I wrote this article to be published in the January issue of Las Sendas Life magazine, which is distributed in hard copy form to the I-don’t-know-how-many thousands of residents in our community each month. It’s basically an intro to my Breast Cancer journey and a hint at where I’d like to go from here. I’m so grateful to the magazine’s publisher, Heather Harrison for giving me another medium to share my message.
None of this will be news to those of you who have been following along since I started posting about this almost exactly two months ago, but I figured it’s a good place to start as I attempt to go back and fill in the details of the story.
People have told me they are impressed by my openness, my positivity, my courage, even if some of them think I’m crazy for blabbing about my personal business to anyone who will listen. And I have said again and again that it’s easy to be positive when I feel so lucky, when my cancer was so minor, when I really wasn’t sick and didn’t have to sacrifice anything.
They have told me not to minimize my pain, my experience. Facing cancer and getting both your breasts amputated actually is a big deal!
But I have felt so guilty, when others die from this disease and I was prepared to suffer, but didn’t have to.
Yet I realized, after connecting to an old friend at a party the other night, my first social event since the surgery, that this is about more than just me. She shared the terrifying experience of her own recent biopsy (which turned out benign) and we laughed about how barbaric and uncomfortable that procedure was. “You need to write about that,” she said. And I realized that I have glossed over some of the negative aspects of my experience because they just didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me, and I wanted to jump right away to the positive.
I have watched friends lose parents and children, suffer from autoimmune diseases that in many ways are worse than cancer because they are so undefined and misunderstood. I have seen friends die: from breast cancer or liver failure, accidents, suicide, even murder. Who am I to talk of pain?
But who I am is someone who can give words to my experience and the experiences of others, I can tell the stories of the struggles and triumphs that make us human. It’s what I have always been best at. So I will go back over the events and details of the last few months of my experience and share the details – not just the positive affirmations, but the scary moments too. And I will begin to sprinkle in other people’s stories too. That’s my gift.
Getting breast cancer wasn’t in my plans, at least not right now.
I had recently turned 45 and had just begun the second year of a three-year accelerated BSN nursing program. I was working nights as a nursing assistant at a hospital across town and juggling a husband, three kids and a home. I was also helping a Real Estate client negotiate the purchase of a home.
But God didn’t ask me about my timing.
And quite frankly, though I didn’t know it yet, I needed a break from the frenetic pace of my life. When I received the diagnosis of High-Grade Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) on September 20, 2019, I felt more relieved than upset. If you were going to get breast cancer, this was the kind to get – the earliest, most treatable form, “cancer-lite.” My mom had received the same diagnosis almost exactly 10 years earlier, and she was cancer-free and thriving.
It wasn’t really a surprise.
While the average woman has a 1 in 8, or 12% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, my risk had been calculated at 36%, due to family history, dense breast tissue, some past lumps that had turned out benign, and other factors. Because of my high-risk status, every six months I went in for either a mammogram/ultrasound or an MRI. When the radiologist said he saw some new microcalcifications on the mammogram that were a bit concerning, I didn’t feel afraid, but immediately scheduled the biopsy he recommended and started researching.
I eat healthy, exercise regularly, keep my weight in check and try to keep stress levels low.
I don’t drink much alcohol. I don’t smoke or take drugs. I use all-natural home cleaning and skincare products, free from caustic chemicals. So frankly, I was a bit peeved to still get cancer. But even though I believe in natural medicine and holistic approaches, and perhaps naturopathic medicine could have erased this cancer, I was tired of being high risk, always wondering if I was going to get breast cancer. Several women I had known had died from this horrible disease. I never wavered on my decision to get a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
It’s a Very Personal Choice. Every Cancer, Every Woman, Every Life is Different.
Although a lumpectomy combined with radiation was an option for me, the bilateral mastectomy mitigated my risk and precluded the need for chemotherapy, radiation or even hormonal treatments common with lumpectomies and single mastectomies. My breasts had served their intended purpose, breastfeeding all three of my children. They had entertained my husband. They had even earned me beads at Mardi Gras in New Orleans in another life…
But they were heavy, with dense fibrous tissue that likes to hide cancers and other masses. And frankly, a new set of smaller, perkier boobs didn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. Silver linings. It’s all about finding the silver linings.
I started sharing my journey online and noticed my writing touched a chord.
People started reaching out to tell me of their diagnoses or struggles, impressed by my courage and positivity. I realized I could inspire others to face their own tough circumstances with courage, laughter and love. Even though not everyone’s prognosis is as good as mine, the attitude we bring to the table – our faith, joy and love, can make a huge difference in our healing process, or in the process of navigating any tough experience.
We are all a Piece of Work, a Work in Progress, and a Work of Art, all at the same time.
It’s a phrase I coined over the past few years as I realized that everyone is trying to figure out and navigate this thing called life, whether they are a child, an adult, a pastor’s wife, a doctor or a world leader.
Forced to take a break from nursing school, I decided to finally finish that book I’ve been working on for years and develop my blog, www.DanielleTantone.com to share stories, educate, and inspire people to live their best life, be their best self, love with all their heart, and find beauty in their darkest days. After all, “life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Green
My breast reconstruction process is ongoing and there will be a few additional surgeries, but today I am thankful to be alive and cancer free.
This will be the first article in an ongoing series focusing not just on breast cancer, but on overcoming. If you have a story – about your own breast cancer journey, another health struggle you’ve already overcome or are still muddling through, or something else you’d like to share with the community, feel free to reach out to Danielle@106danielle.nohassle.website.