Regina F.

Watch: Regina F.

I became a breast cancer survivor when I was diagnosed in September of 2003.

It was shocking because I had been coming to the doctor in the ER six months prior to that because I had lower back pain. The doctors kept telling me that it was lower lumbar stress. Since I was a stocker and working overnight, I thought that I was tired because I was working overnight and carrying heavy things. But when they told me this, I was very surprised. It took three days to locate the cancer in my right breast. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of surgeries and treatments.

I started off with radiation because my back was really in a lot of pain. That was about maybe six months of that. Then I went into chemotherapy. The chemotherapy that I started off with wasn’t something that helped. It took about four months to realize that. They went ahead and gave me another type of chemotherapy, and this chemotherapy did work. They added on hormonal therapy. So I’m under that as well. I guess those combinations helped make my cancer stable. It’s been stable for two years now. Occasionally, I get chemotherapy, but I’m always on the hormonal therapy, and really that’s what’s keeping the cancer at bay.

I had a lot of back pain because I have tumors along my spine, some in my pelvis, and one in my head. I’ve had a double mastectomy, and I’ve had my gall bladder removed because of the chemotherapy affecting my body. I’ve had different radiations, even to my ribs because I have cancer spots there. They tend to hurt really, really bad, like broken bones. I tend to get that every so often.

Before I made any decisions, I really researched everything. I also had to come to terms with what I was going to expect afterwards of myself and my body. I decided that I wanted the double mastectomy. The doctor didn’t really want to do that, but I felt like I couldn’t deal with having one breast and not having the other, and always trying to put a prosthesis on and things like that. So I decided I wanted to remove both of them. I think that was the best decision because I don’t feel uncomfortable. I don’t feel any less a woman. I don’t feel strange like I thought I might. I feel very comfortable. It took some getting used to because when I saw it in the mirror in the beginning, it’s strange. They’re not there. I did mourn for them. I went through my ups and downs about them not being there but ultimately, I knew it was the right decision. My husband’s been very supportive. He’s always told me he loves me. He always says that I’m still beautiful no matter what. It helped.

I’m always expecting something to go on with my bones. I’m trying to get an orthopedic surgeon to see me ahead of time because I expect later on that my bones will probably deteriorate more. I want to see what I can do to prevent worse things from happening to my bones. I tend to feel really, really tired all the time in my spine. It can be maybe an hour of standing and then I feel like I’ve stood all day. I need to sit down, or I lean against the wall a lot, or I’ll not have the straight back. I’ll have the leaning over because it’s too hard to lean back too far. I like to always have pillows between my knees because of the pressure in my spine, since the cancer ate away a little part of my vertebrae. It’s caused my spine bones to compress on each other and down to my pelvis. That causes the fatigue and the pain. But I pretty much keep that controlled with the pain medication that I take. It’s not as bad. Every once in a while, I’ll have breakthrough pain, so I have to have it checked out and have an X-ray done to make sure that there’s nothing that’s fractured, or a stress crack. It’s really easy for me to have an injury.

In my case, I feel like there’s really nothing they can do because it’s already in my blood, in my system. It’s addressing those things that make me uncomfortable - mainly pain - or anything that might come up, maybe a tumor that grows quickly again. I consider it the same thing. I let my doctor know all the time how my body is feeling. I don’t struggle as much throughout my daily life. Even if it means I need a different painkiller. But there isn’t any treatment that’s going to cure me.

I didn’t always think that the clinics had the best care. I do know the difference between a private doctor and one from the clinic. I know there is more care for people who have a private doctor and they get things done quicker. But because of the doctor that we have at the clinic, it doesn’t seem to matter so much because we have something more, which is someone who really cares about what they’re doing. I feel very comfortable where I’m at. The nurses there are angels, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.

My feelings are always up and down. I usually try to keep appointments with my counselor. We talk about the future, how things are going, and my family. They offer that counseling to my children and also to my husband. The one thing that I know has helped a lot is Wonders and Worries. I couldn’t imagine not doing it with them, because when I cannot explain something that’s difficult for me, I have them explain to my children. My children have benefited so much and our lives have changed so much through their help. I would always want someone to be there and taking part of those services. It’s been a true help. It’s like a friend to guide me and my children.

I have five children, and they are all under the age of ten. I have three boys and two girls, and the girls are twins. We’ve been through a lot. After the diagnosis, our lives changed completely. We were an active family, and all of a sudden, there was no activity. I think that my youngest son, Renaldo, struggled the most because he was only six. He didn’t know how to express himself too well, and he struggled a lot in school for a year. Just this year, he started to get to where he feels comfortable with change and transition and just being away from me.

With my children, I always make sure that they know what’s going on. I don’t want them to guess or not know. I’ve told my kids since Day One of my condition, and I keep updating them if I’m going to be in the hospital for a long time, or if I’m going to be under chemotherapy. I’ll explain to them that I’m not going to be feeling well. Explain to them that it has nothing to do with them. I get a lot of, “You don’t have any cancer anymore because your hair is grown.” Or, “Because you look okay.” I have to explain again that, “No. I still have cancer but I’m still trying to get better.” It’s difficult.

My relationship with my husband has changed a little. He has always been a person who works and works, and is not always around too much, just because he’s trying to get ahead. But since I’ve been ill, he will take off if he has to. He’ll be around to do things with the children more, to balance things out. If I cannot be there all the time for the kids, he’ll be there. He’ll go to meetings with the teachers or PTA meetings. It’s different because he was a little more macho, and now he’s a little more towards being a partner and helping out. I think that’s the biggest change.

We’ve talked about planning for the future, and I’ve held off from talking about it at this point because my husband is struggling with that idea. My husband still feels like I have many years, and he wants to keep that idea in his head. I don’t blame him, but I have to live both sides, where I have to decide what’s going to happen for the future and what is happening now. My husband and I were very young when we had our children. We have continued to struggle, but he is looking towards getting back into school and trying to get a career to help with the family. I always let him know, this is the time to do it when I’m okay. I’m trying to prepare in little ways, trying to secure our finances, so that we can one day get a house and make sure our kids know what’s going on. Making sure that school is important to them. I always talk to them about what might happen in case I’m not here. I prepare them in a way. It’s really difficult but I feel like I have to.

My children give me hope, and my husband gives me hope. Mainly, I believe in God and that is my biggest hope. I know that I’ll be okay, whatever outcome. Just to know that there’s so many people out there. The people that helped me all the time with daily stuff, being around, and having that smile. All those things give me hope.

LIVESTRONG means that no matter what kinds of obstacles in life, you overcome them and you keep going. If you fall down, that’s okay. You just keep getting up.

My name is Regina Fabian. I’m thirty-three years old, and I’m a breast cancer survivor.