Natalia Valencia: My Treatment

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.Natalia Valencia

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. 

Natalia Valencia: From Bogota, Colombia to C4YW, Orlando

The C4YW Blog  is very excited to introduce Natalia Valencia as one of our newest writers. Natalia reached out to us to share the important impact that attending C4YW in Orlando (2011) had on her as a non-US resident.  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. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

My Name is Natalia Valencia. I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer the day I turned 32 years old. Today I am 35. I feel fine and am now on tamoxifen and regular checkups, but the worst part, I feel, is over.  I live in Bogota, Colombia, South America. I am happily married, and live in a country house with my 4 cats and my dog. It is very beautiful down here.

Thanks to a travel grant I had the opportunity to participate in the 2011 C4YW that took place in Orlando. It was an experience that changed my perspective on a lot of issues, and that is why I wanted to tell you my story, so you can look at things from a different point of view. This post is probably going to sound like I am complaining, but I am not, I am thankful I am a survivor, I am grateful I am fine, and I never had any complications with my treatment. However, I do want to share the experience as a non US – resident.

Natalia ValenciaEven though medically I felt in the best hands, with great doctors, good nurses and hospitals and clinics, I have to tell you that when I arrived at the C4YW, it was such a shock to me that I (who only cried 2 times during my diagnosis, surgery and treatment) cried for like two hours. You see I constantly read how some of the survivors are “fed up” with October, or pink awareness, or words like struggle, fight, etc., but in my country, there is no talk about it, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 4. So when I got to the C4YW, there were support groups for women under 45, under 35, with kids, without them, depending on your ethnic group, on the type of breast cancer you had, on the stage, on everything, a support group for Sagittarians, a support group for left handed women (I´m not kidding…well I am, but it felt like they had them).  I felt so alone. I had already been through 17 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy with (I don’t know the term in English) but they took muscle from my back to cover the implants, and I was not able to take tamoxifen because I had reacted strangely to it. I was the only “young” one in the chemo rounds and apart from a friend which I never talk to, I didn’t know anything about the disease nor had any family member, or close friend who had suffered from any type of cancer, so I felt completely isolated.

The C4YW changed all of that. I gathered so much information, I am still rereading everything, there were talks about nutrition, tamoxifen, fear of recurrence, there was yoga, and a mountain if info, I still visit the websites, etc. When I came back from it, I decided I had been given too much to keep it to myself, so I found the NGO in which I am now a volunteer in, it is a great organization, and we do a lot of work, constantly developing new programs.

As for the C4YW, I keep in touch with some of the women I met there, and every piece of information coming from the conference I devour because there is not the same amount of info here. I just wanted to share with you, that it is better to be “overexposed” than not to have the same resources. I wish all of you Happy Holidays, and I hope next year will bring happiness and prosperity, and of course, health.

Natalia Valencia loveslife 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.