Breast Cancer: “ I am living proof that it can be ok!.”
Published Oct 12, 2022 • By Lizzi Bollinger
Tina and her family have battled breast cancer for a long time. She opens up on her experiences and how it has shaped her outlook on life.
Read on to find out more!
Hello Tina, thank you for having agreed to share you story with us on Carenity.
First of all, could you tell us more about yourself ?
I am 46 years old (proud of every year). I am married to those most amazing man for over 9 years (we were married only months when my diagnosis was confirmed). I am the daughter of a 2 time breast cancer survivor. Breast cancer has been part of my life since I was 25 years old, with my mom diagnosed in September of 2001.
I love running and try to run a race each year to raise funds for breast cancer.
I love traveling!
I love my goddaughters (16 and 6 years old), they are so special to me.
Could you tell us when you were diagnosed with breast cancer? What alerted/prompted you to consult a doctor? What type of tests did the doctor run? How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
I noticed a change in my breast and ignored it for some time when I was 37. I had a mammogram at 30 and then 33 given my mom’s diagnosis and age. My mom had always had a lump. In my case, it was a sunken nipple. I chalked it up to old age and didn’t think much of it. One day, a coworker had a very serious illness that made me reflect on my situation, so I set up an appointment with a ob gyn who got me scheduled for a mammogram. That mammogram led to a call back and an ultrasound, then a biopsy. I had a whole weekend to sit with my potential impending news (I awoke from my biopsy, which was more like a lumpectomy, to my surgeon advising me to get my mom’s records). Even, with all things pointing to cancer, getting that final phone call was a moment that I will never forget. YOU HAVE CANCER. Words that will forever change my life. I was scared, I was overwhelmed but I also had hope, my faith, and the support of so many people.
What type of breast cancer do you have? What distinguishes this type of cancer from others?
I had ER/PR+ breast cancer. I was told it was “old lady breast cancer” which is strange as I was 37 years old. (My mom had triple negative breast cancer). I had lobular (like a strange spider web of cancer) and ductal cancer, double the fun. It was the lobular that pulled my nipple in. Lobular is also much more likely to appear in the other breast, so for me it was an easy decision to have a double mastectomy.
It was Stage 3A and in the lymph nodes. I know that scares many patients, but I am living proof that it can be ok!!!
What treatment did you receive? Were you satisfied with it? Did you experience any side effects?
I had a double mastectomy surgery followed by 4 rounds of AC chemo and then 12 rounds of Taxol. After that, I had a reconstruction surgery and then 25 rounds of radiation.
It was fairly standard within breast cancer, however many patients now get the chemo first.
I had HORRIBLE, crazy nausea (it felt like a 3-4 day hangover where I could throw up at any moment). With my 2nd round of AC, I started a stronger anti-nausea med called Amend (Amend my friend) and that helped significantly. They now give it standard procedure.
Other than that, I had some chemo brain and definitely impaired decision making for work. I was a Divisional Merchandise Manager at the time of my treatment and I took a leave of absence to focus on myself and healing from the inside out. I did a Gentle Yoga tape 5 days a week and tried to focus on what gave me joy (baking, making smoothies, art projects, etc).
You are active on social networks under the handle @djbreastcancer. Was this the case before? Why did you decide to talk about your battle with cancer on social networks? How does sharing your story make you feel?
I started DJ Breast Cancer Podcast as I loved podcasts and found that there were little survivor stories out there in 2017. I felt I had a unique voice with being a caretaker/daughter of a survivor and also a survivor myself and that's why I started @djbreastcancer as well.
My mom was always very vocal and helped women in her community and I was always inspired to be a light in the community. I found many friends across the country (many I have met in person) through Instagram and such an amazing community. Sharing my story truly helps me feel that my cancer has a purpose.
Would you say cancer has changed your outlook on life? If so, in what ways?
100%!!! It helped me in my faith journey. I saw the most beautiful rainbow when I was going through initial testing and the peace I felt when I saw that rainbow truly transformed me, overwhelmed me, and made me view my cancer as an opportunity. I knew in that moment that God’s hand was there. I knew that I would be ok (and ok may mean dying) but I knew this was part of God’s plan. Rainbows are truly a sign of hope and God’s promise and I truly felt that in that moment and beyond. It also made me stop and smell the flowers. I used to be very obsessed with work and it definitely made me look at my priorities to make sure they were better balanced. People matter more, work matters less. I say I’m sorry, I say I love you, I take the trips.
Cancer and cancer treatments can cause big physical changes. Did you need to adjust to a new appearance? What tips and tricks do you have to share?
Weight gain with ongoing medication (Tamoxifen, now AI, Letrozole) can be challenging. I try to run to keep myself honest. I try to eat better, but I also give myself grace if I go on vacation.
I joined LiveStrong and found an amazing support in exercise. I definitely am a HUGE PROPONENT OF MOVING!!!! It is so, so important. Find a support system to keep accountability.
Have you had to adapt your lifestyle? If yes, in what ways?
I try to limit my alcohol intake, I try to work out, I try to get 8 hours of sleep. I try to move (walk most evenings with my husband, a few cardio sessions) Notice I say try! We are all human. I have learned to love myself through it. The scale is not who I am. My job is not who I am. Even my cancer diagnosis is not who I am. I am me! I try to be kind to myself.
Did your loved ones support you? Was it easy for you to talk about the disease to those around you?
Yes! 100% My mom provided a road map for sure. It was difficult for my mom in the beginning as she was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, but we spoke about it together and worked through the feelings.
I had a tribe, #teamtina and we even had t-shirts and went on a celebration trip to Vegas later. I am very open and I did talk to many around me!!!
Finally, what advice would you give to Carenity members also affected by breast cancer?
I would say that life after cancer is often harder than active treatment. I do well with a checklist, a plan. All of sudden after active treatment, there is just you and a whole lotta feelings! I definitely feel that support, therapy, faith are all ways to help adjust to the new normal (even it it doesn’t feel like your old normal).
Any last thoughts?
I think that covers it! Just a call out that mental health is wealth and I have found it best to feel my feelings, write it out, talk it out. Social media may make it look as though all is perfect, but it’s ok to not be ok. You just can’t stay there. Talk to someone!
Many thanks to Tina for sharing her story!
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