I vowed to share my story someday and let other women know it’s okay to be concerned about your appearance during and after treatment.
I’m too young to have breast cancer – it must be a mistake. That’s what I told myself through all the scans and procedures, all the doctor’s visits and second opinions, and all the research and reflection. Unfortunately, at 38 years old I was diagnosed with wide spread DCIS in my right breast and there was no denying it. A lumpectomy was not going to get it all so I braced myself for a right breast mastectomy. Of course the surgeon would also remove a few lymph nodes to determine whether the cancer had spread to other parts of my body, which was probably even more concerning. This could not have come at a worse time either. I was just getting back on my feet after losing my job, moving across the country and filing for divorce. With all of these issues swirling around in my head, I (being me) chose to distract myself with the most ridiculous of obsessions – the possibility of losing my hair during chemotherapy.
The preliminary trip to the oncologist was no picnic. We talked about chemo and a five-year course of Tamoxifen following treatment, and the side effects were really disappointing. It’s not enough to lose my breast, now I may potentially lose my hair and experience menopausal symptoms too? I was not interested in hearing any of this and then it also dawned on me that when my hair grew back after chemo it would probably be dark. “Oh no!”, I thought . . . “The world will realize I’m not a real blond!” Yes, faced with the possibility of cancer that had spread throughout my body, I chose to obsess about my appearance. I was newly divorced and starting to think about dating again. What a nightmare! Not only did I know this should be the least of my concerns, I felt shame for focusing on something so superficial. Thankfully I reached out to a local support group where I was able to talk with other women who shared similar feelings during their experience and it brought me great comfort. This is also how I learned about the “cold cap”, a new technology developed to help women keep their hair after chemo. Armed with this information and the support of survivors, I was ready to face whatever happened during the course of treatment.
I’m pleased to report that the surgery successfully removed my cancer and my lymph nodes showed no sign of disease. My surgeon was also able to save my nipple so it was the best of all outcomes. Afterward I vowed to share my story someday and let other women know it’s okay to be concerned about your appearance during and after treatment. I also want survivors to join me and other women with this precious second chance in maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. With age 45 approaching, I’m doubling down on exercise to prove I can be better than ever after beating cancer. I am so pleased to support BSNCF, and I appreciate their commitment to patients and survivors.
– Jennifer Disharoon, Salisbury, Maryland