Margot Saharic was diagnosed with HER-2 positive breast cancer over five years ago and she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. She wholeheartedly believes that people don’t know enough about breast cancer until they’ve been diagnosed with it. She’s a proud survivor and refuses to give breast cancer any power. Today, Margot speaks frankly about her experience. Read and share.
Tell us about your diagnosis.
At my annual OB-GYN visit, my doctor felt a small “something.” She was pretty certain it was a cyst but sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound anyway. Over the course of four days of testing, it became pretty clear to me what the diagnosis was going to be, although no one said anything for sure until the final biopsy result came back. The doctor who did the biopsy called me on my cell phone just as I was picking up my first grader from school on Friday and told me the news that it was indeed invasive breast cancer.
Talk about bad timing. What was your reaction?
Each time I got a new piece of news – from the initial lump-finding, to ‘We’d like to do an MRI’, to ‘We need to do a biopsy’, to the actual confirmation, my reaction was always, “OK, what do we do? What do I need to do right now, what do we do next?” I wanted to know what the next step was that I needed to do, who I needed to call, how I could proactively move the process forward as quickly as possible to get it done.
I love your “let’s get it done” attitude. So, what was next in terms of treatment?
I underwent a double mastectomy, AC-TH chemotherapy, Herceptin (which I stopped after nine months due to heart condition), oophorectomy/hysterectomy, reconstruction, and I now take Femara.
Let’s talk about fertility. Several of the women sharing this month have had either a oophorectomy or hysterectomy, including myself. Dealing with the loss of not being able to have children and the onset of menopause can be a lot to deal with. Tell me how you dealt?
Fertility didn’t matter as we already had two kids. We briefly talked of having a third child but never were so serious about it that it felt like a loss when it came to having a hysterectomy.
I got very lucky in that whole “shriveled up, dried out” part of sex that goes along with menopause. Things have not been badly impacted. Although, there are certain lubricating products that are appreciated from time to time. Another plus, I’m thrilled at not having a period or all the nonsense that goes along with that.
Besides your sexual health, what other physical challenges has breast cancer and menopause brought upon?
I get hot flashes at times which can be annoying but again luckily aren’t too bad. I only wish I could time them to when I’m cold! I do get insomnia, again, I think that’s a menopause thing.
Mobility is pretty good except for a few things I can’t do because of breast reconstruction. You know, little things like doing the rock climbing wall with my kids (not that I had before, lol!).
I’d like to blame these stubborn 20 lbs on my breast cancer, but realistically, I think each of my daughters is responsible for 5 pounds, and the last 10 is a combination of the breast cancer and menopause.
I can certainly relate to those challenges! Tell me now how having breast cancer has propelled you in your life?
From the very beginning, I took a lot of notes and would share everything about what was happening with anyone who asked. It’s like, I knew, that some day I would be using my breast cancer story to help others. I plan (and I swear some day I will get around to it!) to write a book about my experience. I literally want to write that story!
I don’t want to be that person who defines herself as the “cancer lady,” but I do want to be open enough so people know when they run into this situation in their own lives, and statistically many of them will, that they can call on me. I want to be a helpful resource for people. I’ve met with friends and friends of friends who are in various stages of testing, diagnosis and treatment many times over the past five years. I love doing this. And, yes, I have flashed a gal or two to show them what fresh, new, cancer-free boobs look like!
In many ways, I am back to being the person I was before, which is the idea, really. I wanted to make sure that I learned the lessons that I was “supposed” to learn from breast cancer. I mean, the experience was amazingly good and amazingly bad, and I wanted to use it as a learning and growing experience for myself. I sometimes struggle with insecurities, but every once in a while I am able to remind myself that I beat cancer and that gives me an oomph of courage that I didn’t possess before my diagnosis.
I don’t think there is much that could hold you back but do you personally foresee any roadblocks in your future?
Not roadblocks, but self-kicks in the ass. Like when I passed my five year mark, I kicked myself for not having done a few things in those five years that I wanted to do. And, as my girls grow into their ‘tweens and start to mature, I find myself getting panic stricken by the fact that there is little that I can do to protect them from getting breast cancer. The biggest blessing in my diagnosis was that is was me and not one of my kids. The idea of it being one of my kids someday terrifies me way more than the prospect of me getting it again.
Margot told me she would gladly be a resource for anyone who needs it. You can leave her a comment here and I will be happy to connect you. She also suggests checking out caringbridge.org, breastcancer.org and The Breast Cancer Husband by Marc Silver as great sources of information.