Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Tammey is joined by three-time cancer survivor, founder of The Atrium Foundation, and author of "26 & Fu¢ked," Dorothy Paredes.
First diagnosed at just age 26, and then again at 36, Dorothy opens up about topics that are unique to a young woman navigating a breast cancer diagnosis and BRCA gene mutation.
Tammey and Dorothy discuss the often overlooked options for fertility preservation and have intimate conversations about the mental health ramifications of a cancer diagnosis, the importance of being your own medical advocate, treatment after-effects, and recurrence.
Diving into more personal topics, they take on dating and relationships. Sharing experiences and insights on navigating a cancer diagnosis and relationship simultaneously, and the self-protective mental barriers they each had created, and how they learned to let love back into their lives.
Together, they also tackle one of the more difficult and least discussed topics - depression. Sharing their own experiences, and the view that breast cancer patients and survivors need more than a pamphlet when it comes to the very real mental health impacts of surviving and thriving through cancer.
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Hello and welcome to Your Killer Life, a podcast where we talk all things breast cancer. I’m your host, Tammey Grable-Woodford. And today we are talking with Dorothy Paredes. Dorothy, I probably said your last name wrongs. You’re going to have to correct me. You are a 42-year-old, three-time cancer survivor, an author, a speaker. And you have started a nonprofit, the Atrium Foundation, to help cancer survivors financially, which is a huge challenge for anyone who has been through this.
But goodness, I know that there are so much more that you can tell us about you. So take a moment, please, to introduce yourself.
Yeah. Thanks so much, Tammy. Really appreciate being here. And the last name was perfect. So yeah, I am a three-time cancer survivor. I actually have the bracket gene. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was twenty-six, and that’s how I found that I had the gene, and then I was diagnosed when I was thirty-six and thirty-eight with ovarian cancer. And yeah, I wrote my first book, only book that I’ve written, “26 & Fu¢ked.”
In fact, it’s about my cancer story at twenty-six and all of the, you know, crazy, messy, shitty things that happen from getting a diagnosis. Any cancer diagnosis really I think has, it’s, it’s, it’s toll, you know, on, on people, their families, their lives, your decisions and. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s what, that’s what the book is kind of about. I know we’ll talk about a little bit more of that soon.
And the foundation is my passion. I think it’s something that I’ve always really wanted to do in my heart. I have the opportunity to be able to do it. And like you said. Being able to move through cancer and move through that journey of survivorship is hard, but it’s double hard; it’s triple hard. It’s just crazy hard when our insurance doesn’t do everything for us. When people may be out of jobs, you may be living paycheck to paycheck.
You have a family: you have life responsibilities. And that’s what we aim to do, is to be able to help alleviate some of that stress, alleviates some of that uncertainty so that we people can focus on healing in their journey with their families.
That is so significant. And I am looking forward to diving in and talking a little bit more about the Atrium Foundation because you’re right. You know, I think a lot of times people, unfortunately, believe that breast cancer is an older woman’s disease or cancer, which is absolutely not true. I was still; I was forty-three when I was diagnosed. So I was older than you are in this moment. But I have spoken with so many thrivers who were diagnosed and are in their 20s, and it’s really kind of amazing.
So and yeah I, you work through it, you know, it is not one of the affordable diseases.
It’s not, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s insane, quite frankly. It’s something I think to kind of touch on it. And a couple of things, you’re right. Breast cancer. When I was twenty-six it was in 2005. And I feel like the one thing that I heard the most all the time was you’re so young, you’re so young, you know, you’re so young. And I even had doctors in my surgeon that I worked with just kind of pushed me aside because I was young, and she thought that it wasn’t anything because I was too young.
And it turns out, you know, if if I hadn’t pushed if I hadn’t really said, you know what, I just want this lump out. I don’t if it is something or is it something, it bothers me. I don’t want it. I can’t imagine how much. How how, what the situation could have turned out, you know, letting you go and, you know, in 2005 social media is not what it is today.
Right? I don’t think I was even on I was barely on Facebook, and I was barely, you know, smartphones. And doing all that stuff wasn’t really around. And so finally, a network of young survivors was hard. And anybody that I found that was young was ten years older than I was. So it was hard to find people to relate. And it’s sad now with social media, I can see more stories, which is great, and there is more awareness.
But it’s sad because I’m still seeing young ladies say the same thing, that they are still being pushed aside because of their age and that, I don’t know, something has to happen for that to change.
It is a really interesting thing because I, at the age of 43, was told that I was young and healthy. And so I also, at the age of forty-three, had to advocate for the mammogram because I knew that the changes in my breast were continuously changing. They were not normal. And I had a provider ask me if I wasn’t sure that my nipple had always been inverted. Like I wouldn’t know that for sure. I’ve had them for forty-three years.
Oh yeah. Yeah. You know, I knew I had changes, but I still, at the age of 43, was told while you’re young and you’re healthy, and it’s probably not anything. And I had that moment of pause where I was like, well, I can listen to what I want to hear, which is I’m probably fine, or I can listen to what my body and my instincts are telling me that I know, which is that I am not.
And so pushed for that mammo. So I’m not quite sure what age it is that when we say no, seriously, something’s not right, we don’t get that push back because it is very interesting. And to see so many women who are in their 20s and in their 30s that have had this diagnosis is amazing to me. Yeah, I did not have the BRCA gene, at least that I know. Believe it or not, they did not do the genetic testing, and I haven’t gone back to do it.
I don’t have breast cancer that runs in the family. Tell me a little bit about. So you did advocate for yourself. You clearly had did you have a lumpectomy? Did you have a mastectomy? Was it after you had the tissue sent to pathology that you found out that it was BRCA? What was how did that work out?
Yeah. Yeah, that’s that’s an interesting… it’s an interesting question. And I think the one thing that before I dive even that I do want to say that you have totally, you know, to use the cliche term like hit the nail on the head with women advocating for themselves. You know, we know our bodies. Right. We grow up with them. I mean, we see them develop, and we see the changes that they go through. And I think that is first and foremost, if anybody could take anything away, is advocate for yourself, know yourself, don’t be shy.
If someone is not listening, go find another doctor, you know, because it shouldn’t be that way. And people shouldn’t have to put up such a fight or even have those questions and make you feel embarrassed for even being there, you know. So nail on the head. I’m glad you brought that up. But yeah, to answer your question on the BRCA gene and how I found it, I had a lump show up on the outer kind of right edge of my breast.
So it wasn’t in the middle, It wasn’t around my nipple. It was just on the outer right side. You wear underwire bras, you start feeling those things, you know, and I, I started feeling the discomfort, and I made an appointment with my primary care physician who happened to be out of town. And so they schedule me with another physician that I had never met before. So I was already nervous and kind of like, should I go? Should I not go? I don’t know this person, but I went. And when she listen to me, listen to what I was saying, listen to how I was feeling… my story. And she, you know, did a what is the word I’m looking for, breast exam.
And she’s like, yep, something’s something’s out of place. Something’s not right.
So she referred me to breast specialist, and when I went to the specialist, it was it was a very interesting, complex situation because like I was saying, I went to her and her first thought was like, it’s just a cyst, youre too young. You know, young women have dense breast tissue, it’s just don’t worry about it, and I was like, well, I would like to see I would like to know. And then I think the first thing that we did was a mammogram and an ultrasound, and it didn’t really show anything conclusive.
So, again, she was like, well, no big deal. You know, nothing showing up. You’re young. And so I think I kind of went on for a little while, maybe a couple of weeks or something, and it just kind of kept bothering me. So I made another appointment with her, went back, and that’s when she gave me the option for a fine needle aspiration. So we did do that, which is also like a crazy procedure, you know, sitting there with your arm up in the air and somebody taking a needle and like, poking, stabbing you. That was not pleasant.
But she did that. And then those results, I think, also came back as like non-conclusive. It wasn’t anything alarming, I don’t think. And I later learned with fine needle aspirations that they can give inconclusive results because if there is any part of the cell or the growth that has died and the needle gets impacted with those dead cells, then it’s going to give an inconclusive result. But she did say, like, if it really was bothering me, that I could go in and have it removed.
And so I opted for that. And so we did the lumpectomy and I went in to meet with her and get the results. And it was supposed to just be this normal, everyday kind of follow up. And she was supposed to just tell me that it was nothing and I was being crazy. And the first thing that she said when she sat down was “It’s cancer.” And I, I couldn’t tell from the way that it looked on the outside, but as soon as they cut into it to do the biopsy, they knew and, you know, then the whirlwind started from there.
But how I came to doing the BRCA testing was when I went to see my oncologist because I was young. And I also don’t know my medical history. I was adopted when I was an infant. I was six weeks old. And so I don’t have any of that information. That’s when my oncologist presented me with I would like for you to do this because I think it would help us understand your long term plan, you know, things that we have to be aware of, but also to know we just didn’t have the information.
So I opted to do the BRCA testing at the time. And that’s how I came to find that I had, unfortunately, the gene for both breast and ovarian cancer.
Gotcha. So you had a lumpectomy, did you? And speaking then with your medical oncologist, were your margins clear and you were good with breast cancer, or were there more treatments? Did they recommend chemotherapy or radiation or hormone suppressing therapies, mastectomy, or kind of what happened after that? Yeah.
Yeah. So my surgeon, she when she had told me that I was diagnosed, she also kind of dropped this, you know, really heavy, crazy. Brick filled boot on me and was like, you have to remove everything, and I was like, why? Like, why do I need it? Am I dying? Like, what’s happening? You. And it was interesting because when she was pushing off my age for not wanting to move forward with removing the lump and thinking that it was nothing, all of a sudden my age became a factor.
And she said, well, because you’re so young and because, you know, you’re at the age you are and your hormonal fluctuations and et cetera, et cetera, I’m at a higher, I guess, risk for the cancer spreading and being more aggressive. So she was like, we got to… we have to remove everything. And I was like, what is everything? And she literally told me a full bilateral mastectomy and a full hysterectomy. And I you know, I was flabbergasted.
I didn’t know how to take that, but I think fortunately we were able to kind of hold the brakes on things. I asked her what my other options were, why I needed to do that, and that’s when she referred me to the oncologist and said, go talk to them oncologists. Let’s see what they say and then we can come back and make a decision. And when I spoke with my oncologist, I let him know, you know, I’d like to have kids, I wanted to have kids.
I wanted to be able to breastfeed. I wanted to be able to do that whole thing. And then that’s when, you know, after looking at everything, he came up with the plan of chemotherapy, radiation. But since I wasn’t having the mastectomies and after we had found I had BRCA, the treatment was going to be like I was at a very advanced stage of cancer. I think when I was diagnosed, I was a Stage 1b or something.
It was invasive ductal in, but it hadn’t spread. It did not spread throughout my lymphatic system or anything else. It was still, you know, pretty there. But because I was young and because I wasn’t doing mastectomies, yeah, I had to do a full round of carboplatin and Taxol and then. I think it was about 30 days of radiation, but fortunately, I didn’t have to do any hormone therapy.
So I want to back up just a second, because this is one of those things that I don’t think it’s discussed enough.
You are 26. I was 43 and never wanted kids, and I will tell you, I never wanted kids until they told me I had estrogen, progesterone, positive cancer and that they might want to take my ovaries. And \then all of the sudden it’s like, do I or don’t I? Really not. But at 26. So this is huge. And I really do want to pause for a second, because one of the things that I haven’t actually talked about much on even this podcast is fertility preservation and having those conversations because there is no action without reaction in the breast cancer world; I’m sure in any cancer world with any medical procedure.
But this is the one I know. So whether it’s surgical, whether it is medical oncology, whether it is radiation, radiation oncology, there is whether it’s medications. There is no action without a reaction. So here you are at 26. And were you single at that time?
I was single, but I was dating, I did have. Yeah, that that was it. That’s an interesting story, too, but yeah, I was dating but not married.
OK, so twenty-six, all of this news, decisions you have to make that are truly life-altering in addition to life-changing. So where you think it is that you’re going to go and sort of those dreams that we all have for ourselves as we plan our future all of this, sudden having new information that is causing pause and possibly considerable change to your path?
Yeah, yeah. No, it was exactly that. It was a considerable amount of change to my path.
And, you know, I think when a lot of this was going on, you do there is a part of you that is just moving forward. You’re just moving, moving, moving, and you’re making decisions. And then there’s a part of you when you get a quiet moment that you literally stop, and you’re just like, what the fuck is happening right now? You know, what’s going on? So when it came to the fertility, that’s how I started feeling, like when I got the diagnosis for cancer.
I mean, it was a slap in the face, you’re just like, wait a minute, I don’t feel sick, I don’t look sick, I feel fine, but we can take care of it, you know. But the fertility preservation it was an interesting way that that came about, the fertility preservation. When I went to my very first appointment with my oncologist, the guy that I was dating at the time had gone with me. And my oncologist was telling me all these everything about the treatment, what was going to happen, how it was going to feel, the side effects. And I think at some point in time, I kind of maybe, I don’t know, just kind of blacked out a little bit because there was so much information to try to process.
And my boyfriend at the time. Just sort of interjected and said, well, what about kids? Can she have kids after this? My oncologist said, you know, he kind of stopped and thought about it for a minute and was like. Yeah, yeah, she can have kids, but it’s a good question because he typically didn’t have to think about that as part of his treatment plan. Right. Because as you said, most of the women you probably, I’m assuming, were his patients for breast cancer were older.
They already have families or grandkids. And so it kind of it really did cause him to stop and pause and think about it. And he asked me the question, do you want to have children? And I said, yes, I would like to. And then that’s when he also had to take another pause and say, well. This treatment, especially, I think, carboplatin then, can push you into menopause, and it can affect your fertility.
Plus at the time they didn’t have a lot of data on what chemo would do to your eggs and how it would affect your reproductive system. And that was, you know, a shock, right? Sitting there at twenty-six, having to think about this, then having to know that. I could be to try to save my life, I could be negatively affecting my future children. What do we do? So my oncologist referred me to a fertility specialist here in Austin.
And then I went and spoke with that fertility specialist. There were all sorts of options, you know, embryo preservation, site preservation, choosing a donor, if I want to do embryo preservation, that whole thing. But I think what was the kicker about all of this… what was the kicker about all of this is the insurance would not reimburse it, even with a diagnosis. I had to figure out a way to pay for my own fertility preservation.
And luckily, the fertility doctor offered financial assistance. So they were able to deduct some of the costs. And they did take on a bit of a task, and they were able to get the insurance company to pay for the facility fees and like anesthesia and like very basic surgical stuff. But outside of that. Yeah. And so it’s just like how, you know, where we are raised in the society to feel like choosing to be able to have children and having children is part of who we are as women, you know, and then when I step into this world, they’re like, no, you’re just choosing to do that, you know, cancer or no cancer.
We’re not going to help you out. It’s just like it was crazy.
That sounds like such an opportunity for some advocacy. Obviously, this is something I had no idea about. And I kind of want to take a pause and just encourage anyone listening that maybe feeling like I have no options, I can’t have a family or I can’t have a child of my own to really encourage them to at least ask the questions and have the appointments and consultations and, you know, sort of like. It’s amazing to me that an aesthetic, flat closure has taken as long as it has to become something that is standard and identified and covered.
And for those who are listening that maybe have not had someone who’s had a flat closure that was not aesthetic or hasn’t seen what that looks like, it’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s unattractive in many ways. You know, some for some I should say, because some people are totally cool with it. But there’s a reason why going to an aesthetic flat closure has been a thing. And it seems like fertility preservation needs to be another one of those areas that we really advocate, because that is something else that I had.
I would not have even thought that it wouldn’t be covered.
Yeah, not covered and in… you’re right. I think if if you know, if your listeners are young, you know, cuz, you know, co-survivors or parents or whomever, you know, whether anybody feels or they know they want to have children or not, it’s worth having the conversation. It’s worth knowing. Because to your point Tammey, when, when your fertility gets taken away from you, and you can’t have the option things, things change.
It’s one thing to be able to have the option. It’s another thing for that option to be even taken away. And you not have any control now. So it is worth having the conversation whether you know or don’t know or whether you feel like you don’t really want to. It’s it’s worth sticking it out. Yeah.
And just knowing your options. Right. I mean, that is a big part of it, is fully understanding all of the options and all of the potential ramifications from the decisions and the treatments that that you’re looking at. There are so many things that we can’t control. And, you know, long story short, I still didn’t want kids, and yet that was one more loss I was facing, and it was one more decision that was truly being taken away that made me be a little more introspective and asking myself, are you sure that that’s not what you want?
So and that again, was it? Forty-three versus, you know, being in my 20s or my 30s. So let’s talk a little bit about the life effects, especially at that age, so you were dating, you weren’t married, you’d gone through the chemotherapy and the radiation and that 30 round 30 days was how many rounds and 30 days,
It was I think I had to go five days a week for a month.
OK, so that’s not that’s that’s significant. And that whole experience is significant. And so how did you emotionally and sort of the life effects of that, did you? I know for me I was in and out of depression and depending on the prescription medications and where I was post, you know, whatever, like that’s a side effect of many of the medications that we take.
And so it’s compounded. I know that I had a lot of just feeling lost. I had anger, I had denial, and got all of that. So. Talk us through that for you at the in your 20s going through this.
Yeah, yeah, I, I am I’m right there with you. I think, you know, you get a diagnosis and and in that diagnosis, in those treatment plans, it’s almost it’s almost easy when you are diagnosed with cancer, you kind of get all these plans laid out for you.
You know, you’re like you’re going to get this chemo and this chemo and you’re going to come here on these days and infusion. And, you know, so you kind of like, OK, and you’re just rolling with it. But a part of that plan does not. Or I should… I should rephrase that. None of those plans include any type of dealing with the emotional trauma that you go through. And and I’m not saying this to be rude or to or to downplay anybody.
We’re all strong, and we all have our own inner strength, but. No matter how strong you are when you’re going through a diagnosis, whether it’s low level or, you know, extreme, like you said, there are life effects that come of it. You know, anything from, like, I have hemorrhoids now for the rest of my life to losing your fertility. So there’s a lot that happens, and nobody talks to you about that. And when I was twenty-six and going through this, I found myself in in very in very complex situations.
And I think looking back; I think a lot of that was. Maybe I was a little bit of that to myself because I didn’t know how to handle what was going on, you know, I after treatment I was I’m I was with you. You know, I was angry. I was depressed. I didn’t really understand what was what was going to be next. How was somebody going to see me with these surgeries now with with somebody even want to be with me?
Because now I have this gene and I’m going to pass it on to my kids, you know, am I defective? Like like and and I have this gene. So no matter what, it’s going to come back, and who’s going to sign up for that, you know, so I was going through all of these emotions on top of when I had just finished chemotherapy and radiation. I found myself. I was I ended up becoming pregnant, and it was happy, but it was also scary, and I wasn’t ready.
And so I had to make a decision of having a child or not having a child. And I decided to not have a child. And on top of the decision on my preservation, on top of the surgeries, on top of now deciding to not have a child and going through that process, you know, my my white picket fence dreams were crumbling down around me. And I started drinking a lot. I started drinking a lot. I started going out way too much, you know, drinking like blackout drinking.
The next day I was throwing up drinking. And then I would have more guilt because I’m like… my body just went through all of this stuff with chemo. Why am I doing this again? You know, what’s going on? So so, yeah, you you spiral a bit and, you know, you find what’s close and what’s convenient. And for me, yeah, that was, that was drinking because I, I didn’t know how else to deal with the depression and the anger and the disappointment that I had.
I, I will say that I chose, you know, let me back up… one of the first things that I was offered along with my diagnosis was prescriptions for antidepressants, which I declined. And I declined them because I felt like I really needed to be in tune with my instincts and with my body because I was going through so much and I and for me… and I never judge anybody for making the choices that they make for them. For me, I did not want to be disconnected because I felt like at some point, I have to process all of this anyway so I can process it while I’m going through it.
Which truth be known, there were still a lot of things I didn’t process for years. Or I can put this barrier up and and hopefully, you know, delay it, I guess. But eventually it’s it’s I still had my breasts amputated, and I still went through all the things that I went through, and I’ve still had this loss and life change, and it’s still going to be there. So I chose red wine instead. And that was my, quote-unquote, drug of choice when it came to dealing with my depression and my anger, my denial, my loss.
And it’s you’re right, it’s a tough thing because on the one hand, you’re telling yourself, gosh, I’m going through all of these things. And I was already. Although I joke because I already ate organic, exercised, did all the right things. And so I’m like, maybe I should smoke cigars and drink whiskey as prevention for me. I don’t know, start swearing like a sailor. I’m not sure. But but, you know, you do you cope.
And that’s what it is, is coping. And I think that with this this absolute gap, if not absence of mental health in this process, how do you expect somebody to do this? And not only do you have loss in your life, that is significant, but you also have this strange situation where with cancer, you are like on this train and every moment is scheduled, and you have all of your doctor appointments and all of this stuff going on, and you get to the end of it, and they’re like, all right, well, we’re done so in a year.
And it’s just this really weird. So then you have like this additional loss of now I have a loss of all my providers, and I feel like a medical outcast when I try and talk to primary care. It’s just it is unless you’ve been on that train, it is a tough one to kind of to kind of go through. But what I love about, well, your book and your story is that you were able to still lift yourself up and dating.
And so are you married now? Married right, now?
Yeah. Been married. It’ll be seven years pretty soon next month. So, yeah, I’m married now.
That is awesome. And so if I remember correctly in what I call the technical greenroom before coming on the air. Now, your second diagnosis came after your engagement, is that right? Or soon after you were married?
Yeah. Yeah, actually. So my my second diagnosis of cancer, my first diagnosis of ovarian cancer came, I think nine months into our marriage. We we had not even been married a year yet. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s I think, you know, the the hard part there, the interesting part is when I was 26 and single, you know, my issues were who’s going to love me? Who’s going to want me? Who’s going to want to have a family with me?
Right. And just the body changes and all of that that’s happening. When I was married in and going through this, my thought was like. Holy shit, like, I don’t I don’t want to miss this relationship and what we’re what we’re building, but I also just felt really I felt bad I felt bad for my husband having to be so newly married and now having to be in this situation where that where I knew it was going to happen sooner or later.
And it was almost like clockwork. I remember my oncologist and my surgeon saying, well, if you’re not going to do you know, if you have BRCA and you’re not going to do a hysterectomy now, and you’re not going to do mastectomies, then I think I was told that I had to have everything removed by thirty-five. And so if I was going to have kids that I had to have all the kids I wanted to have and have everything removed by the time I was thirty-five.
Right. And then, and then like a couple of years later they moved it out to like thirty-six to thirty-eight and then it was almost like clockwork, thirty-six. And then like ovarian cancer. Congratulations, you know like but but yeah I felt my frame of mind was different because I felt bad for what I was putting my husband through. But I also I think now worried not, not in a not in a fearful way like but more worried about dying because of what that was going to do to to my new husband, you know.
Oh, I absolutely understand that my first husband and I did not survive my diagnosis, and we were already having trouble at that point and Griff stepped in, and he fell in love before I did, because I wouldn’t let myself because for me, I was like, “Why would I do this to someone? Why would I invite someone into this kind of heartache?” And so I had thrown up walls because I had that just that fear and that barrier. So… and it’s and that’s a lot of work to to overcome that.
And he many times had to remind me that it wasn’t up to me that was his decision, not my decision. As far as him being willing to take that on as a risk and for, you know, I’ll be six years NEAD in February. Oh, about a week after that, after this release, and still, right? Like your... yeah, I’m healthy today. Yeah,
and you’re exactly right. I know that, you know, I put up a lot of walls, too.
I think it’s part of it’s part of the coping mechanism, you know. You don’t want to be a burden to somebody, you don’t want to have somebody else go through it, like you said, like, why would that be fair? And I know there’s a point in time between my diagnosis of twenty-six and kind of coming out of that a little bit to meeting my husband that I call the in-between. And it was that in between what I was dealing not only with the depression and the drinking, but also putting up a lot of walls and then and then, you know, I I know that I hurt people along that journey that didn’t deserve to be hurt because I wasn’t ready. You know, I still… I wanted to be ready, and I wanted to find a husband. And I was on this timeline. But if something happened and it just didn’t seem right or was it, then my expectation, you know, I was out, and that’s not fair. That’s not fair to people.
But to your point, when when when cancer treatment plans don’t include anything, any aspect of mental health and wellness, I don’t I don’t care if it’s even just one appointment, a appointment, you know, a virtual appointment, something that’s not a pamphlets. I’m so sick of pamphlets.
I think why that’s the most ridiculous thing to give somebody. Yeah. Here’s a piece of paper we printed out for you and fold it in three ways. Like I need them to fix it. Yeah, this will do everything for you. It’s like no… like but yeah, until we get until we get those types of awareness and that type of focus into these, these treatment plans, it’s going to be unfortunate about how many people who are diagnosed go through that pain and and their friends and families and, you know, whoever else comes into their life at that time until they heal.
I know that I’ve always been a strong advocate in general, that’s been sort of my background, my history, and and with cancer, I had to advocate for my self, obviously. And I will never forget telling a medical oncologist that she needed to realize that she was treating a person and not a disease. And I think that that is something that we miss. And and when I say we, I just mean. As a society that we miss, that this is a life this is a person who had a life and had dreams and had goals and aspirations, and not only is there a bunch of change that happens, there’s this expectation that, well, you’re alive and so you should just be grateful for that.
And it’s not that I am not grateful to be alive, but that gratitude for being alive does not supersede my pain and reality of my loss and everything else that I’m processing, so and I think that it sets us up for failure because it is one more sort of heavy burden from a mental health perspective that that we’re just expected that no matter what the discomfort, what the side effect, what the change has been to our life, you should just be grateful you’re alive, right?
Exactly. Yeah, it’s it’s it’s downplayed. I think it’s makes people feel guilty, which is a it just compounds. You’re exactly right. I have never not been grateful for being alive and being here and being able to have the experiences that I do and meet my husband and have closer bonds with people that I didn’t have bought that close bonds with before. But it doesn’t. You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t negate what you go through. It doesn’t negate the feelings that you have, the loss that you have, even if it’s just it doesn’t even have to be physical.
You know, I love I love what you say amputated because things are literally getting cut off your body. Yes. It’s like. Tossed somewhere, I don’t know, but but it’s just the complete disruption to the life that your path or the path that your life was on, whether it was perfectly planned out or not, you were on a path. You you were on a direction. And now that has been completely derailed. And the image that comes to mind is, is the train that’s going along this beautiful countryside on this wonderful train track.
And then all of a sudden, you know, somebody switches the train track in the front and then the train is like, you know, that’s that’s how it is. You can’t you can’t negate that disruption. And I think that’s the biggest gap. It’s the biggest thing that is missing from how we treat cancer and helping people move through it. Yeah.
I so wholeheartedly agree that gratitude does not remove the right, that you have to mourn every loss and process, every loss. So your book title, I love “26 & Fu¢ked.” Yeah, so tell us a little bit about your book, and you’re also starting to pen a second one, is that right? That’s correct. OK, yeah.
So “26 & Fu¢ked”, it’s the title has like a couple of meanings, one just plain as it is. I mean that’s how I felt. I was twenty-six, and I literally felt like I was fucked. Like all of these decisions, all the life changes, everything that came with it. I just, I just felt like I was out there on a limb that was about to like, you know, break at any moment. But also the significance of it is I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the spelling of a “fucked,” there is the ‘C’ that is the cent sign.
Yes. And that signifies things that we’ve talked about here. One, not only the cost to ourselves physically, emotionally, but also the cost to our to our pockets. You know, if you don’t have insurance, it can be a huge cost. I mean, people lose homes, they go into debt. You know, it’s crazy, you know, that somebody has to fight so hard to save their life. Sorry. I jiggled my table. People fight so hard. I don’t understand it.
So. So, yeah. So “26 & Fu¢ked” is is about it’s my story, my my raw story. I dive into all the truths that were going on. I don’t hide a lot of things. And it’s my story on the like you said, the life affects of of a cancer diagnosis, how that affects you from everything to dating and going out and hanging out with your friends and going to a coffee shop to making these decisions about your fertility, to wrestling with, you know, decisions of, oh, great, I’m pregnant, but I can’t do this right now, you know, and family disappointments.
So it’s. It was my way to, I think, also do a couple of things, one, move past a lot of the trauma and the pain through writing and telling my story, I was very scared to put it out there. What are people going to think about me? And I get a job after this, you know? Yeah, I don’t look at it. So there is that. But also to to help people know that they’re not alone in that struggle.
Like, my story is not going to be the same as everybody else’s story. But what is going to be the same is that that emotional trauma that we go