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Breast cancer is a complicated disease that can affect even the healthiest women. Take Lisa Vento Nielsen, a mom who was diagnosed with Stage 3A Breast Cancer at 39.9 years in November 2016, and though she had no lumps or a family history of the disease, had to undergo a mastectomy three days after her birthday. While this was a scary time in her life, she found strength through writing, and charted her experience on her blog, The Time Between Is – A Breast Cancer Survival Guide. In honor of survivors like Lisa who fought the battle against cancer with admirable determination, and in anticipation of our fast-approaching Mothers of the Year luncheon in collaboration with the American Cancer Association, we sat down to chat with Lisa about her experiences and how writing provided a positive outlet for her to share her story and connect with others on the same journey. Read on…

blogging through breast cancer

I have learned so much. I have learned that being open is better than hiding. I have learned to love my scars. I have learned that no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse, so I am just thankful every day for the time in between when I wait to God willingly be cured.

Tell us about your diagnosis. What were thinking when you heard this from your doctor?

I was diagnosed at 39.9 years old with no lump, no family history and just no clue. I love getting older and was really looking forward to turning 40 and breast cancer really ruined my buzz!

Upon receiving the phone call that would change my life, I met with my gynecologist Dr. Prue, and he gave me a list of doctors to think about calling, and Memorial Sloan Kettering was on the list. At first, as a mom of young children, I did not want to travel to NYC (which is ridiculous because I used to work in NYC and travel around the globe), but I ended up picking Sloan and it was the best decision of my life. From diagnosis on November 29th, 2016 to my mastectomy and lymph nodes extraction on December 16th, 2016, I was diagnosed at stage 3A.

Why did you decide to write about breast cancer?

I decided to write about it at first because I am a writer. I have kept a journal since I was 10 years old, and during my diagnosis, treatment and recovery, I kept a private LiveJournal account. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my body had failed me; I had issues working full-time and dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy, and I just was not “me” in my mind.

Once I finished treatment, I began blogging on Weebly but I did it anonymously at first. After a few weeks of hiding in public, I decided to go live and let everyone know that I am the 1 in 8 diagnosed with breast cancer and that I made it through. I truly want to help others by sharing my story. 

What have you learned about yourself through writing about cancer?

I have learned so much. I have learned that being open is better than hiding. I have learned to love my scars. I have learned that no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse, so I am just thankful every day for the time in between when I wait to God willingly be cured.

blogging through breast cancer

How do you talk to your kids about your experience?

I told my kids in mid-December and I explained it like this: “This is going to sound like a bad thing but I want you to know it is a good thing – this is not bad. The doctor found something bad in my breast and I will need an operation.”

My kids were 9 and 6 at the time (they are now 10 and 7), and my oldest is a girl, and her first question was, “Are you going to die?” And no one truly knows the answer to that question. I always say: you could get hit by a bus tomorrow (God forbid).

My son just was dumbfounded and did not say much at all. When I explained that my breast had this bad thing and that I would get surgery, again, my daughter said “What are they going to do, cut off your boob or something?” And I was like, “Well…yes.”

My son has processed it, and he often thinks things are worse than they are. Recently we visited the cemetery and he told me not to worry because he would visit me when I moved there. I was like, “What are you saying?!” And he told me, “Lots of people with cancer die.” And I said, “And lots of people do not!”

How is your life different and the same as a survivor?

Well I am still trying to be a survivor – I am not even one year post diagnosis. I am definitely less stressed. Nothing truly bothers me anymore – not like they used to. All of those things that used to keep me up at night and make me panic are now just nothing at all. I have learned to make peace with myself and what I can do. I’ve also come to understand that I cannot continue to just do everything for everyone else, and that I have to do things for myself, too.

What have you learned from meeting other survivors?

I have learned the extent of human pain and strength. I have learned that no matter how bad you think you have it, there is someone who is always worse off. That is why I am walking in the Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk. I am so lucky to have friends, family, health insurance and a budget that works even when I lost my full time job – a lot of people do not have that as they go through their treatments. Survivors are the strongest people out there and I can’t wait to be one!

 

blogging through breast cancer

As a breast cancer survivor and mom, Lisa is open to discussing the experience of battling cancer as a mom of two young kids, the personal economic impact of the disease, and how blogging about the experience has helped her heal. You can read her blog here.

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