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Patient tips I’m a breast cancer survivor. The 10 things I wish I could tell myself at the beginning of my diagnosis

I’m a breast cancer survivor. The 10 things I wish I could tell myself at the beginning of my diagnosis

In 2019, Wanda H. was diagnosed with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Shortly after she received the initial diagnosis, Wanda called Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) for a second opinion. After connecting with intake nurse Alicia, Wanda and her best friend, Connie, headed to Phoenix to meet the CTCA® care team. Wanda traveled from Las Vegas to Phoenix for the next several months, undergoing chemotherapy, a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. Here, she shares the 10 things (and people) that helped make her journey to recovery smoother.

  1. Consider a road trip. My best friend (and fellow cancer survivor) Connie had a trailer that we drove back and forth from Vegas to Phoenix for a few procedures, including my mastectomy, port removal and reconstruction surgery. I was traveling at a point in the pandemic when flights were inconsistent and my immune system was compromised. Being able to rely on Connie and the trailer were a big relief. It was a chance for us to bond. We both remember the camaraderie of those trips, sharing stories and getting to know each other (even though we've been friends for many years). We laughed, and we encouraged each other, even during a difficult season for me.
  2. If you do travel by plane, factor in extra time for delays, etc. In addition to the trailer, Connie and I traveled by plane to Phoenix a few times. I experienced canceled flights, delayed flights, extra early flights—you name it. Try to keep the unexpected in mind when you’re coordinating appointments and recovering from treatment.
  3. Always pack more than enough of everything you could possibly need. From an extra set of pajamas to medication, make sure you have some “reserve” items in your luggage. In addition to travel delays, I unexpectedly needed to stay a couple extra days to recover before going home. Knowing I had everything I needed to focus on my recovery was reassuring. It was one less thing to stress about.
  4. Don’t be afraid to travel for a second opinion or treatment. Although I received my initial diagnosis in my hometown, I did make the decision to travel for my cancer treatment. I liked that all my care was under one roof at CTCA, including the imaging, tests and treatments. That wasn’t my experience in Vegas, where I spent a lot of time on hold or waiting for an appointment time to open up.
  5. Do your homework. I researched certain areas of my treatment plan (i.e., surgery options and recovery) to get a better understanding. From that research, I came to my appointments with a written list of questions or concerns. This helped me feel more confident in understanding why a procedure, medication, etc., was being recommended. Remember: Your care team is there to help you make sense of everything that feels overwhelming or you have questions about.
  6. Let go of how you “think” things should go. I remember when I went to a dinner with Cancer Fighters® and said, “I always thought cancer would happen to someone else, but not me.” I try to remember that God is in control. A surprise diagnosis or changes to a treatment plan may feel frustrating, but it helps to lean into my faith.
  7. It’s OK if you feel scared, but try not to stay in that space emotionally. The "unknowns" can be frightening! My prayer partner reminded me of that. God knew that I would be on this journey. He has gone before me and set up everything that I need—all the people, tests and procedures. He is with me! This gave me great comfort. Additionally, I encountered setbacks and delays for various reasons, and I came to accept that God's timing is perfect, and He always has a reason, even when I found the delays unsettling. Perhaps my body needed longer to heal in between treatments. Or maybe a key person on the surgery/medical side had a Godly need. This is a reminder: Instead of leaning into my stress and worrying about the unknown “what ifs,” I tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
  8. Clear your schedule after chemotherapy appointments. For the first week after my chemotherapy appointments, I only focused on recovery and rest. This meant no big adventures or friend dates. Instead, I made sure I had water on my nightstand and listened to what my body needed.
  9. Stop worrying about the stuff on your to-do list you haven’t gotten to yet. I was in the beginning stages of moving into my new home when I needed to seek medical attention, which resulted in my cancer diagnosis and ultimately seeking treatment at CTCA. This meant that I had to be flexible in accepting that I was unsettled, with multiple unopened moving totes at the same time that I was coping with a whole new world of cancer lingo, treatments, recovery, etc. I didn’t have time to focus on my health and also make my home feel more like my own. But you know what? The boxes will get unpacked eventually. It isn’t the thing that mattered the most.

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