As C4YW is upon us (this weekend, in fact!), The C4YW Blog welcomes back Natalia Valencia, our voice from outside of the US in Columbia. Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are honored to know that C4YW has a growing reach to women affected by breast cancer. We can’t wait to see you all at this year’s event in Seattle!
Before I jump into telling you about my treatment, let me tell you a bit about how I found out about it. I was the one that discovered my tumor. It was while I was taking a shower. I was simply putting some soap on when I felt something in the upper part of my right breast. I don´t know why, (I had no family members who had suffered from cancer, and was not very familiar with the disease), but I immediately knew something was wrong. Even though I knew that, I also “felt” that I was going to be fine. I think that feeling that I was going to get through it was very helpful, in the sense that I didn’t panic. So, I came out of the shower and told my boyfriend (we were living together at the time, but not married yet) about the lump. He told me not to worry, that it was probably nothing, but I told him that I knew we had to prepare.
I started getting all the tests. I didn’t have a mammography; my gynecologist recommended I get a breast echography, and from there they asked me to get a biopsy and then the diagnosis was confirmed. I turned 32 and that same day I got the results. I continued with the exams. I remember being especially nervous when they did the bone scan, since I thought it would be very painful if maybe the cancer had spread there. Fortunately after all the tests, (around 20 days), I started chemo. The first 3 rounds were done each one with a waiting period on between of 21 days. After the first three rounds, the tumor was the same (It didn’t grow but it didn’t shrink) so the doctor changed the medicine. I was very relieved when I knew this was an option, I guess what I thought was “this is it”, but as I tell people today, it is very important to understand there are different options, not just one way to treat. In any case, the second medicine they did the chemo with did work, so I had like 3 rounds of chemo (divided 1 dose in three weeks). After that, we waited for a month in order for me to raise my immune system, and we went ahead with the surgery.
The most important thing I can tell someone that asks me about my experience is that you have to listen to yourself. You have to collect information, investigate your choices, but you have to do what you want to do. The reason I emphasize this is because you have to be very comfortable with your doctor.
When I was deciding about the surgery, I met a plastic surgeon, so I told her that I wanted to look good after the surgery, and the first thing she told me was that that was not important, that I should be concerned with my health, not my looks. I was SO angry. There I was, only 32 and the doctor didn’t even consider the esthetics. Well, I switched doctors. The first thing my new doctor told me was that the most important thing about my surgery was that I was happy with the esthetic outcome. I also had to stand my ground regarding what I wanted. My husband and Doctors wanted me to keep my breasts. I understand their position, but I felt that I had to get a double mastectomy. I didn’t want to take any risks. I did what I wanted, I had both of my breasts removed, and I had implants put in, and muscle from the back covering the implants. And then, a year later, I got the nipple reconstruction. My breasts look beautiful. I am not kidding. They may not be my natural breasts, but the surgery was done beautifully, and with great results, so I have no problem with them, I actually show them to women who tell me they are afraid of the procedure.(My husband is not to fond of this behavior) J
After the surgery, the recovery went well, and then I had more chemo rounds and also rounds of medicine for my HER2 2+. My treatment was over on January 2011, and I am now on Tamoxifen and have to be for 3 more years and I have heard than in some cases even longer.
I know every story is different, but I wanted to say that even though it is difficult, and it changes you for the rest of your life, sometimes it is not as dramatic, painful or difficult; it is a hard experience, but a manageable one.
Natalia Valencia loves life and learning, She also wants to share that she loves her husband, cats, dog, family, friends, music, books, art, humor, ideas and the internet. Be sure to check back to the C4YW Blog for read more about her very specific viewpoint, as a young survivor from out of the country, and you can also check out her personal blog,here. You can find Natalia on Twitter at @natyblooming.