Life After Cancer Treatments

by Julie ErwinAugust 1, 2019View more posts from Julie Erwin

Where do I start? No one ever wants to hear the words “you have cancer”. On October 14, 2014, I was told those words. I was diagnosed with Stage ll, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast cancer.

Was I scared? Yes.

Was I mad? Yes.

Was I sad? Yes.

Did I cry? Yes.

Hearing those words threw me into a whirlwind of…. what stage is it, how did this happen, what did I do wrong, why me, will I die, and many more. Then I was thrown into a whirlwind of appointments, scans, consultations, and procedures.

Within a month I was having my first chemo treatment. After six rounds of chemo and a Bi Lateral Mastectomy with immediate TRAM Flap reconstruction surgery I am cancer free as of April 22nd, 2015.

I have a son, who today is 21 years old. We have always had a close relationship. He is a great kid. He is the best part of my life. I also have a dog, Baxter, 8. I think he knew I had cancer before I did because he could smell it.

I have always been a positive person, “seeing the glass half full” if you will. I grew up in San Jose, CA and lived in the same house throughout childhood and on and off throughout adulthood until my Mom sold it in June 2017.

I have been in the retail industry for over 30 years, most of that time in management. I currently work for a school uniform store in Santa Clara that has been in business since 1946. It is the best job I have ever had. I enjoy customer service and have never been one who can sit at a desk all day.

I think that keeping a positive attitude helped me get through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I didn’t know at the time, but it hit my son hard. He was 16 and a Junior in high school when I was diagnosed. He left and moved in with his dad for a while. He didn’t tell me, he just left a letter written to me on the dining room table one day while I was having chemo.

Julie during treatment

I was very upset at first. I cried for three days, but it turned out OK because I still saw him almost every day and it enabled me to focus on me and get well. I was working at his high school at the time and I was still at the school for his senior year working as an instructional aid for special education students

I was reading an essay he had written in English class (I worked in another class with his teacher) and in it he wrote about me and my breast cancer and said how scared he was and that is why he moved away. He didn’t want me to see that he was scared, and have it effect my healing.

I still get emotional when I talk about it because if he only knew that I was strong enough for both of us, I think he might have stayed. But like I said it worked out in the long run. Our relationship changed after as well.  He was not the argumentative teenager anymore.

A life changing diagnosis changes you. At least it did me. I think it changed him too. I always say, every day I wake up is a great day. Being in the “club” that no one wants to be in brings me to see death from cancer, and people with a terminal diagnosis, I consider myself so lucky.

I wish there was a way I could pass on my positive attitude to others. I try to give back by joining clinical trials if I qualify and sharing my “story” whenever I can. I belong to a few FB groups and am always willing to listen or share in the hopes of helping someone else that has joined a group that no one wants to belong to. I think that I have always had grace, gratitude, and grit.

Even more so now. I always say that every day I wake up is a great day. No one wants to hear those words. Someone sent me a saying I have up with my collectables at home that says, “I am thankful for my struggle, because without it I wouldn’t have found my strength” and that is so true.

Going through cancer and treatments was the hardest thing I have ever had to endure in my life. I found strength and hope that I never knew I had before. Yes, chemo sucks, but I felt lucky because I didn’t have to go through radiation. The chemo and surgery got all the cancer they could see.

Do I have a fear of recurrence? Yes. I think about it often.

Do I let it control my life? No, never!! I have a very different outlook on life since my diagnosis. Like I said before, every day I wake up is a great day. I try to pass it to others. I try to see the best in everything and everyone.

I believe that negativity is a waste of precious energy that I don’t have enough of as it is. The medication I take to hopefully prevent the cancer from returning has some awful side effects. Fatigue being the toughest for me.

There are many women that have it a lot worse than I did and there are many who are fighting a battle that I hope I never have to. A terminal diagnosis of Stage lV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC).

For them, there is no “cure” they will die from the disease. When? Who knows? The median survival for MBC is 3 years. 3 YEARS. That is not long enough. We NEED to find a cure for this beast we call cancer.

I hope that if you are reading this you are just doing some research. And if not, and you have been diagnosed with cancer, I am very sorry to hear that. I am just one voice, but please know that you CAN get through it.

Does it suck? Yes.

Will it hurt? Sometimes.

Will you lose your hair? Maybe, depends on the treatment.

Will you have bad days? Yes. But there will be good days too.

I wouldn’t wish chemo on anyone. There were days that I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom, but I did it. I had to. I had to keep going. I didn’t want to die. I wasn’t ready then, nor am I now.

For me, my care team of doctors and nurses were, and still are wonderful. When I go for my checkups, I always go to the infusion center to say hi to anyone that remembers me.

If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today. They really do care and want to do whatever it takes to make you comfortable.