A NY State of Mind – Part II

Jennifer Yong, 33 was diagnosed with Stage IIB Breast Cancer in 2011 and is currently awaiting full reconstruction surgery scheduled for the Spring of 2013. A graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA with a BA in Visual Arts Jen loves good jazz, hip hop, art in all forms, being crafty, eating good food and random makeover and reality television shows. 

Jen attending C4YW 2013 at the end of February, is pictured below with Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Associate Director of Marketing, Kevin Gianotto.

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We introduced you to Jen last month in her debut blog.  Today, she continues her story. 

It was my Dr. I could sense she was nervous and didn’t know how to really tell me the news but she eventually told me my results were positive and then in not so many words she says to me….”by the way you have cancer Jen.”

My heart sank. WHAT?! Stage II B Breast Cancer and it spread to under my arm to my lymph nodes.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t get emotional. I was just numb. I can tell you the first thought I had was vain and it was absolutely ridiculous but I thought about how I was going to lose my hair. That struck a huge nerve with me and I denied that for awhile. I just sat there dumbfounded. Then I had to call my parents and my brother to tell them the news. It was probably the worst day of my life. I then had to slowly tell all my friends one by one. It just was not a good time.

After the news everything happened almost immediately. Before Thanksgiving I had to get my port put in, and then by Black Friday that was my very first chemo session. It was all very scary and everything was already planned out for me. I had to do MRI’s, CAT scans, Echo-Cardiograms, more testing, you name it. By the second chemo session I was starting to get nauseous and sick. I dreaded coming back in the next day when I felt the worse to get my shot to boost up my white cell counts. I just wanted to hibernate.

Then my hair started falling out in clumps one day and I lost it. That was the first time I ever cried about my diagnosis. That made everything real. My beautiful hair that I had pride and joy in and had fun dying and changing and was such a big girly part of me was now being yanked away and dispersed all over my pillows. That was the toughest time for me. I could withstand the strong chemo and the blood tests and I never threw up once in all the 16 chemo sessions I had to do, but then I cried like a baby the minute my hair fell out. Not long after that I got annoyed with the shedding, I got over my fear and had the special guy in my life shave it all off. I found fun and happiness in wearing and buying all types of wigs so I could hide my baldness and sickness from people. It was like my own little secret.

In between all the chemo, I had to find new health insurance which was beyond stressful. I had my first 2 chemo treatments with one Dr. in one area and then I had to jump ship and continue at my local hospital with a brand new team. On top of all of this I also had to move to another apartment when I was physically at my weakest so that added a lot of crying fits and craziness. I also lived on a 3rd floor apartment building so coming home after chemo was a huge challenge in general. My parents were nice enough to let me crash at their house while I was recovering from the worse of the chemo. Thank goodness my current apt is on the ground floor!

I finished all my chemo in May 2012, and then in June I had a left side mastectomy done with tissue expanders placed inside and got fills from my plastic surgeon every couple of weeks. I also committed myself to doing the Komen 3 day walk with a close friend one month after surgery and it was a wonderful experience to be able to physically do that and accomplish something with so many other women that have been affected by Breast Cancer. I also got genetic testing done and I am Her 2 positive so I decided that I am going to get rid of my right breast as well. I moved on to doing 28 rounds of radiation and finished that back in Oct. 2011. As of right now I am waiting for reconstruction surgery on my left breast, the removal of my right breast and full reconstruction on both. I also just started on Tamoxifen alongside receiving estrogen blocking shots every 3 months for the next 5 years. Whew!

I definitely couldn’t have gone through all of this in one piece without the support of my friends and family. They have sat with me patiently during chemo and endured my crazy mood swings!
Getting diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 was definitely not a fun experience. It challenges your mind and puts your body through hell! Emotionally it’s been very hard to move on with life but I am doing it one day at a time at my own pace. It’s hard to be positive all the time but I refuse to let breast cancer define or defeat my spirit. I am proud of where I came from and how I have picked myself up (with lots of help of course) and I want to be able to help others get through it as well.

I know somewhere where there are bright rainbows and sunny skies, my “yan yan” is watching over me every day and smiling at my newest crazy colorful and ridiculous wig! She is my “kindred spirit.”

Jen will be back in the coming weeks as she tells her story leading up top breast reconstruction.  And, be sure to follow her personal blog to learn more about this amazing woman’s journey beyond her diagnosis. 

Mary Craige: This is Going to be a Great Year!

As the C4YW Blog starts the new year with a plethora of inspiring writers, we welcome back Mary Craige with her January entry. Be sure to  check back each month, as Mary has bravely decided to keep us up-to-date on her fertility planning and treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34.  Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

That is the statement I start every New Year with, along with a list of two or three attainable resolutions. I am not a ‘I want to lose weight” kind of resolutioner because I try to stay fit and eat healthy all year round. My normal resolutions are usually small things, like “make the bed every morning”. Silly things like that are easy and give you a sense of accomplishment.

This month will mark almost three years since my initial breast cancer diagnosis and two years since I completed treatment. It also marks two years of taking Tamoxifen, the drug I have been taking to keep my cancer from recurring. My fingers are crossed that the annual scans and blood work will show that I am holding steady at “No Evidence of Disease” (NED).

It is also the month I’ve been waiting to arrive for almost two years. When my oncologist released me from active treatment in December 2010, she told me, “In January 2013, we’ll start talking about having another baby.”

Mary Craige

Well, its 2013 and I’m ready to start talking.

There is a lot to do over the next two months. I started with a visit to a new reproductive endocrinologist at the fertility practice my husband I am went to in 2010 to preserve my fertility using IVF. This was a ‘getting to know you’ meeting to discuss risks associated with another pregnancy, my fertility status and potential next steps. After a 45 minute consultation and review of my medical history, I left with a plan…that wasn’t much of a plan.

Cancer seems to always throw a monkey wrench into things. Not that this was a monkey wrench, but it was more of a ‘hold your horses’ moment. Although there is no definitive research saying that pregnancy after breast cancer can cause recurrence, doctors are often reluctant to do anything until a survivor has finished at least three years of Tamoxifen. I just passed year two.

Why stop Tamoxifen before three years? It certainly wasn’t a rash decision, or one that my husband and I made overnight. It was an informed decision but it is also a risky one. Tamoxifen wreaked havoc on me, physically and mentally. It helped push me into early menopause, helped to cause osteopenia and osteoporosis and gave me unbearable nightly hot flashes.

Life on Tamoxifen was challenging. While I understand that five years of hormone therapy is best, I often liken the Tamoxifen regiment to a daily exercise regime. We all know that we should do 30 minutes of exercise daily to stay healthy. Doctors have found that daily exercise decreases our risks of some cancers, heart disease and stroke. Do we always take the 30 minute walk around the block or the daily trek to the gym? Not always, but many of us try. That’s how I think of Tamoxifen. Should I take it every day for 5 years? Probably. I tried my hardest to live with the side effects. I took other drug, I pushed myself physically and adjusted my sleep to try and get through the night without a hot flash. Unfortunately, like many young women, I found the side effects to be difficult to mitigate without other drugs or treatments.

Once my scans and annual blood work are complete, I will revisit my options with my reproductive endocrinologist. Until then, the focus is on getting through those tests with a clear bill of health. Hopefully next January 1st, I will continue with the phrase, “It’s going to be another great, cancer-free year”.

Mary Craige is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010 when her son was seven months old, Mary found blogging to be an outlet for her feelings about treatment, fertility challenges and survivorship. Since finishing treatment in 2010, she rode in two 200 mile Tour de Pink West Coast rides. The Tour de Pink helped her take her body back after treatment and proved that she could thrive after cancer. Mary currently works as a Content Marketing Manager for a large data company. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Mary, and head over to the C4YW site to check out the wonderful programming for this year’s event, as well as the great deals we’ve put together for airfare and hotel prices.

Lindsay Ruland: A Very Happy New Year

Today the C4YW Blog welcomes back, Lindsay Ruland, for the second installment of her monthly series! Check back often to read more into her journey. Here, Lindsay shares with us her feelings about living with breast cancer and celebrating the New Year. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

2012 was supposed to be my year. I had put my life on hold for years, previously, to focus on establishing my career and completing my bachelor’s degree. I never really felt as though I was able to enjoy my youth due to the numerous “adult” commitments to which I had already devoted my time. While everyone was out dancing or partying or going on fabulous vacations around the world, I was working two jobs, going to night school, and doing my best to hold down a mortgage. This year, I was looking forward to my college graduation as well as a promotion in the laboratory that would allow me more flexibility financially and personally. In April, however, my life hit a standstill, once again, when I was diagnosed with stage III invasive ductal carcinoma at the age of 26.

While my best friend was travelling to Germany, a dream we had weaved together for years, I was going through chemotherapy. While everyone I knew from high school was getting married or having babies, I was questioning whether or not anyone would ever love me enough after a mastectomy to marry me, and if I would even be capable of having a baby after chemo had potentially robbed me of my fertility. There would be no fabulous vacations abroad, new cars, wedding bells, or baby bottles for me this year.

While others seemed to be living fully, I felt isolated, alone, and trapped, sinking deeper and deeper into the throes of cancer treatment. I was angry – this was supposed to be my year, after all! Why did I have to endure yet another roadblock before I could be free to fully live my life? I found myself incredibly bitter and envious of others who were so careless and reckless with their lives, and didn’t appreciate their bodies or treat them with the proper respect. After all, they didn’t have cancer. I’d walked a very narrow and cautious line my entire life to avoid things of this nature, and somehow, it had happened to me anyway. After much reflection, I found myself growing and shaping into something much more than fabulous vacations, new cars, wedding bells, and baby bottles. Life had now presented to me a much grander opportunity to live more fully than any of those things could.

Lindsay Ruland

I learned more about myself than some could possibly learn in a lifetime in a matter of months. I came to love and respect myself more than I ever had previously, to allow myself to make mistakes and to give myself a break every now and then, instead of being such an up-and-at-‘em perfectionist. I found the good in the simplest gifts that each day brought, and was grateful for every morning that I woke up, kicked my legs over the side of the bed, and planted my feet into the floor. Despite all of the difficult things I have had to endure, I have never been more grateful for or happier with my life. Each day is a gift, and even though there may have been rough patches, I am happy to be alive every day. I don’t think I would have ever said that in the past, when I was too busy getting hung up on the go-go-go and the now-now-now of average everyday life. This cancer has changed me in many ways, and for much of it, I am grateful, as odd it may sound. You grow into a fuller human being with deeper realizations about the world and about life. So, while my peers were growing their careers or their families, I was growing myself.

In a way, 2012 was my year. It was not so much about achieving milestones in life as it was about simply living. When you are face-to-face with your own mortality, something many of us may not even put much thought into as younger adults, something changes inside of you. And while I have lost my breast, my hair, and possibly my fertility, what I have gained from this experience is far greater than any of those things. I am stronger. I am unstoppable.

My radiation treatments will come to an end on December 31, 2012, which marks the end of this very grueling year and my very grueling treatment. Despite all of the chaos, I managed to graduate college with magna cum laude honors, work full time throughout the entirety of my treatment, complete a new certification, get a promotion, and show breast cancer who is really in charge of this life. The fabulous vacations and new motorcycle are on their way. Now, I’ve just got to work out the wedding bells and babies. 2013 will be my very happy new year, and my very happy new me.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND