My name is Alyssa K. I was 28-years-old when I was diagnosed with stage IIB, ER/PR+, HER2-, breast cancer on Dec. 7, 2017. I had a breast exam less than six months prior and there were no lumps. By October, I had a massive, hard lump in my right breast and the skin above it was green. Intuition told me it was cancer; fear of confirmation forced me to wait a month and a half before going to the doctor. By then, a second lump had developed. By the week after I was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. The cancer was very aggressive; a bilateral mastectomy was necessary and urgent. I had chemo (Adriamycin/Cytoxan and Taxol), 30 rounds of radiation and am on hormone therapy for the next 10 years (tamoxifen and lupron). I am a victim advocate for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I am a mom of one human child, three dog children, and a killer wife to the greatest guy I could find. In my infinite spare time, I love to cook. Although I have survived multiple traumas in my life, getting cancer fucked with me in a way I couldn’t grasp. I’m still learning how to cope. Every day is an experiment. But I am happy to be here.
When I started this cancer journey, I did extensive research, just like I do with everything else. I needed to know what was going to happen to me. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, I stumbled upon a plethora of unexpected occurrences. I will list them for you so that you can prepare yourself and/or others.
1) If you opt to have semi-reconstruction during your mastectomy (tissue expanders), once the anesthesia finally wears off you will feel as if your chest was filled with cement and then you were hit by a Mack truck. Depending on the individual, the feeling subsides after two to three months.
2) Depending on your hair texture, the process of your hair falling out because of chemo really FUCKING hurts! Feels like your whole scalp is being tattooed for hours! Shaving it off helps.
3) Chemo is the best Brazilian wax you’ll ever have. Enjoy it!
4) There’s nothing more annoying than someone telling you that you look great when you’re molting. We know what we look like! #VoldemortGang
5) About a month into chemo, your armpits stop stinking. No more experimenting with aluminum free deodorant!
6) Zofran does not work for everyone’s chemo-related nausea, but marijuana does.
7) Taxol, specifically, may leave you with lasting nerve damage in your hands and/or feet. Chemo ended eight months ago and I still walk like a duck.
8) Chemo can make you GAIN weight! To help your body accept the chemo drugs as something good and avoid vomiting, they give you steroids (not everyone can handle it) which literally cause you to blow up! Only being able to eat sour patch kids probably didn’t help either. **shrug**
9) Radiation burns! Not right away. After my first treatment, I felt my chest burning. By the mid-way point of my treatments, my skin was charred, falling off, bleeding and oozing. I couldn’t go to work for the last 15 treatments because the pain was unbearable. Marijuana helped.
10) Radiation CAN cause lung damage. Don’t believe the bullshit the radiation oncologist feeds you. I have the CT scans to prove it!
11) Hormone therapy (for ER/PR positive cancers) = medical menopause. It also means that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Yes, your vagina can close if you don’t use it while on hormone therapy (known as vaginal atrophy). No libido? Desert-like vagina? Use lube, they say… That shit doesn’t work! Cannabis suppositories do.
12) If you have kids, please talk to them about what you’re going through. It’s awkward when your kid’s teacher tells you that your kid told the whole class that you have no nipples.
13) Post-treatment anxiety is real and can hit you out of nowhere. Be sure to surround yourself with fellow breasties, only they truly understand what you’re going through.