A newly diagnosed woman (who did not want her name mentioned) recently contacted me about my breast cancer experience. Like most newly diagnosed women, she had many questions. Although we stayed on the phone for two hours, I wanted to give you a short Q & A regarding self-exams and my go to organization, Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
Q. Tell me a little about yourself and your lifestyle.
A. My name is Randi Rentz, I am 46, and single. I work for a public school outside Philadelphia, where I teach children, K-5 on the Autism Spectrum; primarily children diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. In addition, I have my own consulting company, Rentz Consulting, where I work with people of all ages on the spectrum. I have also just completed a book called “Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds,” which is a memoir about my breast cancer experience. I am hopeful for a Fall 2013 publication. You can find more information about my book at www.randirentz.com.
Q. Describe how you found your cancer, were you on ‘watch’ or did it sneak up on you?
A. I found my lump doing a self exam in the attic of my father’s house while packing up his mementos after he passed away. I had sharp pains shooting below my left breast into my rib cage. I was only 42 and had no immediate family history or a first degree relative with the disease. I credit my life being saved to groups like Living Beyond Breast Cancer, for creating so much awareness and education about self-exams. When I told my doctors about the lump many of them told me not to worry because it was probably a cyst since I’ve had a few cysts before. Also, I was relatively young and had no family history. I think it is so important for young women especially to do breast self exams. But, my doctor I first showed the lump to insisted that it wasn’t anything to worry about and to go home after she looked at my mammogram. I insisted in getting an ultrasound, which looked bad, and then I got a needle biopsy the following week.
Q. Following diagnosis, what helped you cope the most, and gave you strength?
A. My friends (they came to treatments and took care of me by cooking for me, doing my laundry and just keeping me company), and co-workers (they were such cheerleaders and volunteered to sleep over my place many evenings)! Also, my doctors were incredibly supportive (always reassuring me that I was doing a great job with treatment). And, therapy (I saw an amazing therapist who specializes in treating cancer patients and their families). Speaking to other survivors was incredibly helpful: that is why I wrote my book…to be there for other women.
Q. How has breast cancer changed your outlook on life?
A. I try to make myself worry less about the little things and feel very appreciative of life. We recently had a talent show at school where I cried when I saw a few girls dancing on the stage….absolute tears of joy. I could not believe how lucky I was to be watching these girls leap through the air. They looked so beautiful in their pink tutus, black tights and pink ribbons in their hair. I realized that my life has gone on, but there is always an homage to how lucky I am to be living, an appreciation that pink ribbons have such a complex meaning to me.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
A. Do your homework and get involved in your treatment options because it will make you feel so much more in control. Get a 2nd and 3rd opinion if you need to (I got 5)!
Q. How has Living Beyond Breast Cancer been helpful to you?
A. The educational programming that LBBC is doing is making me feel that the world will be a better, safer place for women diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition, their goal is to empower all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life. And, I know that feeling the power of their organization, the power of their community, makes me feel that I am not alone in this fight. The organization continues to make me feel like I am part of a huge team in fighting this disease. Also, I really think that LBBC helps people realize how much the families are changed by breast cancer, and the ripple effect of a breast cancer diagnosis on a family. LBBC has shown me how much can be done in the fight against this disease because breast cancer often leaves us feeling so powerless. LBBC is a great example of how much can be done, and how much hope there can be in ending this terrible disease.