August 27, 2013 | by Wayne Lewis
One in a series of stories asking former patients to reflect upon their experience ...
Candida Orosco describes her breast cancer treatment as “a whirlwind.”
Only two weeks after finding out that she carried a BRCA2 mutation that greatly increased her risk, the then-44-year-old had a routine mammogram followed by a biopsy that revealed she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Her sisters had already confronted and beaten breast cancer. They pointed her to the place where they had found healing: City of Hope. Orosco went through a battery of therapies — surgery to remove both breasts, chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction, as well as prophylactic removal of her ovaries and uterus.
Five years later and cancer free, Orosco still deals with some side effects of treatment, particularly the symptoms of sudden, early menopause. But the San Dimas, Calif., resident has learned to embrace her new life, and especially the new perspective that came with it.
“It’s not about, ‘Live every day like it’s your last.’ It’s about, ‘What do you do with this time that you’re given? And whose lives will you change?’” she says.
|PODCAST: Candida Orosco talks about her story, her perspective and her advice in City of Hope’s Cancer Journeys podcast. Download and listen >>>|
Determined to make a difference in the world in the wake of her treatment, Orosco has since volunteered with an animal rescue organization, a hospice and a nonprofit that benefits women with BRCA mutations. She also shares her story as part of City of Hope’s Speakers Bureau.
We asked Orosco to look back at the time of her diagnosis and to ask herself what she knows now that she wishes she’d known then. What wisdom, soothing words, practical tips or just old-fashioned advice would she give her newly diagnosed self?
1. Talk to your doctor about your diet.
I didn’t know that breast cancer treatment can make you gain weight. I was so afraid of looking skinny during chemo that I ate more than I needed and put on more weight than I wanted.
2. Being bald is only temporary.
Losing my hair during chemo was really difficult. If I had it to do over again, I would try to be more OK with it, knowing that my hair will grow back. And in the meantime, try to make friends with scarves and hats.
3. Do the little things that make you feel normal.
For me, it was doing my makeup. It helped me feel more like myself during treatment.
4. It’s OK to feel bad.
I felt a lot of pressure to put on a brave face. But there are devastating costs to cancer treatment, and you have to allow yourself time and space to mourn for what you lose in the process. It’s OK to feel what you feel.
I didn’t process some of these feelings till years later, and that made it harder for me.
5. You are not damaged goods.
This lesson is especially for women who lose their breasts: Your breasts don’t define you. You are still a woman. You are still beautiful.
6. Accept your new life after cancer.
Life is different after treatment. You may be different physically. Don’t wish for what you had; be accepting of what you have. You still have worth. And life can even be better in some ways. I wish I had understood that sooner.