Each week we post a FANtastic photo album full of our guests showing off their favorite Lane Bryant look. Typically, we see vibrant women smiling at the camera looking healthy and happy. A few weeks ago, we were surprised and honored to have received a picture from a guest who was sharing her style from a hospital bed, having just completed her last round of chemotherapy.
Connie S., had chosen to wear her favorite Lane Bryant shirt, scarf and jewelry to celebrate her victory and we were very touched that she shared this moment with us.
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Connie was gracious enough to share her very recent journey and battle with the disease.
We hope that you’re as inspired by her as we are and that you take a moment to show your support in honor of Connie and all of those who have battled this disease.
LB Can you tell us a little about yourself?
CS I am a mother, grandmother, wife, daughter, sister, and a middle school special education teacher. I had just celebrated my 50th birthday when I received my diagnosis. I had huge plans for my 50th year, and breast cancer was not in those plans.
What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with and when?
I was diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, Er+/Pr+, Stage 3A in February 2013.
LB What was your first reaction when you heard the diagnosis?
CS I was in the middle of teaching an American History lesson when I received the call from my doctor. I was in disbelief. I was shaken to my core, but I held it together. I just knew that someone had made a mistake. I immediately went to my mother’s house and told her the news, keeping it together pretty well. When I got home, the floodgates opened.
LB What emotions were you experiencing when you heard your diagnosis?
CS At first I was in denial. No way was this really happening to me. I just knew that someone had made an error. Denial became anger. Anger became sadness and mourning. Then anger came back. Then it was back to sadness. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt, because I felt like I’d let so many people down. There are lots of tears on the breast cancer journey. It’s a nasty emotional roller coaster.
How did you go about telling your family?
I tried to be as positive as possible when talking to my family and friends about it. “No big deal. It’s going to be OK.” I even joked about it. However, on the inside, I was a wreck. I was scared of my diagnosis, my body, and the treatments. I was scared of what they were going to tell me next.
LB If someone has a loved one who is going through breast cancer what advice would you give them about things they can do to support their loved one?
CS First of all, I am so grateful that so many friends and family support me. For the first time in my life, I am aware of how loved I am. Everybody around me did so many things to support me through my treatments. I can’t begin to address everyone and every instance of kindness and thoughtfulness that they showed me. My co-teacher immediately took over my caseload and fended for me at school. My students made and sent me cards. After my bilateral mastectomy, my daughters dressed me in a new pair of Cacique pajamas, did my hair and makeup, and my husband drove me home. My house was filled with flowers. For several days afterwards, the florist visited. I received cards in the mail nearly every day. My daughters and friends brought me meals. My husband immediately began charting my medicines and surgical drains and helped me shower. When he felt that I showed signs of being overly tired, he played bouncer and sent people out of the house. My mother checked on me daily. She helped keep me stocked in ginger ale. My mother, daughters, husband, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and father-in-law all transported me to doctor appointments and treatments. On one occasion, I just needed someone to be with me so I could rest. My daughter laid in bed with me and watched me sleep. My aunt and uncle sent me a precious little bracelet with references to “Footprints” inscribed on it. One of my mother-in-law’s co-workers was a breast cancer survivor. Though she didn’t even know me, she sent me a pink beaded bracelet. I combined those two bracelets with a pink beaded bracelet that one of my students had made for me years ago, and I wore those bracelets to every chemo treatment to remind myself that I had to beat this. I couldn’t let all those people down. The most difficult part for me was to learn how to ask for help when I needed it. I’ve had to ask bagboys to help me push my cart or to load the groceries in my car for me and I was always appreciative when someone got the door for me. Breast cancer can be a very humbling experience.
LB Are you cancer free? If so, how long have you been cancer free?
CS I’m still undergoing radiation treatments, so I haven’t been given the all-clear yet. Since my bilateral mastectomy, I’ve been telling myself “it’s gone,” but I really know that there is always the chance that it’s not. However, I’ve gone through chemo, I’m close to the end of radiation, and then I have to undergo five years of hormone therapy. Hopefully, if one treatment doesn’t catch it all, another one will.
LB What advice would you give to women who are, or will be going through the same thing you went through?
CS Listen to your body. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, rest. You may lose your hair, but it will grow back. Yes, some people will say “it’s just hair,” but the loss of the hair is what people notice first. I had to learn to ignore the sad eyes people would give me when they saw me in public with a scarf-covered head. I tried to make the scarves look stylish, but they were still covering a bald head. I love earrings, so I tried to make sure I wore the most awesome earrings I could to make myself feel better.
As women, we tend to be caretakers of others. This is one of those times when you have to allow others to take care of you. Keep yourself surrounded by positive people. If anyone in your circle upsets you with their prognosis of your situation or doesn’t respect your physical or emotional needs, they need to go.
On the medical side of this issue, research and pick your cancer team. Don’t be afraid to question a doctor. If you don’t have a good feeling about a doctor, choose another one. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Cancer and cancer treatments create a whole set of issues that you’ve never had to deal with before. Some of the information on the internet is outdated and some is even inaccurate. Though the information may be generally accurate, it isn’t tailored to you. Be choosey about your sources for information.
LB Where did you get your strength and resilience?
CS I roll my eyes when people say something to me about being an inspiration. I am not a poster child for bravery. I cried every day for months. However, one day it just hit me. I started thinking about cancer as if it were a person trying to rip me away from everyone I loved. I became furious, and I started talking to it like the horrible person it would be. “You want some of me? You want to hurt my daughters? You want my mother to bury her own child? You think you want me? Come and get some!” I went on and on, throwing curses and double-dog-dares in its face. I suddenly turned into quite the badass. It’s funny to think back on now, but at the time, it was quite a turning point.
LB Looking back, would you do anything differently?
CS I would have allowed myself more time with my daughters. I really didn’t encourage them to visit me, because I didn’t want them to see me so sick. I think that I was scared that if I died, I wouldn’t want them to remember me as being sick. I wanted them to remember me as someone who could throw her head back and laugh, not someone who looked like straight death.
LB Do you participate in any breast cancer causes?
CS Since I’m still undergoing treatment, I haven’t participated in any breast cancer causes. I guess this interview is the first one. However, I have found the American Cancer Society to be a terrific resource, and I plan to donate to them regularly. I would encourage anyone going through cancer to participate in their “Look Good, Feel Better” program. Most people are unaware that when you start chemo, you have to ditch all of your opened cosmetics and start with new products in order to avoid the risk of infection. This program not only supplies participants with a bag of new cosmetics, but they will teach you how to apply those cosmetics in such a way to help you deal with the physical side effects of chemo. The licensed cosmetologist who taught the class taught me how to create the look of eyebrows when I lost my own to chemo. The ACS is also a great resource for free wigs, scarves, and relaxation massages. I can’t sing their praises loudly enough.
LB What plans do you have for the future?
CS Cancer changes your perspective on everything. I plan to teach my precious granddaughter my favorite songs from when I was a little girl and to introduce her to my favorite children’s books. I plan to spend next summer in the water and to go fishing with my husband again. I plan to swim laps at the YMCA, and I plan to ride horses. I plan to enjoy my life and appreciate the people I get to share it with.
LB How did you choose your outfit that in the picture you shared with us?
CS I fell in love with the shirt the first time I saw it. I loved the color and the embellishments. I knew that this shirt would work with a variety of pant styles and colors. When I saw the scarf and earrings, I knew that they all belonged together. Going to chemo treatment was one of the few times I wasn’t in pajama pants, so I tried to dress for the occasion in order to make myself feel better and less like a cancer patient. I visited The Summit location of Lane Bryant for a bra fitting after my reconstructive surgery and the ladies treated me like royalty. They made certain that I was fitted properly, and that I was comfortable.
LB Please share additional information that you feel would add to your inspiring story.
CS This is how I know I am very lucky:
On the day of my surgery consultation, I was in the waiting room reading a magazine. The nurses and receptionists were trying to help another lady make arrangements for her mastectomy. She didn’t have the money to buy the soap that she would need to use prior to surgery (approx. $10) and she didn’t have transportation to and from the hospital, so they were making arrangements for taxi vouchers for her. Though I had concerns, and I was scared out of my mind, I knew that I had the basics covered. Thankfully, I had health insurance. Thankfully, I had $10 and transportation. But this other lady—if she didn’t have the basics, who in the world was going to take care of her once she came home from surgery? I’ve wondered about her. I hope she is doing well. She’s the inspiration.