In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to share this interview Cleaning for Cancer held with Ellen Jacobs, of Shelbyville, Ky. Ellen has a positive outlook and strong determination to share her advice to other cancer patients as she undergoes her own grueling treatment. She is a true hero and inspiration for others.
In May 2011, I had a scheduled mammogram. They found a tumor on my right breast. Within two weeks I was getting an ultrasound, MRI, blood work, and surgery (for the port). I was also seeing an oncologist, general surgeon, and plastic surgeon at the same time. Honestly, everything after that diagnosis was a blur.
I didn’t know what to expect. My mom lost her best friend, “Aunt Joni,” to cancer thirty years ago and I remember her wasting away, throwing up all day because of the chemotherapy. I know a lot has changed with cancer treatments since then, and I thank God that medicines are now available to help us tolerate the side effects. But I just can’t help remembering the problems that Aunt Joni went through.
There’s no telling how I got breast cancer. It doesn’t run in my family and I stopped smoking eight years ago. Maybe it was stress or the environment. I worked in online advertising and lived in Australia for eight years. So maybe stress triggered the cancer cells to grow. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s because of low vitamin D levels. I’ve read that people with low vitamin D levels are at higher risk of developing cancers.
My oncologist, Dr. Jeffrey Hargis, gave me some options to think about and we agreed to begin treatment with chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor. The first night after chemo is usually the worst. I’d get very, very nauseous. I’ll take very strong anti-nausea meds before and after, but even that is not enough to stop me from feeling sick. The feeling was so intense that I couldn’t even lift my head up from the pillow.
For the first four to five days after treatment I’m on steroids to try and keep my energy up and help prevent any possible reactions from the chemo. Afterward, I’ll get what cancer patients call a “Steroid Crash.” It’s like having the worst flu. I would feel like a truck ran over me. My bones ached everywhere and I would get very bad headaches. It was hard for me out of bed, and at times when I walk across room I’d need to sit down for a minute. My experience with chemo may sound scary to some, but it’s important to remember that eventually you start to feel better. And it does.
I heard about Cleaning for Cancer from one of the online cancer forum groups (breastcancer.org). Someone mentioned that Cleaning for Cancer could clean homes for free. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know these types of groups existed. I couldn’t clean the house because I just didn’t have the energy. Chemo brings my immune system low and I was afraid of cleaning the bathroom (because of the germs).
Within two weeks of sending my application in, they came to clean the house. They dusted, vacuumed, and wiped down every table and counter. They cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. I asked them to really focus on scrubbing the bathroom because I was afraid of the germs (lurking) in there. They stayed for a little over an hour, really “sanitizing” everything. It was great knowing that my home was clean, and I didn’t have to worry about the bathroom.
On staying positive
Having cancer doesn’t mean we have to stop being who we are. I haven’t. I stay busy, share my opinions, and do my best to get up and move around even when I feel very tired from chemo.
In fact, I’m doing the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure on October 8. I’m also scheduled to speak at Safe Harbor Academy, an alternative education school, on October 28 about breast cancer awareness.
I also know that I can count on my doctor and the infusion nurses to support and help me, making sure that I have what I need. They are constantly adjusting my medications to reduce the side effects I feel.
There are many other ways to stay positive. Here are my top five tips:
1. Surround yourself with positive people. They keep your spirits up and help you stay motivated.
2. Join a group. I joined Gilda’s Club and cancer forum groups online, such as breastcancer.org or caringbridge.org. Sharing experiences, ideas, and feelings helps you remember that you’re not alone. They also let me know what to expect when going through treatment and how to deal with the side effects.
3. Stay busy and do fun things with your family. For me, we play bingo every three weeks or go to the local casino during my twenty-one-day cycle. I look forward to my bingo nights.
4. Exercise. Even if it’s just walking for short distances. It helps build my strength and immune system. It also helps keep the nausea down.
5. Use services available to you. We deserve it. Groups that I’ve turned to include: Cleaning for Cancer, Good Wishes (scarves for hair loss), The Hatbox Foundation (free hats) and Cancer Care and Patient Advocate Foundation (financial support).