Cancer Survivor Rebecca Nero’s Story
For 46-year-old Rebecca Nero, treatment for Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (breast cancer) was pretty standard. She had a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Her diagnosis is what was a little out of the ordinary.
“I went for my annual mammogram 12/2012. At that time, I just started noticing a dimple on the side of my left breast and thought I felt a lump but like many women, I thought I was imagining it. My mammogram came back with a question. They told me they didn’t get a good enough picture on that side. So, I went for a retake where they did an extremely exaggerated mammo which really hurt. I sat in the waiting room expecting to hear the worst. The technician finally came out and said, “You’re all set! We’ll see you in a year”.
Well, another month passed, then another, and another. And all this time, I swore the lump was growing. I still saw the dimple on the side of my breast and thought to myself, “well, I am getting older, maybe it’s just starting to sag.” But why just on one side would it sag? Also, anytime I had any free time, sitting on the couch or even at my desk at work, I found my hand creeping under my shirt to feel if the lump was still there. I touched that thing so much, I thought I created it! I finally went to my doc in March and he suggested I see my Ob/Gyn. So basically this was 3 months since I heard “you’re fine”. From there, I saw my OB and she sent me for an ultra and another mammo. I went about my day, took both boys to the dentist and then as I was walking in the door at 5pm, my doctor told me there was a suspicious mass. I knew then and there, it was cancer. A biopsy confirmed it.
My anxiety level was so sky-high. I was convinced I had a brain tumor and my thoughts were so out of control. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I felt so disconnected from the outside world. I couldn’t understand how everyone was just going about with their business while I was experiencing a tornado inside my head. I made a big mistake by going on the internet and thinking all of the worst case scenarios that would happen to me (they didn’t!)”
With any cancer diagnosis there are things you dread, besides treatment. For Rebecca it was telling her family. “One of the worst things was telling my parents. I could handle telling the kids because their frame of reference with cancer is that everyone survives. However, telling my parents was like sticking a knife in their hearts. They had already lost my brother Kenny over 20 years ago and this was just too cruel. My husband also lost his mom to breast cancer 17 years ago and this was especially hard on him too.”
On the flip side, there are moments that strike you – the moments you think this is what life is all about. “My kids were unbelievably sweet during this experience. My little one used to kiss my bald head and marvel at how soft it was. When my hair started growing back, he was always measuring my growth and telling me how awesome I looked. Both boys ran a lemonade stand to raise money too. They made beautiful bookmarks and raised over $130! My husband was always by my side, coming to every appointment and keeping me sane. My sister flew up from Florida to be with us for a month so she could help with the kids and give me support too. My brother Stephen was in constant touch with me, no matter how busy he was. My friends set up a Caring Bridge site for me so people could cook for us on a schedule. Our amazing friends, family and neighbors really stepped up to the plate to support us and we will be forever grateful. I was blown away by friends from high school who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years, suddenly at my doorstep with casseroles and all kinds of treats.” says Rebecca.
Rebecca’s diagnosis has pushed her to help others, to be more involved. She says “I used to be deathly afraid to speak in public but having cancer changed all that. Now, I feel like there is truly nothing else to fear. I’ve spoken at the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides events, such as the kickoff breakfast and the opening ceremonies for the walk where I was the guest speaker. I absolutely love doing it and spreading awareness and being an advocate is high on my to do list every day!
Writing has been great therapy for me. My blog www.beckysbigbytes.blogspot.com has been a great stress relief for me and I have connected with many women feeling the same way. My pink sisters group on Facebook has also been a tremendous support system during some very dark times. We would love to meet each other in person so we sent a video and a huge packet of letters to Ellen Degeneres.
also, here is my speech at the Making Strides breakfast. This was 2 days after my 2nd chemo treatment:
After completing my treatment and surgeries, I also became more interested in examining my home, health and beauty products and how toxic they were. Because I am now taking Tamoxifen for the next 5 years, I need to be especially careful about anything with parabens in it because Parabens have been shown to interfere with the effects of Tamoxifen. My research led me to Ava Anderson Non-Toxic product and not only do I use them exclusively, as do my husband and kids, I actually became an Independent Consultant. Here is my link www.avaandersonnontoxic.com/rebeccanero.”
At the end of the day we all have advice we could give, and it comes from just having to figure things out on our own. “Feel however YOU need to. Everyone feels different things at different times. I never sought individual counseling until just recently. I just wasn’t ready while undergoing treatment. Accept help from people who offer. Let them cook for you. Do fun things too. Try not to let it consume your every thought (easier said than done!)
I always found humor in everything and my husband also makes me laugh, even during the darkest times. Be with people who make you feel good! Don’t put pressure on yourself to continue working, and over obligating yourself. You are the number one priority. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to say no to things once you are faced with cancer. Plus, you will be saying yes to things you normally don’t do!
One other very big thing? Consult with a plastic surgeon from the very BEGINNING of your journey. I am so glad I did. Many women are not aware of what lies ahead and how much involvement the plastic surgeon has in this process.” says Rebecca.
Author’s note: If you would like to get involved in the online support group, Pink Sisters, please comment below.
If you would like to tell your cancer survivor story, please comment below and we will make it happen.