my diagnosis until I was finished with treatment. I’m not entirely sure why but I was embarrassed…like I did something to deserve to get cancer and that having cancer made me weak. I honestly don’t know where that came from, as I have never viewed anyone having cancer as being weak. I’m not embarrassed about it now and am very open about my diagnosis and “journey.” Also, I think one of the biggest misconceptions for me was chemotherapy. I was terrified of chemo. I remember meeting with my oncology team and asking them what I needed to do to not have to go through chemo. Going through chemo was not a walk in the park but it also wasn’t as grim and horrendous as they make it out to be in the movies. I had some rough days but for the most part, I was able to take care of my child and function relatively normally while going through treatment.
Where are you at in life now? Mentally, physically, emotionally…
I am three years out from diagnosis. I still have days where I struggle mentally and emotionally but over the years, those days have become fewer and far between. I have worked in healthcare for over 15 years, mostly in the realm of nutrition and health education. Since returning to work after cancer, I have expanded my role to do more oncology focused work, managing a team of navigators who work with patients who have been diagnosed with cancer to help address barriers that may prevent them from receiving timely care. I have been able to use my personal experience with cancer to help guide and develop the program. Some days, it’s emotionally draining and overwhelming but overall, I have found this to be very cathartic and healing.
Do you have any lasting side effects- mental, physical, etc.?
Cancer takes many things from you, including your sense of naivete and innocence. While cancer no longer consumes every thought, it’s always there in the back of my mind, ready to pounce when I’m feeling most vulnerable. Physically, between chemo and all of my hormone suppression therapy drugs, I am arthritic, achy, and have chronic foot pain.
If you could send a message to yourself from 10 years ago… how would that go?
1) Enjoy that youthful body and long hair!! 2) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Time is precious and all those things that you thought would lead to the end of the world…you won’t remember any of them. 3) The guy that you are dating now will become your husband and the father to your children. One of his life goals is to race motorcycles. Encourage him to do it sooner…but if he doesn’t, DO NOT push him to pursue that dream right after you get your cancer diagnosis!
Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments/memories? The raw side of C.
I went through four rounds of Taxotere and Cytoxan. My third round was just before Christmas. Our family goes to Lake Tahoe every year for Christmas and I wasn’t about to let cancer take that away from me. The day after my infusion, we loaded up the car and made the trek to Tahoe. I don’t know if it was the cumulative effect of chemo but my body broke out in itchy hives and my throat felt like it was closing up. I wasn’t able to sleep because I was terrified I wouldn’t wake up. It was a pretty shitty way to spend Christmas…but feeling shitty in Tahoe always beats feeling shitty at home.
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…
No one is immune from cancer. I have no family history of cancer, nor did I have any genetic mutations. I have always eaten healthy and was vegetarian for 7 years. I exercised daily and practiced yoga regularly. There isn’t anything I did to bring cancer on. It was just shit luck and it happened. Cancer does not define me but how I have chosen to handle life with cancer does.