World Cancer Day: Rose-Marie Guerra's story

Daniela Caputo, a fellow breast cancer survivor and blogger asked me to share with you my story for World Cancer Day.

I am a breast cancer survivor. I will be five years cancer-free this year. Some days it feels like it was ages ago and other days it feels like it was just yesterday.

It all started back in late November 2013. It was a Saturday morning and I was taking my shower.  I felt a lump in my right breast practically the size of an orange.  My heart sank. I knew deep down it was cancer.  I was depressed the entire weekend waiting to call my family doctor first thing Monday morning.

I saw my family doctor and he put in an urgent request for a biopsy but even though the request was flagged as being urgent it still took over two weeks to get an appointment. I was told I wouldn’t get the results till January. I saw my family doctor again and he tried to speed things up.  He called the hospital and got me an appointment with a surgeon that same day. The surgeon was very nice and also made some calls but with Christmas and New Years it was not possible.  The earliest he could get the results was January 3rd. He did put in a request for an appointment with an oncologist so at least there would not be a further delay once the results came in.

Hence I didn’t have a very nice Christmas.  The wait was killing me. The not knowing was agony.

I finally got the results on January 7th.  It was indeed cancerous. I think he’d known it all along as well but couldn’t tell me till he received the results. Then everything happened so fast.

I saw the oncologist that same day and was scheduled to start my chemo 2 days later. It was inflammatory breast cancer which is a very aggressive cancer. It was already stage IV. I’d have to undergo six months of chemo, a radical mastectomy and then radiation. I was overwhelmed with all the information but my partner was there with me for moral support. The reason for starting with the chemo is to shrink it to avoid it spreading when removing it as it is so large.

I did undergo a series of test to ensure it had not spread. It had not, thank God.

As the oncologist explained the first round of chemo would be every three weeks for three months and then once weekly for another three months. She prepared me advising that I would lose my hair with the first round of chemo (almost immediately). So it wouldn’t be too much of a shock going from long hair to bald, I decided to get my hair cut short and to donate it. It was tied in a ponytail and then cut. At least my hair went to a good cause.

Then 2-3 weeks later, when my hair was starting to fall out, I decided to get it shaved before losing it in chunks. The place where I ordered my wig was offering this service. I didn’t look in the mirror when my head was shaved and immediately but a cap on. I didn’t look myself in the mirror till I got home.  It was quite a shock as I always had long curly hair. But after the initial shock I got accustomed to wearing my wig and it wasn’t that bad after all.  I did lose my eyebrows, eyelashes, etc. Everything grew except for my eyelashes which didn’t entirely grow back.

Telling my children was another very difficult situation but we got through it. I’d think, why me, why my family again as my son had been diagnosed with cancer when he was 8 years old.  He’s been cancer free now for over 10 years.

There was a lot of crying in the beginning but keeping a positive attitude, praying and being surrounded by family got my through it. I even started posting on Facebook my ‘365 days of happiness’. Every day, I’d post something I was thankful for. This helped me stay positive.

Working also helped. I could have taken one year of sick leave but I didn’t want to stay home and worry. I continued working from home a few days a week depending how I felt. I found it kept me busy and my mind off my cancer worries.

I also joined an organization that provided activities for cancer patients. It was good talking to other women going through what I was going through and I found the art therapy very beneficial.

There is so much more that I could say, but all in all I think a positive attitude, surrounding myself with positive people and energy really helped. And doing things that made me happy: a massage, dinner with friends and I even managed a trip down south after getting the OK from my oncologist. After this scare, I try and enjoy life to the fullest as life is short.  I’m not sure if I have another 5, 10, 20 or 30 years so if an opportunity comes by, I take it, especially travelling. I plan on travelling the world.

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