Finding a new normal after breast cancer

Life changed in an instant for Nicole when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. This young mom, however, had two fabulous reasons to fight the invasive disease - her children.

When Nicole turned 40, her best friend urged her to get her first mammogram.

“You’re the best mom I know – you’ll do anything for your kids,” said her friend, who had lost his mom to breast cancer years before. “Do this for your kids.”

She made an appointment, had the test and a few days later got the call.

Nicole, a single mom, had breast cancer. It had spread to two lymph nodes and invaded her chest wall.

“It was like I got hit by a truck,” Nicole recalled. “I was in a daze. I couldn’t even cry.”

The diagnosis was terrifying. But Nicole had two fabulous reasons to fight.

“I fought cancer for my kids,” said Nicole, now 47. “Honestly, they are the only reason I believed I could beat it when things got really tough. They make me strong.”

The journey that started a week before Christmas 2013 has had many challenges – including changing doctors just before surgery. “But I believe it was meant to be,” Nicole said of finding the right doctor, getting the right diagnosis and receiving the right treatment.

Life after treatment

Now in remission for six years, Nicole is still learning to navigate this new life.

“You really aren’t prepared to be a cancer patient for life,” Nicole said. “I thought once I beat cancer I would go back to normal, I’d be myself again. On my last day of radiation I was so happy that I was going to get back to normal. But my doctor told me I’d have to find a new normal. I said, ‘no, I’m done with cancer. I beat it.’ But she told me that I would always be a cancer patient. And she was right.”

At the center of this new normal are Nicole’s children – Kayla, 19, and Xavier, 18. The two have been there for their mom through it all, helping to run the house when Nicole was on bed rest after surgery and during her eight weeks of radiation, which left her exhausted.

In this new life after treatment, there are hikes in the mountains and game nights at home. She is strong for her children, but anxiety lingers, as she works to find her new normal.

“I’m very thankful that I’m here, but the worry that it will come back is still there,” she said.

Reaching out for support

Nicole finds peace and camaraderie at a support group for cancer survivors. She found a group for younger women like her, many of them moms. It helps to tell her story, and listen to the stories of others, finding common ground.

“You are now part of a group you didn’t ask to be in – with some of the most courageous, stubborn, beautiful people you will ever meet,” Nicole said.

She has learned that everyone’s cancer journey is unique. “My doctor told me he could put me in a room with 500 women who have breast cancer, and there are 500 different journeys. That always stuck with me. I took what people told me or what I read on the internet with a grain of salt because my journey was going to be different.”

Through it all, she has learned to advocate for herself, and spreads that message to other cancer warriors.

“For surgeons, this may be their hundredth breast cancer surgery, but this is my first. I’m not just a file. Be your own advocate. Ask questions, It’s your body.”

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