Meet Joanne who writes about cancer in a time of coronavirus

The wonderful Joanne (@reallyratherannoying)

We have another amazing guest blogger today. We’re honoured to introduce Joanne. Joanne documents her experiences living with secondary breast cancer on Instagram. You can find her at @reallyratherannoying.

Like so many in the cancer community, Joanne has spent much of this year shielding and she has documented her feelings throughout – on the good days and the bad.

Joanne has written a wonderful blog for us today in which she explains what it is like living with cancer in a time of coronavirus and what that has meant for her.

We hope you find Joanne’s blog as powerful as we did. We know that this year has been very difficult for so many but Joanne has so beautifully expressed the fear and uncertainty of so many brave people in this cancer community. Here’s what Joanne has written:

“I swear a lot these days. I didn’t used to but now all the time in my head and too often in my speech.  I grew up in a house where no one swore, the first time I said sh*t I was ten, I didn’t know what it meant I’d heard someone at school say it so I thought I’d try it out. My mum was horrified, I cried, I never swore again until just recently. I blame cancer……and coronavirus.

I’ve had cancer for three years, well probably longer but undetected. Secondary or metastatic breast cancer, that’s were the cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. Mine is in my bones and stomach lining. Because of the nature of my cancer I’m able to take a reasonably new drug called Palbociclib. I’m lucky it’s worked for three years with relatively few side effects and I’ve led a relatively normal life. I’ve seen my two children graduate and hopefully next year my step daughter, I’ve got married, travelled to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. I’d probably have been to the USA too if they didn’t have that overly weird president. Life was, well not great let’s face it who wants uncurable cancer but it was as good as I could make it.

Then something happened in China that turned mine and, too be fair, the whole worlds’ lives upside down.  Coronavirus, Covid-19, call it what you will it’s a damn nuisance.

In April as the whole country was in lockdown I sat by the phone nervously waiting for the results of my latest CT scan. Would the cancer still be stable? I’d already outsmarted the average time on Palbociclib so every three months the wait for results became increasingly anxious.

The call came in, still stable BUT….It was a big but, the breast team, having reviewed my medication and general health in the wake of the global pandemic, decided that I should take a three month break from the medication. They had weighed up the odds and given my propensity to low white blood cells agreed that the risk of my cancer growing was less then the risk of my catching and recovering from coronavirus. I was devastated and extremely nervous, feeling I was being asked to put my three years of stability and hope at risk but what could I do?

Reluctantly I agreed, treatment was paused and I started on a new regime of taking Letrozole, my other cancer drug, alone and just hoping I would stay safe. Two weeks later my worst fears were realised as I started to get severe pains in my right hip and pelvis. Over the next couple of days the pains became increasingly bad, I could no longer sit comfortably or indeed walk.

I rang the Christie hotline and minutes later was taken by ambulance to my local A&E, not exactly were you would choose to go in a global pandemic with a compromised immune system. I was admitted onto a ward for investigation without a coronavirus test, that didn’t seem right but when I queried it I was told by the ward nurses if I didn’t get one in A&E they wouldn’t be giving me one – WOW. I just hoped no one else on the ward had it.

For two days I had scans and X-rays , checking for spinal compression or broken bones but nothing appeared out of the ordinary, apart from the pain which was managed to a reasonable level by my old friend morphine. With no visitors allowed the only possibility of banter was with the nurses, too busy chatting about tik tok, the patients, too old to hear me or the people delivering the food, who claimed tuna bake was suitable for vegetarians. Thank goodness I’d had the foresight to pack my kindle and phone charger!

The tests revealed nothing untoward so I was released back home with a bottle of morphine and absolutely no idea where that pain had come from.

For days nothing changed still sore, couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t sleep and the morphine made me so miserable I was swapped onto a synthetic alternative.

I madly researched what it could be. Then I read stories of ladies having terrible joint pain on Letrozole, could this be the cause of my issue? Was the Palbociclib masking these unwanted side effects?

Turns out there are a number of different brands of Letrozole, ranging from the current ones I was taking at £2 a packet to the crème de la crème at £90.

My wonderful GP listened to my reasoning and agreed to prescribe the crème de la crème and the results were surprising, over the next few days the pain subsided walking became easier, all be it at first with a stick and I started to sleep.

I had another CT scan and waited anxiously for the results, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. The results came via phone call, I was still stable, I could barely believe it and better still could start back on my Palbociclib and even better I could slowly come out of shielding and start to meet with friends and family I’d not seen for four months.

Life was great for sixteen hours. Then my daughter texted me, the virus cases in Greater Manchester were rising to a dangerous level we were being told to stop socialising in our homes and even our gardens. What the hell? I’d not even got to that yet, the news was devastating, hopes of slow return to the “new normal” dashed. You could not make this year up!

But as I sit here today on a chilly bank holiday weekend we have been released from these extra restrictions and by Wednesday will able to have friends round again albeit under the social distance rules. I’ve survived those horrible three months, but who knows at what long term cost to my health? Many who’s cancer treatment was paused or diagnosis delayed face an uncertain future, many cancer patients will die needlessly as a result of the restrictions of the pandemic. As we all move towards our new normal let’s not forget those who have suffered and continue to do so.

Follow me on Instagram @reallyratherannoying because let’s face it that’s what life with cancer is.”

Thank you, Joanne, for sharing your story and explaining the far reaching impact of coronavirus on so very many lives.

Introducing Alison who is halfway to being a previvor

The lovely Alison! (@alisonwillie8)

We have another fabulous guest blog for you today. It’s a real pleasure to introduce Alison (@alisonwillie8). Alison describes herself as a busy wife, mum of two, receptionist at Leeds Gymnastics Club, business owner (you can find her @forever_living_leeds_by_alison), proud Sheffield Wednesday fan. She says she is half way to being a proud previvor!

Alison has written about her experiences finding out about the history of breast cancer in her family, undergoing genetic testing and ultimately the decisions she has made upon learning about the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Here’s Alison’s story:

“I sat in the doctors surgery aged 20 and told my GP that I was worried that breast cancer was going to come for me. Dramatic perhaps, but my nan had just died of it not long before. She’d had it twice and watching her suffer had affected me deeply. Despite my concern, the doctor did not seem worried and I was sent on my way.

Fast forward 18 years and there I am again, sat in my doctors surgery. This time advising them that the BRCA1 gene mutation had been discovered after my nan’s only surviving sister had undergone genetic testing. This time, luckily, I got a very different response.

I was asked to draw a family tree and mark those who’d had a cancer diagnosis and or had died from it. I knew there was a history running down my dad’s side of the family but only once it was there in black and white did it really hit home just how scarily real this was.

Breast cancer had taken the lives of so many relatives and there was absolutely no way that I was going to become another name on that list!

I planned to pursue the testing on my own, without anyone knowing. I didn’t want people worrying and just wanted to know where I stood so I could do something about it.

When the family history forms arrived though, it was obvious that it just couldn’t work that way. There were too many questions that I simply didn’t know the answers to.

A few months later a letter arrived with an appointment to see the genetic counselor. I didn’t like the sound of that! Why did I need to see a counselor when I know what I wanted?!

I convinced myself that they would try and talk me out of it, that they’d say I didn’t need testing. I spent days before the appointment planning how I would argue my case.

In reality I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were nothing but supportive. The genetic counselor completely understood that I was a mum, that I needed to know if I carried the gene mutation too, not only to make sure I was alive to see my children grow up but also so I could prepare them for the chances of also carrying it. The bloods were taken there and then and so began the wait.

The call came during our family holiday.

I knew what she was going to say. I had long since made peace with the likelihood of it being positive and as crazy as it sounds I felt relieved to know now where I stood.

That’s not to say I wasn’t upset. I was. That word, positive, had now changed things. Yes, it meant choices regarding my body but that’s not what got me. It was the 50/50 odds of me having passed it on to my kids that I found hard to accept. All a parent wants is to protect their children and I felt like I’d failed in that.

Always one to be in the know, I set about researching. Along the way I found not only information but people, just like me. I call them my “BRCA buddies”. They are such amazingly strong women. So open and honest and always prepared to share their stories, even the gory, personal bits. It was just what I needed. They were getting through their journey and so could I. And maybe I could repay the favour in the future and help other people too. I felt empowered.

Appointments came through pretty quickly from there. Specialist breast nurse, breast & gynae surgeons and my first round of annual screening.

Anyone who’s been through a breast MRI will know what an odd experience it is. I don’t think I’ve ever laid in a more uncomfortable position; face down, arms overhead with boobs dangling down through two holes in the table, oh and don’t forget the evening primrose capsules they tape to your nipples! Writing that, I have to laugh but at the time it’s not quite so funny.

A couple of days before Christmas I got a letter calling me back for more tests.

I called, desperately wanting to know what they’d seen. All they could tell me was that it was something on the right side, close to my arm pit. That was when I really did start to worry.

I tried to put it out of my mind. I didn’t want to spoil Christmas. Luckily, after a few anxious hours of what felt like endless mammograms and ultra sounds they decided that it was just my breast tissue and nothing to be concerned about. Phew! I was so relieved but I was then adamant, no way could I do this every year. For me there was no other option. I wanted rid of every part of my body that was going to try and kill me!

I’d always thought that I would have my mastectomy first as I deemed my boobs to be my biggest threat but while still waiting to see the breast surgeon I was offered a date for the hysterectomy and decided to just get one out of the way as soon as possible! I was fast approaching 40 and just didn’t want this hanging over for me any longer.

The operation went well and the recovery was quick. I was so glad I’d done it. I now felt like things were moving and it was a relief.

A few weeks post surgery I was offered a date for my mastectomy. March 25th. I couldn’t believe my luck. Both operations would be done and dusted. I’d be able to celebrate the big 40 with new boobs… that wouldn’t need holding up by a bra! For the first time in years I was going to wear whatever dress I wanted without having to worry about scaffolding!

3 days before the big day, COVID happened and my mastectomy was put on hold and now we wait again.

While completely understandable It was also frustrating. I’d packed my bag. I’d prepared the kids. My husband and I had prepared ourselves.

Lockdown brought many positives though. We got to spend more time together as a family, we took steps to get fit and be more healthy and in a bid to do something other than attempting to home school my 12 year old daughter and 13 year old autistic son, I set up my own business with Forever Living, sharing high quality aloe Vera products to support people trying to look and feel better.

Hopefully I won’t have too long to wait now. I can’t wait to finish this journey and be able to wear my previvor badge with pride!

I want to finish by saying a toast…. Here’s to those who are no longer with us, but who in death gave us the key to knowledge. The knowledge that gives us choices. Choices that mean we are in control of our own destiny and also mean we get to see our kids grow up. Cheers everyone. “

Thank you, Alison, for trusting us to share your story. We know you were apprehensive about the act of writing it all down but you needn’t have worried – we think your writing is wonderful and approachable and we empathised no end. (We vividly remember the undignified MRI set up!) Your story is important and we are honoured to share it!

Meet Kari; a chemistry teacher who tells us what she has learnt in 2019

The lovely Kari (@kekuhl)

It’s Friday and that means it’s time for another fabulous guest blog!

Today we are delighted to introduce Kari.

Kari describes herself as a farm girl from Minnesota who now lives in the countryside in Wisconsin with her husband, two kids (ages 12 and 15), and her dog, Lucky. 

Kari is a high school chemistry teacher and will shortly be starting her 21st year of teaching! Kari enjoys lazy lake days at her family’s cabin, reading, and spending time with those she loves. 

You can find Kari on Instagram at @kekuhl

Kari has written about her experiences last year following her diagnosis. Here is Kari’s story:

“Life sure can turn on a dime and test you in ways you never expected. 

Last year, 2019, was the year I never expected to have thrown at me, at least not yet.  I was 43 and school was out for the summer; I’m a high school chemistry teacher.  I was looking forward to lake days and playing chaperone to my two kids, ages 11 and 14.  Instead, I spent the majority of the summer sitting  in doctors’ offices, having biopsies and other myriad of tests, and finally the chemo chair.  Oh, and let’s not forget about the 3 night stint in the hospital for a pretty bad deep vein thrombosis in my left arm.  

The whole ordeal actually started in February.  My husband found a lump in my right breast (yes, you can go down THAT road with assumptions!).  He’s a family medicine physician and was able to get me in to see my doctor that morning and then an appointment that afternoon for an ultrasound.  Luckily, it turned out to be a cyst.  Fast forward 4 months.  It’s now the end of June and I made the five hour trek with the kids to my mom and dad’s house for the weekend to celebrate my dad finishing chemo for bladder cancer.  On the way, I started to get very intense breast pain and swelling.  This was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  It was painful to move my arm and I couldn’t sleep,  I assumed it was due to the cyst getting larger and having my period.  A few days later, the pain and swelling began to subside, but I decided to have it checked out anyway, thinking I would need to get the cyst aspirated.  My annual mammogram was due in a month, but I really didn’t want to wait.  It’s a good thing I didn’t.

This time, as I sat in the waiting room of the Breast Center, I was much less anxious.  After all, in my mind I already knew what it was.  It turned out I was wrong.  The cyst was indeed much larger and needed to be aspirated, but next to it was another mass that hadn’t been there in February, and it was not another cyst. 

Two weeks later, I had 8mL of fluid drained from the cyst and the other mass biopsied.  The next eight days were excruciating.  I got the phone call the following day as I was in parking lot of our grocery store. I had triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma.  I had zero risk factors but somehow cancer chose me. 

Things happened so quickly I couldn’t breathe.  It was like I was in a dream.  I had a consult with a surgeon, a BRCA test (which was negative), an MRI, another biopsy for another mass that showed up on the MRI, my port-a-cath placed, a consult with oncology, a PET scan, and finally my first chemotherapy.  Oh, I also had to tell my work I would not be returning to school that fall to teach. 

Being an easygoing person, I had no idea what anxiety was until then.  It was almost debilitating.  Once I started chemo, it subsided some because I was actively doing something, but all I could think about was cancer.  What if I died?  How would my kids survive that?  How would it affect my husband?  What about my parents?  I couldn’t sleep, had a panic attack while driving, and was so weak from the stress. 

Miraculously, the chemo did not make me sick at all.  That was about the only thing that seemed to be a bright spot.  The anxiety kind of came to a head in August when I was in the hospital with a DVT, a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot),  which was induced by my port.  I spent 3 days in ICU being treated, and when they moved me to a regular medical floor, I finally broke down from the stress and anxiety when a nurse from interventional radiology happened to stop in to check on me.  The poor guy.  He had to listen to my blubbering and crying for 45 minutes.  The next day I was finally on-board with taking something to help me out.  

After this, things improved.  I wasn’t sick from chemo, but I was horribly fatigued until I finished the first course (8 weeks of Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide).  Once I started 10 weeks of taxol I bounced back and was able to go back to teaching 4 days a week, with chemo every Friday.  I made it my mission to teach my students about how I was navigating cancer and how the treatments worked.  The teacher became the student on Fridays, and then became the teacher again on Monday. 

My hope is that my experience can show my students that when they are thrust into the cancer world at some point, either for themselves or a loved one, they’ll know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  

I also learned a few things along the way that were not related to science.  I found I had a far greater support system than I could’ve imagined. 

My good friend, Tami, was there every day.  She set up a Relay for Life team in my honor and also set up a meal train.  She was with me for my PET scan and my first chemo.  She came over when I couldn’t stand to be alone. 

My kids, despite their own fears, were tough and resilient.  My husband was steadfast, a calming voice of reason, and beyond supportive. 

My dad, who had just gone through his own bout with cancer, made so many trips to be my babysitter I lost count.  He was who I called when I needed someone to tell me I was thinking crazy thoughts. 

I also learned that I’m a tough cookie and a positive outlook makes all the difference.  I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I sure can choose how I react to them.   It’s also ok to ask for help, both from others and from anti-anxiety meds.  That was a tough pill to swallow.   

Now it’s 2020 and a year later.  I endured 20 weeks of chemo, a single mastectomy with no reconstruction,  the removal of three lymph nodes (all of which were negative for cancer), and two other stints in the hospital for a DVT.  Yes, two.  I got another one five days after surgery.  But here I am with hair growing back and, despite COVID, the excitement of a new school year because this year I get to go back on day one. 

Cancer sucks.  It ruled my thoughts and emotions for over six months.  But it’s not getting any more of my energy.”

Thank you, Kari, for talking so openly about everything you have been through. We agree with you; you’re one tough cookie!

Let’s talk about the design process

The eight steps of our design and development process

Recently we asked you what you’d like to know about what’s happening behind the scenes here at Valiant HQ and the resounding response was that you’d like to know more about the design and development process from start to finish. Ask and you shall receive!

What is the design and development process we’re following and how are we getting from our initial ideas to the finished items?

We think of the process as having 8 basic steps:

  1. Ideas, inspiration and moodboards
  2. Technical drawings
  3. Sourcing
  4. Pattern making
  5. Samples and fit testing
  6. Grading
  7. Design approval
  8. Production (!!!!!)

Want to know a bit more about each step along the journey? Read on!

Ideas, inspiration and moodboards

We’ve already spoken a bit about our starting point for creating Valiant’s first collection.

We knew what we wanted and we reached out to you and asked what you want and need.

The overwhelming response was that, in addition to wanting something that is comfortable and sensitive to your body, you also want something beautiful, a bit luxurious, a bit sexy. And colourful!

So, taking that on board, we started planning the first collection.

We pulled together our notes on how we wanted our collection to feel (really lovely super soft fabric so they feel really nice against your skin and don’t irritate any sensitive areas or scars), how we wanted them to function (supportive, comfortable, non-wired, pocketed so they they can be used with or without breast forms) and how we wanted them to look (fun! feminine! sexy! colourful!).

We started to compile our ideas and refine them into our collection. we thought about the design (all the beautiful lace), the silhouette, construction and material.

Throughout this initial process (and the following steps), we have been keeping in mind women who have had different forms of reconstruction as well as women who use breast forms and women who don’t. Lots of you have been in touch with suggestions which is enormously helpful. Keep your suggestions coming!

Technical drawings

A sneak peek at a technical drawing

Things start to get technical…

We’re working with a specialist lingerie product development studio based in London: London Contour Experts.

Once we had compiled our ideas and inspiration and refined it in to the garments that will make up our first collection, LCE produced the initial technical drawings or “CADs”. These are essentially the blueprint for each design so they’re more than a fashion illustration; they begin to show elements such as placement and type of seams, components to be used and so on. They set out the map for the correct construction of each garment.

Ultimately, these technical drawings are used to create “tech packs”. Tech packs are so important. They are the full instructions that the manufacturer will ultimately use to create each item! They include every detail the manufacturer needs: the materials / components, colourways, details of the different sizes….

Sourcing

Once the technical drawings and tech pack have been created, it’s time to source the materials and components for each design.

Material choice is very important to us. We want something that looks great but feels amazing to wear too!

We’re going to write an entire post about fabric choices – that’s a story for another day!

Pattern making

Some of our first pattern pieces

Once the materials were sourced, our wonderful dream team at LCE created the first patterns.

Lingerie patterns can be pretty complex. This picture shows some of our first patterns pieces. There’s lots to think about – bras can be composed of between 20 and 40 different elements!

Samples and fit testing

This is when things start to feel real. Really real!

Working from the tech packs, technical drawings and first patterns, LCE created our first samples.

The samples were then reviewed and tested. This involved thinking about a few different things:

  • Design: how does the overall creative design look? Is it bringing to life the original ideas? Is it the beautiful garment we set out to create?!
  • Fit and function: is the garment fitting and performing as we want it to? Is it as comfortable and glorious as we hoped and dreamed?
  • Construction: are the technical elements of the construction working as they should? Do they add or subtract to the overall design? Does anything need to change?

After reviewing the first samples, and taking them on an extensive “test drive”, we were able to identify what’s working really well and what could be even better.

Following the initial samples and fit testing, LCE are working hard to amend the patterns to take into account any improvements we want to make. The next step is to test another round of samples to check that the improvements are as fabulous as we think they are.

Grading

Once the samples have been approved and the patterns are finalised, it is time to create the full size range.

Samples are created in one size. Once this is perfected, the patterns are “graded” so that every size in the collection can be created.

Grade fit test samples are then created so that our lovely lingerie can be fit tested on different sizes. We’re aiming to do this within the next month – exciting!

Design approval

Once we have finished the sampling, grading and fit testing process, it will be time to approve the designs!

Everything will be check a final time to ensure the tech pack is 100% accurate.

If no further changes are required…. it’s time for production!

Production

The collection is looking gorgeous! The lace is beautiful, the fabric soft, the colour combinations fun and flattering! It’s time to bring them into reality…

Each of our garments will be lovingly handmade for you in London. We’ve chosen to produce in London for a number of reasons, not least because we can satisfy ourselves that the whole team are paid a fair wage, have good working conditions and a proper work / life balance! We also like that we are able to work closely with our highly skilled manufacturing team to ensure our production is efficient, minimises waste and reduces our carbon footprint.

So that’s the basic “design and development” stuff. What does that mean in terms of the timeline? At the moment we’re in a really exciting stage… The first patterns have been designed and we’re about to start trialing second samples! In the next month we will be looking at how everything performs across the size range.

Once that’s done, we’ll be working full steam ahead toward our production run and our launch!

We’re so excited about what the next few months is going to hold. Thank you for being here with us from the beginning!

Introducing Ivania who talks about the cathartic act of writing

The wonderful Ivania (@borrongonga)

Today we have the honour of introducing you to Ivania who has written a moving blog for us about her experiences following her diagnosis of breast cancer fourteen years ago.

Following her diagnosis, Ivania felt the loneliness that will be very familiar to so many of us as she didn’t know of anyone her age who was going through (or had gone through) breast cancer treatment.

Ivania took matters into her own hands five years ago and started a blog to document her experiences. She called her blog “Borrongonga” which is what her dad called her when she was a little girl.

Ivania told us that she wanted to write about her experiences, educate people about the challenges faced by young women diagnosed with this disease, and also help other women have a successful voyage during breast cancer treatment. We think this will strike a chord with many of you who are doing the same thing and are finding support and companionship in the community of amazing women out there on social media.

You can find Ivania on Instagram @borrongonga.

Here’s what Ivania has written for us today:

“Fourteen years ago, my life was apparently “perfect”. I was married to a nice guy, we had good health, we made a good living together, we traveled often, and we had good friends.

In 2006, we felt we were ready to start a family, I had a miscarriage in March and that September I received the terrible news that I had breast cancer.

There isn’t any required breast cancer screening for women under 40 in the United States. I was not one to do self-examinations and I still don’t; but for some strange reason, I found the lump myself.

I was 31 when I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. I did not know anything about cancer, at least anything good. I was not prepared to be sick. I was not ready to give up. I wanted to fight, but at that moment I did not think it was slightly conceivable to win any battle. I was already defeated because I did not know anything. I was blind.

Not knowing is perhaps your biggest enemy.

I think about the day when I first found out about my diagnosis and the feelings of distress, panic, anxiety, shock, and stress immediately come back. I realized that the wrong group of doctors were handling my case, so I decided to contact a good friend who worked at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA. He pointed me in the right direction and recommended an Oncology surgeon right there at MGH.

It was 6:00pm on a Friday when I got to the hospital. All the staff were gone, but my surgeon was waiting for me. I spent about an hour with her and learned a lot about breast cancer: What it is, where it is located, how it progresses, etc.

She helped me understand everything with drawings and gave the most sincere and hopeful words. I loved her. I left the hospital feeling a tad better. I can’t say that I was super positive or optimistic, but at least I understood my disease and my options. I was educated.

The following week, I was scheduled to get an MRI to know the exact location of the tumor. After that, I had a date for surgery. My doctor successfully removed the tumor and 19 lymph nodes.

That was the easy part, then the hard work began.

After slightly recovering from surgery, I met with an oncologist – also at MGH. We discussed what my treatment was going to be like for the next 6 years. This included chemotherapy, Herceptin, radiation therapy and 5 years on a drug called Tamoxifen.

If you are at your prime for childbearing, and your treatment includes chemotherapy and Tamoxifen, then you should/must see a fertility doctor before starting chemotherapy.

I met with a fertility doctor, who had nothing to do with my treatment, and gave me the spiel about the hypothetical opportunity to become a mom through in vitro fertilization… In six years!

No, thank you.

How could I think about being a mom when my own life was at stake?

At that time, it was my personal decision to not pursue fertility treatments and to start chemotherapy ASAP. Being a mom, a healthy one, could wait.

I started chemotherapy as planned on a Monday morning. I showed up bright and early to my first treatment. At MGH a nurse is appointed to you and will be your chaperone throughout your treatment. The drill is pretty much the same every time – weight check, blood work, then treatment.

I guess a dreaded part of going through chemotherapy for many women is losing their hair. It is pretty easy to understand why. Hair is a sign of femininity. Losing your hair makes you look vulnerable and easy to label as someone who is sick.

Buying a wig to regain what you’ve lost is not a simple, straightforward solution – it’s not the same as the real thing. I got fitted for a synthetic wig, which I only wore once. Instead I wore scarves, which I found to be very easy and versatile. I had a few regular scarves that I just tied around my head, but my personal favorite was one that I could tie on top.

I lost my hair a few days after my second treatment. Knowing I would lose it, I decided to cut it off beforehand. I thought it would make seeing it fall out be less challenging.

Honestly, losing my hair did not faze me. I was more concerned about reaching a chemically induced menopause at 32.

My periods did stop after my second treatment. My doctors were not sure if they were ever going to come back. For the first time in my life, I wanted to get my period. I started to despair about the idea of ever having a biological family.

Getting breast cancer at 31 brought my world to a crashing halt and forced me to reevaluate my husband, my job, my life and what I wanted out of it.

I understood that I deserved to be with someone who shared my joie de vivre, my craziness, my laughter and my essence. I also learned that life is too short and that my wish was to share, in an unconditional way, a life project with a person with whom I could be myself with – a partner, not a boss.

Sometimes I can’t help but I wonder what went wrong in my marriage and if divorcing was inevitable, or if breast cancer had something to do with it. Interestingly enough, I think going through that ordeal made me understand that we were not right for each other. Breast cancer brought us together and distanced us at the same time.

My treatment lasted a year and a half, and that’s when we were the strongest as a couple. After treatment, I realized that we did not see life the same way. I wanted to find a way to make us strong as a couple again. I knew he wanted a family; but starting a biological one was not going to be an option for a while.

It was a very difficult time and a challenging situation, but probably the most convincing thing for me was to think: “I didn’t survive to have an existence where I don’t feel like I am living at all.” It took me two years to make a final decision about my marriage, but today I have no regrets about it.

After my divorce in 2010, I promised myself that I would always think about myself first. This is how my pursuit of happiness began. Unfortunately, I ran into situations where I didn’t make the best decisions.

I was meeting new people, but not the type of men I wanted to be with long term. Even though I was very busy at work, that was not enough distraction to keep my mind occupied. Most importantly, I felt very lonely and loneliness can be your worst counselor at times.⠀⠀⠀

I was seeing someone for about 2 years and one day I found out I was pregnant. Having gratitude for not feeling lonely and being with someone, made me think I was happy enough and in love with him. All of that and the pregnancy hormones made me believe that we could play house together.

And once again, I was wrong.

Today, fourteen years later, I don’t have my life figured out by any means; but all of this self-discovery led me to become a mom, the most rewarding experience of my life. I did go through a bad time, but I became a mom at the ‘right’ time. My six-year old son has brought so much joy to my life and has given me the most important reason to live.

He is the engine that keeps me alive. Thanks to him, I have a valid justification to strive for better things, avoid harmful situations, stay fit and live a healthy lifestyle.

I never thought about writing about my personal experience with breast cancer, but I thought that my story could raise awareness and help other young women going through the same thing I went through in 2006.

This is how “Borrongonga” – my personal blog – was born about 5 years ago, after a casual conversation during lunch with a friend. It is a blog that narrates my experience going through breast cancer, my recovery, my divorce, and becoming a mom 8 years after cancer.

Since I moved back to Colombia, after living in the United States for 15 years, writing became a cathartic exercise for me. So now I make it a habit to write about valuable life lessons, survivorship, motherhood, relationships, marriage, love, and the life I dream of.

2018 was a wonderful year for me because I gained closure to a lot of chapters in my life. I started working again, I finally forgave myself for my past decisions, I healed, I established an order of priorities in my life, and I accepted my single mom status.

Even though I haven’t been in a relationship for a while, I feel I’ve healed. I am ready to be in one with a person who truly loves and values me and, most importantly, respects who I am.

I am at my best moment as a woman, because I’ve learned to love myself, and am capable of having better control of my feelings and emotions. Even though I am still working on finding that almost perfect balance – where I am in full control of my decisions in a rational and assertive way; I would not want to lose my essence – a combination between a woman with a modern front and an inner chaste persona, who doesn’t want to forget about herself.”

Thank you, Ivania, for sharing your story. It is always a pleasure to connect with like minded women who feel as strongly as we do about supporting each other and sharing our stories.