Survivorship: First Step, Defeat

Defeat

Shock is the feeling most people experience when they are diagnosed with cancer. But how are you supposed to feel after months of treatment and surgery? How are you supposed to feel after your oncologist tells you that you did not completely respond to chemo? For me, it was defeat.

I was diagnosed 7 months ago with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It is a very aggressive type of breast cancer that responds well to aggressive treatment, like chemo. I did all the steps: 16 rounds of chemo and a double mastectomy. A complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy were also done since I have the BRCA1 gene mutation. My doctors said that I was “ambitious” to do two surgeries within a month of finishing chemo.

Charissa Bates SurvivorMy goal was to go full force into 2020 and that meant no chemo, major surgeries, or continuous doctor appointments. I was determined to have a great beginning to the year 2020 starting with survivorship. This would include taking vacations, making meals, having the kids resume a normal routine, and envisioning a life full of energy! Doing what all the “normal” people around me do!

My 2020 had changed drastically with the news that my 1.6 cm tumor still had 1 cm left after my mastectomy. My doctor recommended six months of an oral chemo, Xeloda. Another six months of possible side effects, continuous doctor visits and not getting my life back to what I thought it would be.

My oncologist said I can consider myself “cancer-free,” but the joy in hearing those words was clouded. The mere thought of a cancerous cell floating somewhere in my body was terrifying. For the week following the phone call from my doctor I didn’t feel hope. I only felt defeat.

Determination

After I had a week to process what “survivorship” would look like for me, I decided to be determined. Resetting your mindset when unfortunate news is given is extremely hard, but it’s vital. For me, becoming determined to get through the oral chemo went from being a horrible situation to being just another step to not having a recurrence.

Three years ago, oral chemo wasn’t used when residual cancer was found after treatments. I’m lucky to have a breast cancer treatment option that can increase my survival rate.

Many people that have cancer decide to “not sweat the small stuff.” I, too, had that perspective, but it became clearer that I have to live that way even more so now.

Gratitude

Thankfulness is something I like to flood my thoughts with. It gets me through and always has. In the hour and week following the news from my surgeon, gratitude was not a word I would use for how I was feeling.

I’m not going to tell you to be grateful for bad news. What I am going to tell you is after a few days or a week, look for things to be grateful for.

I asked my oncologist if it was a “good” thing that I did chemo then my mastectomy. Knowing I didn’t respond well to chemo meant I got information about what more I needed to be closer to my goal of never having cancer again.

Honestly, I felt like I had let people down by not having a full response to chemo. I’m a people pleaser and I can’t help but think this way. I reached out to my family and close friends before making my news public. They prayed for me and reassured me that my feelings were valid. They also reminded me that I have gotten through it before with a positive attitude and I’ll get through it again.

It’s okay to be sad and feel defeated, but you can’t let it consume you. My pink sisters surrounded me with reassurance. One pink sister connected me with someone in the same situation. This one connection gave me hope and relief.

After I made it public that I was “cancer-free” but still needed to continue treatment, I was flooded with encouragement. The texts, facebook comments, phone calls, and my husband all reminded me that I need to go in full-force with a positive attitude. I’m so thankful for these people.

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My family told me they’d rearrange their schedules to make sure I was supported if I had bad side effects. They assured me that they’d be there for me and take time off work to come help me, if needed. I’m grateful for their sacrifices to make sure my next six months aren’t overwhelming.

The Future

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that my family and friends will be holding me up in prayer, sending me encouraging words and be willing to help if needed. Defeat may be the first feelings I had, but a feeling of determination will get me through this. I need to be determined to show my kids how strong I can be in terrible situations.

Pink sisters, take your time to get to a grateful state. We all process differently, but don’t let it consume you. Life is too beautiful to let cancer steal your joy!


Charissa BatesCharissa is a stay-at-home mama of 3 beautiful kiddos and an amazing husband! Charissa was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in June of 2019 at the age of 33. She has been doing everything in her power to be done with the dreaded “C” word since her diagnosis. She enjoys reading, leading a small bible study group, using her Cricut, loving up on her nieces and nephews, and spending time at her family’s cabin with her family. One day she hopes to make a big impact within her community and see a cure for cancer!

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