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Treating Metastatic Breast Cancer

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SOCIAL VOICES
Navigating the Storm: My Journey Through Breast Cancer

Medically Reviewed By Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
breast cancer_Dr Alexea Gaffney_Navigating the Storm My Journey Through Breast Cancer

As a medical doctor, I’ve guided countless patients through the treatment pathways of both acute and chronic medical conditions. I use my medical expertise to help them navigate complex treatment plans and the emotional whirlwinds that accompany them. In spite of this, nothing could have fully prepared me for the day I found myself on the other side of the white coat and stethoscope receiving my diagnosis. At 37, in the prime of my life and career, I received a diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer. This is the story of my journey from diagnosis through treatment to survivorship; a journey marked by medical and emotional challenges but also by profound personal growth and resilience.

Diagnosis day: A new journey ahead

The diagnosis struck me like a bolt of lightning on what would have otherwise been a busy but ordinary day in my office. As a doctor, I immediately understood the implications of the diagnosis. Stage 3 meant that my breast cancer was advanced and likely aggressive. My contemplative medical perspective kicked in, recounting and analyzing statistics, treatment options, and survival rates with respect to my own prognosis. For a very brief moment, I was filled with fear, anger, and thoughts of “why me?”. How could this happen to me, a healthcare professional dedicated to healing others? Hadn’t I already experienced enough hardship for a lifetime? 

The battle plan: Navigating treatment

The treatment plan was as aggressive as the disease: a bilateral mastectomy followed by multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Each phase of treatment presented its own set of side effects and   challenges. The mastectomy was not just a surgical procedure; it was a matter of life and death and a reshaping of my identity and body image. Chemotherapy tested my physical and emotional limits, while radiation therapy demanded every last ounce of strength I had left.

Dual perspective: A doctor-patient’s insight

Having a dual perspective as both a patient and a healthcare professional offered a unique vantage point. I understood the medical language, the treatment protocols, anticipated side effects, and the expected outcomes. Living through them was entirely different. This duality of being both patient and prescriber allowed me to critically assess my care, advocate for myself, make informed decisions, and anticipate side effects. But it also meant struggling with the vulnerability of being a patient and surrendering to treatments that I knew would ravage my body in order to heal it.

The emotional journey: Building resilience

The emotional journey was, perhaps, the most challenging aspect of my cancer diagnosis. I grappled with fear, grief, a sense of lost control, and the constant angst of a very real risk of mortality. In spite of this, it was also a journey of profound resilience. I found strength in vulnerability, allowing myself to lean on family, friends, and my medical team. I discovered the power of hope and the importance of focusing on the present, cherishing each moment, and celebrating every milestone and victory, big and small.

Survivorship: A new chapter

As I entered into survivorship, I carried with me not just the physical scars of battle but a transformed outlook on life. Survivorship is not just about surviving beyond cancer; it’s about thriving. It’s about utilizing the experience for your personal growth, your newly developed identity, and for moving forward with compassion,  greater purpose, and empathy.

A message of hope

If you are currently navigating your cancer journey, know that it’s okay to feel angry, afraid, to grieve, and to question. Allow yourself to lean on others and build the muscle of vulnerability and celebrate your strength. Learn to find joy in the small moments and practice gratitude. Remember, you’re not just surviving; you’re learning to thrive in the face of adversity.  As a healthcare professional, my experience has deepened my empathy and strengthened my commitment to my patients. I’ve seen the healthcare system from the inside out, and I’m more determined than ever to advocate for patient-centered care, to educate, and to empower others with and at risk for breast cancer. Breast cancer challenged me in ways I never imagined, but it also revealed strengths I didn’t know I had. It taught me about resilience, hope, the power of vulnerability and the indomitable human spirit. As I move forward as a survivor, I carry these lessons with me, a testament to the journey I’ve traveled and a beacon for the path ahead for others facing breast cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
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