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Cancer Survivor Jo-Ann Wisely’s story

Jo is someone I met through our online support group, Pink Sisters.   Her story is like so many – you find a lump and are reassured it just needs to be watched.  When you return for a check-up you are told you have cancer.  Fortunately for Jo she learned to be at peace with this diagnosis.

jo Wisely“The day I was diagnosed, I went from the Drs. surgery to a café for a take away coffee. While I was waiting, and turning over in my mind this scary news, I noticed that the child in the stroller next to me had a drip hooked up and some other complex equipment. I commented to the mum that it must be hard to have to plan ev en a simple outing to the shops, and chatted to the young child. She thanked me for taking the time to talk to the child and told me that he was now receiving palliative care. It made me realize that I was actually very lucky to have lived to see my kids grow up and  get married, and that I had had a chance to live life; that my bad news would have been much worse if I was 20, 30 years younger.  I became very calm and accepting of whatever the future might hold for me. It was like an epiphany.”

At age 50 Jo, who lives in Coffs Harbour NSW Australia, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer.  She had a family history of breast cancer with her mother being diagnosed at age 43 and ultimately passing away at age 46 after a reoccurrence.  Jo says, “I found out 2 weeks before my daughter’s wedding. We didn’t tell anyone as we didn’t want to ruin her day. Had to sneak to all my appointments. Hubby found it particularly hard. I also found it hard to tell my Dad, who cried. After surgery I offered views of my “manchest” to everyone, as I strongly believe that the reality is far less scary than the imagined, and many people want to see but are afraid to ask.”

She did what so many of us decide to do, she had a mastectomy.  On May 3, 2013 she had a double mastectomy which included  a right full auxiliary clearance.  It was found that 22 of 23 lymph nodes were also involved, and thus removed.  Her treatment included 25 sessions of radiation to her right side, 4 rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan, 12 rounds of Taxol and 10 years of Tamoxifen.  This is a toughpath; one that is not only necessary but standard in most countries.

There are so many side effects to cancer treatment, chemotherapy in particular.  One that really bothers most women is hair loss.  But Jo wasn’t as affected by this.  “I didn’t mind losing my hair, but losing my eyelashes was a real downer. Up till then I had felt that I still looked feminine and a bit pretty at least, with eye make up on. With no lashes to put mascara on, I felt I looked ugly.” says Jo.

Pink ribbon. Breast cancerBeyond that there are “long-term effects” or “lasting effects“, which you rarely find out about until you’re in the thick of it.  One of these is associated with the removal of so many lymph nodes.  For Jo, this long-term effect is one of the hardest to accept:  “I have lymphedema in my right arm, and that upset me far more than losing my breasts. It was the first time I felt like I had a disability, because it limits what I can do.”

We all have words we use to help ease another’s pain or anxiety.  For me, I have found the best advice for dealing with a new diagnosis comes from a cancer survivor.  Jo is no exception: “Don’t panic.  You have time.  Trust your medical team to do the best for you.  In the mean time, enjoy and appreciate each and every day, none of us, no one, knows what the future holds.”

Author’s note: If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer and need information on “Pink Sisters” online support group please leave a comment below.  This Facebook group is private and is a loving, peaceful & informative bunch of women who have battled or are still battling breast cancer.

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