Denise Albert is co-founder of The MOMS media company. She is a cancer survivor and the mom of two boys, Jaron, 13, and Jaylan, 10. She speaks and moderates panels at many breast cancer-related events and was the recipient of the 2017 Susan G. Komen NY Impact Award. She lives in New York City.
I am a survivor every day. I remind myself that every day. I may be cancer free, but the diagnosis and continuing medications and decisions are forever.
I began my cancer journey in January of 2015. I was finally happy. I was a happily divorced mom of 2 boys, happy with my boyfriend and building my business, when I felt a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer just 3 months after a clear mammography.
I had a lumpectomy, aggressive chemotherapy for six months, radiation daily for six weeks and immunotherapy infusions for a year. When my treatment ended a year ago, I called it #MyBreastYear (though it was 2 years of treatment).
Just like there’s no parenting manual, there’s no cancer manual. Everyone’s journey is different. For me … I tried to live my life. I threw parties and planned trips with my kids for the end of each phase to have something to look forward to.
Sharing my story helped me each day, and speaking to my new cancer-community friends across the country each day gave me more inspiration to keep sharing and hopefully helping others.
I hosted one of our Mamarazzi events with Jennifer Garner just an hour after shaving my head. I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert the night before chemo began. Some days, walking my kids to school was all I could do. I lost my taste and had no appetite, lost 10 lbs., lost all my hair everywhere. I couldn’t look in the mirror — with no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes it was impossible to think I would ever look healthy again.
On my first business trip to California after chemo ended, I was mistreated by the TSA — you may have seen the video. I then volunteered my time to shoot a public service video to make sure every one knows the best way to travel with cancer and to remind their agents of protocol.
My hair is now growing back, though I prefer the wigs (no hair drama ever!). I have gained the weight back and I’m finally back to a normal lifestyle.
I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis and have also been living with rashes all over my body for the past two years. Apparently the treatment may have triggered something in my body and I’m now basically allergic to everything.
I have scheduled surgery three times in the past nine months. I have cancelled it each time. The surgery is called a salpingo-oophorectomy. It’s an elective surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. I asked my oncologist why some women decide to do this surgery. His answer was so simple. “Well, for women similar to you … if you keep thinking and worrying about the cancer recurring there.”
I keep thinking about it although I have no evidence of cancer. The doctors don’t really believe I’m at increased risk for ovarian cancer but can’t say for sure. Because of the kind of breast cancer I had, I am on medicine for ten years and also get a shot every three months (also for ten years) to shut my ovaries down. I get another shot to strengthen my bones since estrogen is needed for that too.
The estrogen the ovaries make is what feeds my cancer, but not having the estrogen puts me at risk for other things like osteoporosis, mood swings, anxiety, depression, change in sex drive and possibly pain during sex.
I met with the gynocology oncologist surgeon last summer. After I asked him a million questions, he said it was a reasonable and good choice. I scheduled the surgery. Then cancelled it. I sent an email and asked my oncologist about it again. I scheduled the surgery again. I cancelled it. I then set up another meeting with the surgeon. I probably asked him the same questions. I scheduled it.
I don’t think my decision or emotions about this surgery has anything to do with the fact that now I really won’t be able to have kids anymore. It sounds so final but I don’t think that’s an issue for me. It’s more about my life now. I’m finally on a good run. But after further questioning and research I learned that ovarian cancer is hard to detect. It’s often caught too late.
Now I’m really beginning to think I should follow through with the surgery. Maybe I learn to live without my ovaries the way I’ve learned to live without my hair and with my wig. Newer, easier, better. And just keep living. Positively. Why would I keep my ovaries and tubes?
Maybe the surgery is just the next step in this journey.