Both Sides of My Cancer Story
By Nicole Fuller:
As I approach almost four years since I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer from that indescribable fear of a cancer diagnosis to an incredible journey. I would like to share both sides of my cancer story. I was diagnosed with Invasive lobular carcinoma in both breasts in July 2017. The shock and fear on hearing those words “You have breast cancer” is indescribable. Something I would not wish on my worst enemy.
You are suddenly thrust into a world you know nothing about, something you thought would never happen to you, especially me having been a top athlete most of my life. I will never forget my Dr saying to me at diagnosis “You got the good one”. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Turns out I had Stage 1A, low grade, low Ki (not aggressive,) slow growing lazy lobular ER/PR or hormonal/endocrine positive breast cancer. I will be eternally grateful for the incredible medical care I received and continue to receive. I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and still laugh at the memory of asking for the smallest breast implants possible because I am a runner, fainting when I had my sentinel node biopsy drain removed that was how I met my reconstructive Surgeon. I was very fortunate not to need chemotherapy or radiation. Turns out maybe it was a good one, but even the good one’s can sometimes turn out to be bad one’s.
I had a remarkable recovery from my breast cancer because of my fitness and the incredible support I received, I decided not to let this cancer thing define me. I decided that by sharing my story I could make a difference to other patients and survivors and it certainly gave me a new sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose creates positivity and resilience.
Oncology Patient Navigator and Advocate
So from a patient to the other side of the story – I became a Oncology Patient Navigator and advocate, a Cancer exercise specialist as well as a motivational speaker. What an incredible experience it has been. I have gained so much knowledge and have certainly had my eyes opened. It gives me a deep sense of purpose to be able to assist, guide, educate, motivate and counsel cancer patients from diagnosis through treatment and into survivorship, to make this journey a little less daunting for the patient and their families.
A big advantage of being a survivor myself is that it gives me a unique perspective and ability to identify and understand what my patients are going through and I think most importantly to realise how each cancer journey is so unique and is never the same and should never be compared. I have to admit that I do sometimes find it emotionally and psychologically tough. I have always believed knowledge is power but in the greater scheme of things I am and will always be a cancer patient myself and sometimes by knowing so much can be scary.
No matter how positive you are there is always that fear of a reoccurrence and scanxiety is very real. I even sometimes have this guilt because I only needed surgery, was privileged to have an immediate reconstruction never needed chemo or radiation, have been so healthy in comparison to what so many of my fellow patients go through. The words of my very wise Surgeon often ring in my ear. You have to be empathetic but also realistic. As long as you know you have made a difference. There is so much heartache and sadness out there.
To both my Surgeons and Oncologist who inspire me and set me on this path, to all the other incredible individuals and organisations who have inspired, mentored, supported and helped me gain confidence and knowledge and given me amazing opportunities. I will always be grateful. Thank you for being part of my cancer story.
My Doctors, The Breast Health Foundation, Bosom Buddies, Woman of Stature, George Washington University USA, (AONN) Academy of Nurse and Patient navigators USA,(CETI) Cancer Exercise training institute USA, Machi Filotimo Cancer Project, CANSA Association of South Africa and (ROCSI) Rosebank Oncoplastic Cosmetic Surgery Institute. Special thanks to Health.co.za this amazing health and wellness platform for giving me the opportunity to write articles.