Dacy Yee is a mom to a 6 year old daughter and 19 month old son from Southern California. Diagnosed in 2013 with stage I HER-2+ breast cancer, Dacy says her baby saved her life. She shares an extensive list of tips and advice for anyone newly diagnosed and undergoing chemotherapy. Dacy has extensively documented her breast cancer experience on Instagram.
HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU WERE DIAGNOSED?
I was diagnosed Oct 1, 20013 with DCIS. But after my double mastectomy in November, it was discovered that my cancer had grown so aggressively, it was actually Stage 1, Her2Neu positive and had grown outside of the milk ducts.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT?
I always say my baby saved my life. I was breastfeeding him, and had planned on breastfeeding him for a full year. I was even juggling the often awkward and difficult, pumping at work thing to accomplish this. I ended up getting mastitis on my right breast and my OB required an ultrasound to rule out an abscess before prescribing the antibiotics. After the tech ruled out the abscess on the right side, she said, “Let’s just scan the left side, since you’re here.” And, that’s how we found it… it wasn’t through my regularly scheduled mammogram. And since it was so aggressive, if we would have waited, we really would be telling a very different story right now.
TELL US YOUR REACTION.
I felt my world just crumbling. I immediately pictured a life for my husband and children without me… and it broke my heart in a way that I have never felt before, and never quite recovered from. I felt powerless and thought I would have to put a whole bunch of actions in place to make sure my kids and husband had everything they needed to have the life I was envisioning for them, even if it would be without me. I wanted to take care of them, and I hated the idea that they would have to grow up without me.
WHAT WAS YOUR TREATMENT PLAN?
Even though the original DCIS diagnosis is considered stage 0, and could be dealt with less invasively, we decided to go very aggressive and move forward with a bilateral mastectomy. We wanted to do everything in our power to put this behind us and not face this again 2-3 years down the road, wishing we had been more aggressive from the beginning. The biopsy from the mastectomy showed the Stage 1, Her2Neu positive, hormone insensitive nature of my cancer, which led us to 6 rounds of chemotherapy (taxotere & carboplatin and a year of herceptin). I finished my last round of chemo on 4/17/14 and am still going through the herceptin every 3 weeks until 1/15. I also just had my reconstruction surgery on 8/25/14, but am facing a minor complication, which may bring me back to the surgery table.
HOW HAS TREATMENT AFFECTED YOUR WELL-BEING, IF AT ALL?
I have so many notes about this on my instagram… here are the highlights:
1. Chemopause – Went into (hopefully) temporary menopause, complete with hot flashes, no periods, weight gain, etc., Still in it.
2. Arthritis – Along with lead legs, I’m just slower and in a more strained state.
3. Nails – I have pictures of this on my instagram too… The chemo just kills your fingernails and toenails. It was so scary looking – turned them black & brown, and almost lifted completely off. They are about halfway healthy now.
4. Mouth sores – The week after chemo, my mouth would have this awful metallic taste and I’d have to ward off mouth sores by rinsing with salt water 5xs a day.
5. Sun sensitivity – Ultra sensitive to sun and my hands and feet turned super dark!
6. Bloody noses – Constant bloody noses. I’d have to stick a q-tip slathered in vaseline up my nose several times a day to keep it from bleeding, but even that didn’t stop it completely. One day, I woke up in a mini pool of blood that scared the sh!t out of my husband.
7. Neuropathy – My fingers and toes were so numb… I couldn’t be trusted with a knife! Fingers still are.
8. Hair – Obviously, lost my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes. Post chemo, when I was drawing my eyebrows in, I became allergic to the makeup I had used for a long time… chemo can make you ultra sensitive and allergic to things that never bothered you before. So I had an awful rash along my eyebrows for a while.
9. Heart function – Herceptin can affect heart function. I had one abnormal echocardiogram, so now I am monitored every 3 months by a cardiologist.
10. Immunosuppressed – Now, 16 weeks post chemo, I am still suffering from very low white blood cell counts. The chemo was so strong, that I am not bouncing back… not even at a level yet where I would be approved to receive more chemo now.
HAS HAVING BREAST CANCER INSPIRED YOU TO DO SOMETHING GREATER WITH YOUR LIFE?
I’ve been inspired to more appreciate my life. I am trying to no longer stress about the small stuff and I want to soak in, experience and spend more of my energy on all the good stuff! When I get pulled into the rabbit hole at work, I remind myself of the feeling I had when I was first diagnosed where I pictured my kids growing up without a mom. And I remind myself to be present with them so that I can enjoy this second chance I’ve been fighting so hard for.
Of course, it’s nice to get back to normal life – go to work, add value, feel healthy enough to resume normal life, so, again, I’m back to my balancing act where I want to do those things, and yet at the same time, enjoy more of the moments that are the true priority for me… not missing watching my daughter at soccer practice, making the swim meets, hosting a play date for her, volunteering in her classroom.
I’ve also found a great deal of confidence and strength in myself. A self described introvert, I’ve felt a ton of support in sharing my story through my social media channels – instagram and my facebook group. The therapeutic benefits of sharing the details of my journey with transparency there were unexpected… and I’m embracing the community that has reached out to support me.
SHARE YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLES AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE THOSE?
At first, I struggled with avoiding the tendency to let my thoughts go to a tragic and dark place. But, once I had a plan, (go through with the mastectomy), I was able to really stay focused in executing that plan and that gave me strength, and something to latch on to. It was the idea that I was doing everything in my power to fight this… and once I had a roadmap in front of me with my action items, I was solid. I have excellent doctors who I trust and who I feel comfortable with and confident in. And I didn’t fight their recommendations. People often asked me things like… ” Why do you have to do 6 chemo treatments? So and so did 4. Why don’t you ask your doctor if you can stop at 4?” I didn’t want to try to bargain with them to get a lesser treatment – I wanted to know that I was doing everything possible, and somehow, that was empowering to me. My doctors and I became partners in this and that helped me mentally manage and stay positive for the fight.
FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED?
1. For 7 days post chemo, I would get hydration at the cancer center daily. I was going in for neupogen shots anyway, so I would take the extra hour there every day, and this would help me feel better. Also, I’d get kitril in my IV to ward off nausea… Stay ahead of the nausea!
2. I would rinse with salt water 5xs a day for a week after chemo to maintain mouth health.
3. Keep moving – I would try to get out and walk every day and I felt like it would help my body move things along – get the toxins out of my body.
4. My friends set up a meal train for us and they would sign up to deliver dinners to us on chemo weeks. This was super helpful. It’s an odd feeling to accept help, but do it. People want to help and this is a simple way for them to contribute.
5. Playdates – This really became a community thing… and the support we felt from my daughter’s kindergarten class was amazing. The parents would offer pick ups/drop offs and extra playdates to help when I was tired.
6. Transparency with kids – We were transparent with my daughter and she understood that the medicine mommy was taking would make me tired. We had a head shaving party and she wanted me to wrap her head when I wrapped mine up in a pretty turban. Her attitude was a mirror image of the energy we would put out there. She made me a cute banner on my final chemo treatment that said, “happy last cemow”. She also takes all my pictures as I’m documenting my weekly hair growth on instagram now. She is a part of the process, and this helped her understand it was going to be ok. The book “Nowhere Hair” was also amazing for us to introduce the subject to her.
7. Rebounder – We bought a rebounder for exercise post chemo. It’s fun, and the bouncing helps engage the lymphatic system to fight off future cancers. Also a good way to transition into more activity after feeling so weakened after chemo. Just 5 minutes is a good start.
8. I saw an acupuncturist during chemo and I do so now, though less frequently. She helped me feel balanced and try some eastern medicine techniques to get me through.
9. Listen to your body. When it’s time to stop and sleep, do it. When you feel good, go for it.
Personal photo courtesy of Dacy Yee by Alice Hu Photography
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