Personal Stories, Headlines & Helpful Information
By: Monique Robinson and Heidi Floyd
Here, two inspiring survivors
share life lessons following a life-changing diagnosis of breast cancer.
After the rigors of breast cancer treatment, doctors may declare lucky patients
“cancer free”—meaning that there’s no evidence of cancer. And in this moment an
exciting, yet uneasy, new chapter begins. Here, two breast cancer survivors
share their own compelling stories once their doctors announced that there was
no evidence of breast cancer: their sense of relief and joy as well as their
efforts to embrace life with enthusiasm and optimism. Their most important
advice to other breast cancer patients? Remain vigilant and continue to
advocate for your health, and use your experiences to help others.Live one day at a time. Even when a breast cancer patient has
finished treatment and has no evidence of active disease, advocating for their
own health care is still an ongoing priority: something that Monique Robinson,
36, a two-time breast cancer survivor, knows only too well. “After I’d finished
my second course of treatment in 2017, my follow-up scan showed a strange mass
on my lung that could mean the cancer had metastasized,” she recalls.
Thankfully, it was just residual scarring from radiation—but since then she’s
undergone two more cancer-related scares. “Each time, I’ve gotten reassuring
news that it was benign,” she says. Monique tries to balance the crucial need
to remain alert to any changes in her health with a desire not to have the
anxiety rule her life. “I have to consciously make a point not start dwelling
on what my doctors might find at my next scan. It’s my only way to stay
sane—perpetual worry is no way to live.”
Monique Robinson, 36, a two-time breast cancer survivor.
Stay optimistic. 53-year old Heidi Floyd was
diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago when she was eight weeks pregnant.
Her oncologists only gave her one option: terminate the pregnancy. Undaunted,
she sought out a second opinion from oncologist George Sledge, MD, who now
serves as Susan G. Komen’s Chief Scientific
Advisor. Dr. Sledge assured her that while it would be difficult, he felt
confident he could save both her and her baby. “He gave me a little glimmer of
hope, and I clung to it throughout the pregnancy,” she recalls. She underwent
six grueling months of chemotherapy, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy,
Noah, a month later. “Seeing his face for the first time was an indescribable
victory,” she says. She tapped into that glimmer of hope and determination to
advocate for herself again when she was diagnosed with a recurrence in 2012.
“I’d done what had seemed the impossible in 2005, and I knew I could do it again,”
she says.Lean on others for support. Floyd often suffers from what’s known
as “scanxiety”—extreme stress and anxiety both during and after a follow-up
cancer scan. “Before the advent of social media, I would just drive into the
parking lot and bawl and tremble with fear,” she recalls. “Now I put on my
gown, take a picture, and post it immediately on all my social media accounts.
Within minutes, my Facebook feed is blowing up with encouragement.” Know the warning signs for recurrence. After being treated for
breast cancer, it is important to know what normal feels like for you, and to
advocate for yourself if something feels off. “It’s always OK to get a second
opinion if your gut tells you something is wrong and you feel your doctor is
not listening to you,” said Floyd. According to Susan G. Komen, the symptoms for a
recurrence of breast cancer that has metastasized (spread beyond the breast)
may include things like shortness of breath, weight loss, bone pain, seizures
or yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. While these symptoms are common
and may not mean anything, discuss any symptoms with your health care team,
especially if they last more than two weeks.
Heidi Floyd, 56, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just eight weeks pregnant (Andrea Thomas Photography)
Adopt a carpe diem attitude. “The first time I was diagnosed with
breast cancer, I thought, ‘okay, I’ll do my year of treatment and then
everything will go back to normal,” Robinson recalls. “But the second time, I
felt a sense of urgency to make the most of the life I have left.” She now
travels with her husband at least twice a year to far-away, exotic locales such
as Cook Island, Costa Rica, and Tokyo. “Whether I live for another five years
or fifty, I want to make sure that my husband has those memories that will live
on forever if anything does happen to me,” she says. Let yourself live a little. One challenge of being a breast cancer
survivor is striking a balance between wanting to enjoy life to its fullest
versus making sure you do everything you can to prevent a future recurrence. “I
lead a healthy, cancer-free lifestyle: I eat well, I exercise, I limit alcohol,
and I take my daily preventative medication,” says Robinson. But “when I’m
traveling, I do let myself have that one rare indulgence,” she admits.Become an advocate. Once you’ve survived cancer—then the question
many survivors face is, what do you do next? For many women, the answer lies in
advocacy. “During my treatment, I’d sit with another woman during chemotherapy
and come back the next Friday to discover she hadn’t made it,” recalls Floyd.
“I’ve been given the privilege of life—now it’s my responsibility to help lift
up other women struggling with a breast cancer diagnosis.” She now shares her
story with groups as diverse as Google and the U.S. Congress, and consults with
corporations to help them find creative ways to assist employees going through
breast cancer. She also volunteers to speak, write articles on behalf of Susan G. Komen and is a part of
the Pink Power Mom Network – a group of moms with breast cancer who provide
help and support to patients and their caregivers.
To learn more about breast cancer or how you may help others touched by the
disease, visit www.komen.org.
*This article first appeared on Health.com as
part of a partnership with Susan G. Komen.
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