October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. What does that mean to you? In 2018, you can’t help but observe the appearance of pink seemingly everywhere for the month. It’s as common as a pumpkin spice latte and Oktoberfest. The reason the 330 Pound linemen on your favorite Sunday football team are wearing pink shoelaces is due to the fact one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. It is not only the most commonly diagnosed cancer, but also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Even if you’re lucky enough that hasn't affected you or one of your loved ones, unfortunately, statistically at some point, it will.
Last year, my attitude in October was the same as most of you. Breast Cancer Awareness...ok I will get my mammogram when I turn 40 and I've done my part. This October has become something totally different. In April, I became one out of every eight women diagnosed with breast cancer. Quite frankly, this has been the toughest period in my life. I underwent surgery in June to remove the cancer. During my post-op visit, my husband and I were advised that chemotherapy and radiation would be required to assure there wouldn’t be a reoccurrence. Those were both big surprises, but cancer has a way of always bringing surprises.
October 26th is my last day of chemo and it cannot come soon enough. It has been a rough four months both physically and emotionally. A few of the physical side effects have been losing my hair, extreme nausea, muscle aches, weakness, and migraines. However, while going through this, there has been a light. I'm so fortunate to live where I do, the great community here in Hoboken. July 20th was my very first chemo treatment. Waking up that day felt like I was getting ready for the electric chair, but then suddenly everything changed. I started getting text after text after text from my Hoboken friends with their families wearing bright pink shirts they had made saying "Team Nat #strongasamother". Over 100 shirts were made. This amazing support they showed gave me the courage to walk into my treatment center knowing I could get through this and be stronger than ever before. It didn't stop there, Jenna from Wizard of Brows gave me a free eyebrow microblading, mothers from my children's classes offered to pick up my kids from school, friends, old and new, sent cards, and gifts, while complete strangers DM'd me with their words of love and encouragement. The generosity of others is truly amazing and heartfelt.
This time last year, I could not fathom being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through chemotherapy. It sounds cliche (until it happens to you), but you really appreciate that every day is a gift that can be taken away at any moment. As a mother, I don't really worry about myself as much as my children. My first thoughts upon being diagnosed was how does this affect them? I try to be honest about the situation in a way that doesn't scare them. How do I explain chemotherapy to a seven and a four-year-old? It is hard to explain to grown adults. Did you know there are several different types of chemo? Did you know there is one nicknamed "The Red Devil"? Did you know not all chemo makes you lose your hair?
Oh, hair! It is such a strange thing. People have told me, "Oh, it will grow back. Not a big deal." Please don't say that to anyone going through chemo. News Flash...It's not all about the hair. Don't get me wrong, a lot of it is about hair, but it is also about what comes along with losing your hair. For starters, it's yet another thing that is out of your control. Next, when your hair is gone, and not just on your head, you look sick...think eyebrows, eyelashes , etc. You look like you have cancer. I explained to my boys that I had to take very strong medication that can only be given at the doctor’s office and some of the related side effects. One of them being I could lose my hair. I tried not to make it a big deal and let them know I can buy different wigs and they could help me and it would be fun. My youngest at four didn't really understand, but my oldest at seven wasn't too keen on the idea. At night when we prayed he would pray I didn't lose my hair every time. That was a killer and just broke my heart. So, I looked into ways that could help save my hair. That's when I learned about cold capping. If you are not familiar with cold capping, you are not alone. Cold capping works by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles. In turn, this then saves the hair. Some chemotherapies have better results than others with this therapy. Well, of course, mine only had a success rate of 22%. Oh, and most insurance doesn't cover these treatments. I decided to take the gamble to try and save some normalcy for the kids. Unfortunately, I lost over 90% of my hair, but I still look at it as a success. If I didn't cap, by my 2nd treatment I would have lost all my hair. I have enough hair where if I wear a headscarf, my children don't seem to notice. I guess that's the luck with boys. They don't notice everything. LOL.
I can't help thinking during this time, how truly lucky I am. My doctors told me I would need a good support group. At the time, I didn’t realize I have the best there is. Every chemo treatment, I have a group of friends and family that join me wearing pink shirts and all. It has been truly touching. It is bad enough I have to spend every other Friday in a small room watching a medical drip for hours, but for other to volunteer their time off from work, travel, and time with their families to support me...how can I not consider myself lucky?
While my chemo treatments wind down, I've learned a lot about myself. I never knew how much I was loved and how much strength I have. Self-pity was something I would not allow myself to wallow in. Depression popped its head up at times, but I was able to find a group of pink sisters, whom I never met but we bonded. They would help me up when I felt down.
There is so much good that comes out of having a month dedicated to breast cancer. I can’t emphasize enough how critical early detection is. Monthly self-exams can help save a life. I am literally living proof. Also, companies, businesses, and individuals raise money and donate to different breast cancer organizations. These organizations use the funds for research and trials that have made it possible for my cancer to be treatable and not life ending. If this had happened to me ten or twenty years ago, my position would be very different. That is AMAZING!
Now it the time to think how you can do your part. Do your self breast exam. Try doing your exams every first of the month as an easy point of reference. This is the first step. Next, if you can, donate to one or more of the several great organizations out there. We are lucky to have several local businesses that are hosting events this month in support of breast cancer awareness. Little Hoboken has a list of them here. We are also selling Fight Like a Mother tees (designed by yours truly!) to donate a portion of the proceeds to local charity, The Breasties.
Nathalie is a mom of two boys, 7 and 4 years old, works full-time in the fashion industry, is a fitness instructor at Renaissance The Studio, and a Beautycounter consultant. She has been through the process of Hoboken Pre-K, Charter Lottery, summer camps, and tutors. Nathalie’s love of sports has rubbed off on her boys and you can find her on weekends running from one sporting activity to the other.