Diane LeBleu responded to my weekly newsletter with a question, and we got to talking about life after treatment. Diane is a breast cancer survivor with a twin sister - who is also a survivor! When a breast lump turned out to be cancer, she had a plan of action, but all her family lived far away. She went looking for support and information - and found it at her fingertips! Now in remission, Diane gives back to her local breast cancer community by helping other young survivors and with her new company, Pink Pockets. This is Diane's survivor story.
Diane's Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Age at diagnosis: 39
Type of breast cancer: Invasive Breast Cancer
Lymph Node Status: Positive - sentinel lymph node only
Tumor Description: Under 2 centimenters
Treatments: Bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction (tissue expanders/implants), 6 months of chemo (Cytoxan and Taxotere). No radiation.
Time in Remission: 18 months
Twin Sisters And Almost Twin Diagnoses
I was diagnosed at age 39, 6 years after my twin sister Denise was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive breast cancer and 4 years after our aunt died of a breast cancer recurrence (she was only 61). Since I was 'on the lookout' and had been having annual mammograms and been performing diligent self exams, an appearance of a small lump in my right breast was no surprise to me. Even when the Radiologist performing the core-needle biopsy and proclaimed 'This doesn't look like cancer', I knew it was. Sure enough, a week later, I received the news no woman wants to hear, "This is breast cancer."
Genetic Testing And Decisions
When my twin sister was first diagnosed at the age of 33, genetic testing was in its early stages. My sister had to pay the $3000 test fee, which resulted in 'yes, you have a mutation in the BRCA1 and 2 gene, but it is of uncertain significance'. Not really very compelling data. In fact, she was tested again a number of years later with the same result. I knew enough to be on the watch-out so when I received my diagnosis, I didn't need a genetic test result to convince me of my best course of action: bilateral mastectomy.
Starting Chemotherapy, More Testing
Chemo followed after surgery and my genetic test result indicated that my twin and I share the same exact mutation of the BRCA1 gene. The analysis was the same: mutation of undetermined significance.
At the time of my diagnosis, my children were ages 9, 7, 3, and 2. We have no family in Austin, Texas, where we live - in fact, no family that is not at least a 2-hour plane ride away. My twin, the one who could help shepherd me through my turn with cancer, had moved 3000 miles away to Tacoma, Washington, where we had grown up. I felt that I was on my own.
Internet To The Rescue
As it turned out, I was not alone at all. We had an immediate and overwhelming response from friends, neighbors, church, my son's football team, and even my best friend who was living in Hungary at the time. You can do amazing things via the Internet - plan meals, send gifts. We had meals delivered for over 2 months and offers of childcare for the little girls, who were still in preschool. I was fortified by my faith in God and in the prayers of friends and acquaintances across the globe.
Blogging Through Treatment
I was in the process of leading a ladies writing group and sometime mommyblogger at the time of my diagnosis. My web site and blog was a springboard for one of my passions and source of therapy - writing. I guest-posted on a friend's blog about my new breast cancer diagnosis and Lisa Belkins, of the New York Times parenting blog read it and re-posted it on Christmas Eve 2008. Quite an honor - my post went out to the thousands of readers at this great blog. I went on to do 3 more guest posts for Lisa throughout my treatments in 2009 and it was a great way to share some of the downs and yes ups, of this experience. My last post was on Christmas Eve 2009 - a great way to culminate the year's cancer treatments.
End Of Treatment Celebration
This photo is a picture of my twin Denise and I on our 40th birthday. We celebrated in Cozumel - 2 weeks after my implant swap in (those tissue expanders - the worst!) and 5 weeks after finishing my last chemo. It was 6 years after she completed treatment for her own Stage 2 breast cancer - making it all the more of a special trip. We had been talking about going for several years - a real getaway with our husbands - and between us we have 6 kids, so it was hard to manage logistics.
Launching Life In Remission
Now that I am officially 'in remission', I have launched a new business inspired out of my experience after my mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. After coming home from the hospital in January 2009 I had four drains coming out of me to collect lymph fluid for 10 days. I was awestruck at how ill prepared I was to deal with the discomfort and clumsiness of these. (I was the original Octomom, by the way, with my 4 kids and 4 new appendages.) The conventional wisdom of solutions at that time was: pay for an expensive gown or shirt, or use a box of safety pins. I was fortunate in that I was in a cancer support group - The Pink Ribbon Cowgirls - and they gave me a makeshift camisole with pockets.
Pink Pockets For Surgical Drains
I know all too well, though, that support groups are not for everyone, so I invented a product that I knew would be used to better a woman's recuperative experience following surgery. I invented a self-adhesive fabric pocket - called Pink Pockets - that you can attach easily to the inside of your own clothing, wash it, and still remove the pocket after your drains are gone without damaging your clothing. No sewing, no Velcro, no safety pins. Just peel and stick. And they are affordable. I sell 3 pairs (6 pockets) on my web site for only $13.99 plus shipping.
Giving Back And Helping Others Cope
I am pleased to say that I have connected with people from across the country and even from Canada. The response has been overwhelmingly the same: "These pockets are great. So simple, such a great solution." From women that have had drains before - they tell me "What a great idea. I wish we had had these when I had my surgery." My breast and plastic surgeons as well as my oncologist love the idea. In the grand scheme of cancer and the wake it creates, drains are not such a big deal. But when you are home from the hospital, at what is likely the most terrible time in a woman's life, a small comfort like having an easy place to hold those drains can be a big thing.
Biker For The Cure
Here's a photo taken in September 2010. I was the team captain for the Komen Austin affiliate of the 2nd Annual Texas Mamma Jamma Ride for breast cancer fundraising. I rode 27 miles on my daughter's mountain bike - not something I would recommend. Anyway, in this photo I have 16 months of new hair. It doesn't take long to grow, even though while you are in the early stage of growing out - it just seems to take forever!