Since this is the first of its kind on my blog, I must issue a warning of graphic content in the following post. Nothing to be alarmed about, it's not violent or disturbing in nature - It's just the raw honest reality of one woman's post-mastectomy journey being shared. Anyone who has an issue with this may kindly access the X on the top of their browser, click it and this page will promptly disappear.
Now - back to the interview!
I met Ann Marie online. I can't remember where... whether it was through our blogs, Twitter or Instagram. Either way we made a connection and have been 'breast buddies' since the Summer. We email, ask each other advice periodically and often are able to share a laugh about some kind of issue we both unfortunately know all too much about.
This feisty lady is a busy-bee, active with fund raisers and cancer-related events and can almost always be seen wearing high heels, even on her way to surgery. I must sing her praises a bit more by mentioning that Ann Marie was recently chosen as a finalist for the WEGO Health Awards in the Hilarious Health Activist Category. Ann Marie is also behind the ever-growing Facebook page Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer that I encourage you to go and "like" as soon as you are done reading this special interview.
With all her might Ann Marie has been a driving force in helping people who have had a diagnosis as well as making it her personal mission to raise funds to find a cure. Whether she is sharing post-mastectomy tattoo photos on Facebook to make other woman feel less alone and ashamed of their bodies... or whether she is holding exercise classes for survivors, Ann Marie is one outstanding woman inspiring others and I feel honoured to call her my friend.
NAME: Annmarie Otis
TYPE OF CANCER / OFFICIAL DIAGNOSIS: breast cancer, DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ)
CURRENT AGE: 40
AGE AT DIAGNOSIS: 40
HOMETOWN: Syracuse, NY
OCCUPATION: stay at home mom
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE SICK? WHAT LED UP TO YOUR DIAGNOSIS? I was laying in bed and reached my arm across and felt a lump. I call my husband and he sort of chuckled because I always find lumps, I have dense lumpy breast. But this was a real lump and the minute I felt it I could tell the difference. When Tom felt it black discharged came out, I knew I was in trouble. The irony was I was off to an open registration for Susan G Komen Race for the Cure. It was surreal being around the survivors coming in and listen to their stories.
IS THERE CANCER IN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY? Isn't it in everyone's? Yes, my paternal grandma had breast cancer in the 70's.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS WHEN YOU WERE DIAGNOSED? Wtf!?!?! I have been a breast cancer supporter for years, I thought I got it by! It proved to me that cancer does not discriminate.
HOW DID YOUR FAMILY REACT? Ugh. My husband was in shock, still is I think. I have 4 boys and they had a hard time. Especially my 10 year old. Fortunately they know so many survivors and we have been doing Race for the Cure so long they are breast cancer aware. My father who is usually a crying mess stood strong and obeyed my no crying rule, if anyone could cry it was me! My brother took it the hardest, he still is worried about constantly. My sister has been very supportive, as has my whole big extended family. We are all very close so this was a hit to our family but it didn't knock us over. My 2 cousins got matching tattoos with me, hope, love, live!
HOW DID YOUR FRIENDS REACT? Without them I would have crumbled. My closest friend took on the beast with me. My friend Genevieve did not know how to help so she took her camera and took pictures of everything! The most therapeutic thing I did through all this. My friend MC who is a cancer research scientist by trade came to every appointment to decipher what the doctors said. My other friends rallied to make food, take the kids and to add a girls night every now and then.
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK CANCER HAD BEEN IN YOUR BODY? I was under a lot of stress 2 years prior, a LOT. I think it grew then. I just a doctor said "Through stress you either grow or grow a tumor", think I did both!
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES YOU BELIEVE DIFFERENTIATES YOUNG/YOUNGISH ADULTS COPING WITH CANCER AS OPPOSED TO PEOPLE WHO ARE DIAGNOSED LATER IN LIFE? Yes for sure!! This is not your great aunt's diseases. We want our bodies to be beautiful, sexy not scared and misshapen. We are not ready to face mortality, not at all. We don't have time for this, we want to be out with our friends, raising our kids, enjoying our husbands! Cancer has altered that, cancer took my summer for sure.
DID YOU CONTINUE TO WORK AFTER YOUR DIAGNOSIS? I was about to start a business with friend, the business just changed. I will be raising money for cancer, that is my mission. My husband just said "that's the gift cancer didn't mean to give you", I have raised almost $20,000.00 for various cancer research groups and I do not plan on stopping.
WHAT HAS YOUR TREATMENT CONSISTED OF? I opted for no chemo which will be revisited this month.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT SIDE EFFECTS YOU HAVE HAD TO COPE BECAUSE OF YOUR TREATMENT? Well I had insomnia before so that is like old hat. I think the not working out. I have gained so much weight and hate how my body has changed so much. The self body issues are the hardest to over come.
IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU HAVE CHANGED ANYTHING? Actually, yes I would not have gone right to reconstruction. I would have gotten used to my breast being gone!
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT PART ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF COPING WITH CANCER? Becoming a hypochondriac! I never was sick nor did I go to the doc, now I get a hang nail and wonder?!
HAVE YOU STRUGGLED WITH SLEEP OR FOUND IT DIFFICULT TO FULLY RELAX? Yes I feel so antsy, yet have no energy at the same time. When I sleep it's hard but when I wake up my mind is on fire. I get thinking then can't shut off the thoughts.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE STRESS OF FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENTS AND/OR SCANS? Handle?? That's funny. Actually I make sure that Genevieve and MC are there with me. Making wise ass comments and having me not drive the nurses nuts. It relaxes me and puts me at ease.
THERE ARE SO MANY TOUGH DECISIONS TO MAKE WHEN DEALING WITH CANCER. WHO HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO TURN TO FOR ADVICE? I would be lost through this whole process without MC. She has been at every appointment asking the questions that I never would have thought to ask or known for that matter. Her knowledge of cancer was and is vital to me, plus she is honest and doesn't beat around the bush she just tells me how it's going down.
SOMETIMES PEOPLE CAN UNINTENTIONALLY SAY THE WRONG THING. HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED THIS? IF SO, HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT? Usually I say something very obnoxious. Sometimes people just don't know what to say and it comes out wrong. Some people are just jackasses. I had someone say "Omg are you so excited to get your boobs!? You are so lucky!" to which I replied "Yes so lucky I got cancer, I feel like I'm on top of the world."
HAVE YOU LEARNED ANY BIG LESSONS ALONG THIS JOURNEY? Yes, everyone has a journey and we can't judge their paths only support the destination!
HAVE ANY OF YOUR PRIORITIES IN LIFE CHANGED SINCE CANCER? I find I'm sweating the small stuff less and less. I also have had to let go of some hard feelings and learned to be at peace with that inside or hold in resentment.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER, GIVES YOU JOY AND HOPE? Every time I have a fund raiser for Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer and I see the amount of strangers that support the urgency to find a cure I am given hope. When people walk away and tell me that this is my mission and I'm doing great at making people aware while raising money I'm given joy.
HAVE YOU ATTENDED ANY SUPPORT GROUPS? WHY OR WHY NOT? Actually in the midst of starting my own! We will exercise then chat over tea. I think there is such a need for young people to have support. Most of the groups here are all older survivors. I need to be around moms and dads who have young kids or young adults who need guidance from someone just a little older (but not too much older!).
HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY ALTERNATE THERAPIES OR METHODS BENEFITING YOUR OVERALL WELL-BEING? Not yet, but I have looked into 2 groups here.
HAVE YOU CHANGED ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFESTYLE SINCE BEING DIAGNOSED? I have always ate relatively healthy but I watch packages more for sure. And sometimes I just leave the dishes in the sink cause I can! I also have caved and let people help when they need to feel needed and when I need it!
ANY TIPS FOR THE PRIMARY CARETAKERS? I hated when people asked me to tell them when I needed from them. Just do what you think they need, come over and vacuum or wipe the bathrooms down. Even though they say they can do it - it would be better if you did it.
ANY TIPS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF CANCER SURVIVORS?
Sometimes words are too much to handle, just holding a hand is all that is needed.
YOUR MOTTO / MANTRA OR FAVE SAYING: cancer is cancer no matter how your journey takes you.
YOUR WEBSITE WHERE READERS CAN FOLLOW YOUR STORY:
www.stupiddumbbreastcancer.com or www.facebook.com/stupiddumbbreastcancer