Finding a new normal: A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey

Finding a new normal: A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey

Emilie Husted’s cancer mantra is and always will be “It’s All Good.”

What started with a nagging ache in her left breast soon turned into a left side mastectomy, a round of chemotherapy every two weeks for a total of eight rounds, and radiation treatments every day for 30 days.

Eventually, Emilie lost her hair, her eyebrows and her eyelashes.

“I still find myself thinking, ‘When will I be the same?’” Emilie said.

When she found a dimple like indentation on the left side of her left breast, she knew it was time to go to the doctor.

After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, she got the news.

She had cancer.

“It was awful to hear,” Emilie said. “I immediately thought of how this would affect everyone around me, my kids, my husband, elderly parents, siblings.”

Joelle Watt Photography

She then started her treatment plan.

Her chemotherapy took place from April 2017 to August 2017. Her radiation started immediately after, from August to October.

“I did take two weeks off in the summer for baseball games of course,” Emilie said. “And all the family went to our summer place in Canada. That gave me an extra boost when I came home to face one last chemo and all the radiation.”

Getting through the treatment and beating cancer wasn’t Emilie’s only battle.

She was — and still is — fighting to feel beautiful through all the changes.

“The hair loss and with my eyelashes and eyebrows gone it was very hard to see the beauty in myself,” Emilie said. “I still look in the mirror and wonder where that person went.”

That fight is far from over, but it is becoming better with each new day as her hair continues growing back.

Losing her hair was the hardest part for Emilie because that was when the cancer became evident on the outside.

“Losing my hair was the worst ever!” Emilie said. “My hair has always been long and full it was traumatic for me, but it became clear on the outside that I had cancer. Before my hair fell out I still looked the same.”

Instead of a wig, Emilie decided to wear hats that always coordinated with her outfit; that was the case when she went out to dinner the night before her last chemotherapy treatment.

She wore a pair of capri jeans, a cute top and a matching hat.

Her motivation to go out came from a Facebook post that simply said, “Get up, dress up, show up.”

She uses that as a reminder as she continues to fight because the battle never really ends.

There is a pill Emilie will take daily for the next five to seven years, there is blood work and scans that will need to be taken, and numerous doctor’s appointments to go to.

There is also the fight to constantly remind herself of who she is.

It’s getting easier, but overcoming the times when she doesn’t feel beautiful is still “a work in progress.”

“Feeling beautiful doesn’t come from the outside it comes from the inside,” Emilie said. “This journey is forever life changing and you have to dig deep at times to pick yourself up! My body will never be the same. But I got through it with a lot of love and support from so many people. A kind word, a card, the little things always helped.”

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Carol Korthaus has always loved wearing sweat pants and baggy sweatshirts, but after having a double mastectomy, she started to love them even more.

Carol was first diagnosed with cancer in 2005.

“I was scared,” Carol said. “But I was sure that treatment could rid me of the menace of cancer.”

With the support of her family and a good prognosis, Carol was able to remain optimistic throughout her battle.

After radiation and a lumpectomy, she beat cancer for the first time.

During that time, she made sure to do things that made her feel better, like shopping and getting her hair done at nice salons.

“Beautiful is a pretty ambiguous word,” Carol said. “I would choose to feel good about myself, more than feeling ‘beautiful.’”

When she found out her cancer returned in 2017, things were a little different.

She thought there would be a lumpectomy and some medicine and everything would be fine.

But after she had a mammogram, sonogram, biopsy, two lumpectomies, and was scheduled for radiation, Carol said she had enough and decided to go to Magee Women’s in Pittsburgh.

“God led me to Pittsburgh where an excellent surgeon removed both breasts and found more cancer under the incision of the 2005 lumpectomy,” Carol said. “I was very lucky and blessed.”

Both times when she was diagnosed, Carol knew she would have to address the problem, but she never let cancer define her.

There were moments when she didn’t feel beautiful, but not in a physical sense.

In order to overcome those feelings, she talked.

“I have talked to survivors,” Carol said, “I have the name of the prosthesis people and I have been told of women who have been psychologically affected by the loss of breasts.”

“Sometimes I wear something to give a little definition to my clothes, most of the time I wear nothing more than a camisole.”

It doesn’t make much of a difference to her; her cancer is gone and that has always been the most important thing to her.

“It isn’t about you and your physical appearance,” Carol said. “It is about learning to live with the ‘hand you have been dealt’ and making the best of it.”

And that’s exactly what Carol is doing, with the help of some friends.

“There are many women who have experienced breast cancer and far worse cancers,” Carol said. “I have mentors- Chris Wingert is my hero. Like me, she lost her husband and her breasts.  She never lost her art or her creative or her zest for life.  She wears her ‘flat’ chest as a reminder of how blessed she is.”

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Nicole Collins was stuck in a dress in a Kohl’s fitting room.

“I was laughing, crying, and frustrated all at the same time,” Nicole said. “I had to seek help in getting out of it.”

While most people would see that shopping trip as an unsuccessful one, for Nicole, it meant everything.

It was the first time she was able to go shopping after having a bilateral mastectomy on February 1, 2017.

Nicole got the call on June, 28, 2016.

She was at the store when her phone rang and the voice on the other side said, “Are you able to talk?”

“Right then, I knew,” Nicole said.

She was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, a type of breast cancer.

Nicole didn’t know what her treatment plan would be, but she did know one thing, she wanted to keep her daughter’s life as normal as possible.

“That night she had gymnastics and then a play date,” Nicole said. “I can remember thinking ‘We are still going because I want her life to be normal.’”

When Nicole first met her surgeon, the surgeon suggested a mastectomy.

Not ready to hear that, Nicole burst in to tears.

If she didn’t have a mastectomy, she could have a lumpectomy, but it would leave her with breast deformity, radiation treatments and a pill a day for five years.

After talking to a plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist, Nicole decided to get the bilateral mastectomy.

“I tried my best to prepare myself, but my heart hurt for so many reasons,” Nicole said. “The thought of looking different, the pain I would go through, and just the thought of not having any breasts was scary, even though I knew they would be reconstructed.”

“So, I went to Pittsburgh that morning, and told the doctors. that I wasn’t ready for this step and I wanted to try the lumpectomy/radiation approach.”

Nicole was getting ready to begin radiation when her breast surgeon ordered another mammogram – there were more spots.

This time, she went through with the bilateral mastectomy, with expanders placed for reconstruction.

“My mind and heart were at a much better place with it this time around,” Nicole said. “I will admit, I was still very scared.”

“The process was excruciating to say the least.  I was so mad at myself.  I hurt so badly and wanted so much to be more normal self again. I questioned myself everyday as to why I would ever do this.”

Nicole is still working on finding her new normal. She had to wait a year before she could exercise again and still today, she isn’t allowed to do anything that involves chest muscles.

The one thing that helped her was trying to pull herself together, look her best and keep up with everything she could.

There were times when she didn’t feel beautiful. When she couldn’t shower for two weeks, when her clothes no longer fit right, and when she could only wear loose button up shirts.

But she has overcome it, and has found a strength in herself she didn’t know existed.

More importantly, she has shown that strength to her daughter.

“Throughout this entire journey I wanted to show Kacyn what a strong woman looks like,” Nicole said. “I didn’t want her to see her Mom as being any different at all. I want her to know that there are so many things that make her beautiful, and I want her to embrace all of those things. I want her to know that she can do and be anything, but most importantly I want her to be happy.”

“Also, I truly want her to know the importance of kindness.  We were overwhelmed with kindness throughout this journey, and I strive daily to show her the kindness truly does matter and that’s what makes her the beautiful person that she is.”

 



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