I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow young breast cancer survivor last month. Reading Vera Pereskokova's Q & A definitely hit home for me obviously due to the nature and timing of her diagnosis. She also reminded me of an important fact that is often forgotten when it comes to breast cancer. And that is that MEN can get breast cancer too!
Read on to learn about her experiences from surgery, hair loss, to receiving support and making lifestyle changes...
NAME: Vera Pereskokova
TYPE OF CANCER / OFFICIAL DIAGNOSIS: Breast cancer: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and DCIS
CURRENT AGE: 29
AGE AT DIAGNOSIS: 28
HOMETOWN: Cleveland, Ohio
OCCUPATION: Healthcare consultant
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE SICK? WHAT LED UP TO YOUR DIAGNOSIS? I was getting dressed one morning and just felt a lump on the side of my right breast. I felt totally normal/healthy and that lump was my only sign.
IS THERE CANCER IN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY? Not direct, but my grand-uncle had breast cancer twice (yes, men get cancer too!)
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS WHEN YOU WERE DIAGNOSED? I felt like it was going to be cancer before I even got official biopsy results. I cried, and then got down to business of figuring out what to do.
HOW DID YOUR FAMILY REACT? They were shocked. My grandma blamed the food and environment - as usual, my mom just wanted to know the next steps, etc.
HOW DID YOUR FRIENDS REACT? They couldn't believe it. I guess we think we're young and invincible.
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK CANCER HAD BEEN IN YOUR BODY? I always ask myself that and wonder if I should have found it earlier. I think it was there for at least a year, but who knows.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES YOU BELIEVE DIFFERENTIATES YOUNG/YOUNGISH ADULTS COPING WITH CANCER AS OPPOSED TO PEOPLE WHO ARE DIAGNOSED LATER IN LIFE? Definitely. As a young woman, I had to think about fertility issues whereas for an older woman going through cancer that would not be an issue. It's also the fact that these are supposed to be our "young and fabulous" years and all that fabulousness gets sucked right out of you.
DID YOU CONTINUE TO WORK AFTER YOUR DIAGNOSIS? Yes, I did. Although I switched to working from home and not traveling.
DID YOU HAVE SURGERY? IF SO, WHAT DID IT CONSIST OF? Too many! I had a double mastectomy, then an axillary node dissection. My tissue expander also got infected and had to be taken out. I still have at least 2 more reconstructive surgeries in my future.
WHAT HAS YOUR TREATMENT CONSISTED OF? 8 round of chemo and Tamoxifen
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT SIDE EFFECTS YOU HAVE HAD TO COPE BECAUSE OF YOUR TREATMENT? Hair loss, - especially losing my eyelashes - fatigue, having a concave chest on one side, and so on.
IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU HAVE CHANGED ANYTHING? I would have waited until after I was healed from my mastectomy and finished with chemo before I attempted reconstruction.
|"Beyonce Fabulous" wig|
HAVE YOU STRUGGLED WITH SLEEP OR FOUND IT DIFFICULT TO FULLY RELAX? thankfully no
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE STRESS OF FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENTS AND/OR SCANS? I have not had any yet, so we'll see!
THERE ARE SO MANY TOUGH DECISIONS TO MAKE WHEN DEALING WITH CANCER. WHO HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO TURN TO FOR ADVICE?
Message boards at www.breastcancer.org
have been great. There is so much wisdom shared there and
I've gotten tips and advice there that I would never hear
from my medical team. And, of course, my family, my husband, friends, etc.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST HELPFUL FORM OF SUPPORT YOU HAVE RECEIVED? IE: HOME COOKED MEALS? My grandmother brought me meals every other day for the last 8 months - it's been amazing. My friends drove from other cities to take me to chemo. Everyone has just rallied around me and it's a great feeling.
SOMETIMES PEOPLE CAN UNINTENTIONALLY SAY THE WRONG THING. HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED THIS? IF SO, HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT? Yes, and I just ignore it and move on. I hate hearing things like "I know how you feel" (no you don't!!) or "It'll be alright", but I know they mean well.
HAVE YOU LEARNED ANY BIG LESSONS ALONG THIS JOURNEY? Yes, to eat healthier, take care of myself and enjoy every day.
HAVE ANY OF YOUR PRIORITIES IN LIFE CHANGED SINCE CANCER? I'd like to say yes, but not really - life goes on and things still need to be done. Dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, etc.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER, GIVES YOU JOY AND HOPE? Long walks with my dog, having my friends and family around, a great book, a quiet night in with my husband :)
HAVE YOU ATTENDED ANY SUPPORT GROUPS? WHY OR WHY NOT? No, they're usually at odd times when I have to work.
HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY ALTERNATE THERAPIES OR METHODS BENEFITING YOUR OVERALL WELL-BEING? Yes, I did acupuncture twice a month, massages, facials - anything relaxing.
HAVE YOU CHANGED ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFESTYLE SINCE BEING DIAGNOSED? I stopped eating all meat and am trying to limit my dairy. I threw out a lot of my skincare/make-up that contained questionable chemicals and bought cleaner products. I take long walks every day, do weight lifting and see a trainer. I just try to be healthier all around.
ANY TIPS FOR OTHER SURVIVORS? You don't have to make radical changes but educate yourself, and make small feasible changes in your lifestyle. Prevention is so important for us survivors.
ANY TIPS FOR THE PRIMARY CARETAKERS? Be VERY patient and be prepared for mood swings, tears, etc. - it's nothing against you.
ANY TIPS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF CANCER SURVIVORS? Don't say "it'll be OK" or other cliche sayings. And don't assume the person with cancer doesn't want to talk about their diagnosis/treatment. I actually enjoyed explaining what was going on with me. What was more annoying was people tip toeing around me and pretending like nothing was going on.
YOUR MOTTO / MANTRA OR FAVE SAYING: Nothing cancer related :) “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
YOUR WEBSITE WHERE READERS CAN FOLLOW YOUR STORY: (OR A SUMMARY OF WHAT YOU ARE NOW UP TO IF YOU DON'T KEEP A BLOG: I keep a blog at www.luxuryreading.com but it's about books, not my journey. I talk so much about cancer on a daily basis that having a non-cancer blog is a breath of fresh air!