I've always been an open book and probably worn my heart on my sleeve, sometimes to my detriment, but most of the time it's been for the best. I believe to some extent, I am a public figure or perhaps better known as a leader, whether it be business or community, so some things might be too personal or harder to share because of my profession and involvement in the community, but I feel that my voice was given to me for a reason, and I know that not everyone has the same voice or feels they can express it.
Sharing my voice hasn't always been easy and it has certainly been used against me more times than I can count, but I still stand strong because I believe in sharing for the greater good. I believe in sharing my experiences in life, in business and family, in the hopes that my words of wisdom and experience can help at least just one person. So, here is my cancer story.
During my 30s, I had gone for a couple elective mammograms. Mammograms are not generally approved until you're 40+ however, with my family history of cancer (breast cancer, ovarian, non-Hodgkin’s, uterine, skin, bone, etc.), my doctor agreed it was best to be proactive. The mammogram images always came back fine.
But then I turned 40. The age when mammograms are allowed. So naturally, being the proactive type, I scheduled it right away and in January 2019, I went for my first official mammogram. And I say first official mammogram because apparently the ones done in my 30s are not actually kept track of which I find a little crazy considering how many women have died of breast cancer well before they ever turned 40 so keeping records, I would think, is good for breast cancer research. And might I add, the government wants to change the age to 50 now which I do not agree with, again given how many don’t survive well before that age from it not being detected early enough, but that’s a whole other issue.
The I’m 40 now mammogram showed a glimmer of something so shortly thereafter I was told that I needed to have further testing. I think an ultrasound was next which showed nothing, so they did a biopsy. That was July 24, 2019. Yes, over 6 months later.
September 6, 2019. I have CANCER. Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).
I might add that was now 9 months after my mammogram. Waiting that long is quite stressful and we all know what stress does to a body…CANCER!!!
Although I’ve been around this disease my whole adult life with my mom, my world still stopped. Everything around me continued but it was like I couldn’t move, react, or even hear anything after CANCER was said. No one ever expects to hear they have CANCER.
My cancer surgeon suggested a partial mastectomy which is where she would remove just a small area of tissue in my right breast. The surgery went well on October 17, 2019. But when they tested the cancer, they missed margins. What this means is that the cancer needs to be a certain distance from the outer edge of the tissue, otherwise, there is likely more cancer.
So, my cancer surgeon suggested another partial mastectomy where she would go in and remove just a little bit more which was done on November 27, 2019. At the time I asked my doctor “What happens if you miss margins again?” Should we not consider having a full mastectomy? I was told this wasn't an option. And once again, the results of the second surgery came back with missed margins so I needed a third partial mastectomy.
Again, I asked, “Should we consider a full mastectomy?” and again I was told it was not an option. So, before just agreeing to surgery #3, I insisted on further testing. Considering my cancer was considered a zero grade and very minor type of breast cancer, this was not sitting well with me. Being put under repeatedly is not good for our brain or body and I was about to be put under for a third time in less than 3 months.
So, I was sent for an ultrasound, MRI, and a CT scan. All of which showed nothing. But margins were still missed on the second partial mastectomy, so they felt there was cancer still in my body and the third partial mastectomy was done on January 3, 2020. Following that, I had a month of radiation in February 2020.
Radiation! Now was that ever an experience that I never want to experience again. The things they don't tell you that radiation does to your body both during treatment and after. I will spare you the gross details. But I survived, and I figured it all out on my own, with the help of friends and family. Radiation was every day except on statutory days, vacations, and weekends because Cancer takes those days off too. 😉 The radiation treatments were less than 10 minutes a day, but they sure wiped out my energy so daily naps (minimum 3 hours) were required. Thankfully my energy returned relatively quickly once radiation was done.
Fast forward six months, September 23, 2020, and it’s time for a follow-up mammogram. Well, the reports were not clear, so another biopsy was done on October 8, 2020.
November 5, 2020. The CANCER IS BACK or perhaps it wasn’t gone at all. Once again, my world completely stopped. How is this possible? And further, we are now in the COVID world, and I had to receive this news without a loved one present…My advice? ALWAYS take someone with you…we do not hear everything we need to hear when given news like this and our surgeons only have so much time with us before the next patient.
After already having radiation, the only option was a full mastectomy which was scheduled for November 24, 2020. At this point, because my cancer was still considered a low-grade cancer but was difficult to detect, I decided that I would have a full double mastectomy because I didn't want to take the chance of it being on the left side and just not knowing it. I also decided I would have the reconstruction done during the same surgery so as to avoid being put under yet again.
So naïve, thinking I would be done. I’d like to say that everything went smoothly after this but, after 4 surgeries, a month of radiation and it returned (or rather still there) within 6 months, that was not the case.
It went from bad to badder (yes, I know not a word) to really bad to extremely bad. Well, I guess not all bad – the left side had no issues but then again, it didn’t have cancer or radiation either.
Shortly after the double mastectomy and reconstruction was done, I found necrosis, what many people will know it as gangrene, which is the death of body tissue when there is too little blood flow to the tissue.
So, on December 10, 2020, surgery #5 was done. The necrosis was removed, the right-side implant that my body rejected was removed, an expander was put in instead of a saline implant and a chuck of my back was taken for tissue to be used on my right breast to replace the tissue that died.
With expanders, the size is slowly increased week by week until it reaches its fullest capacity. Once again, my body rejected this expander, so it was removed on December 23, 2020.
We tried again on February 21, 2021. Surgery #7 was supposed to be a saline implant like my left side, but the plastic surgeon put in an expander once again. And once again, my body rejected it, so it was removed on March 22, 2021.
During these 6 months, I wish I could say that I was just in and out of surgery but that was not the case. I also had infection after infection. One of the infections I had is generally only known to be found in human bite…now we all know that no one in the OR was biting or drooling on me so how did this happen?!?! Were the tools or room not cleaned properly? Who really knows!!! All I know is that I was so incredibly sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. An infectious disease specialist had to be brought in during this time to make sure I had the proper antibiotics.
And finally on April 29, 2021, surgery #9 was successful (somewhat) with a new saline implant. And then the road to recovery was finally on the horizon. The light was at the end of the tunnel.
After being so sick for so long (which had me bedridden), I no longer had the strength to walk, not even from my bedroom to my kitchen or living room. Slowly but surely in July 2021, I started walking a little bit more and more each day. It’s now been just over 2 years since my last surgery, and I am back to working out 6-7 days a week again. My strength is still very limited, especially my upper body, which will likely always be that way now, but I am healthier than I have ever been…I can even piggyback my daughter, Amelia.
And as I write this, over 2 years later, I am still waiting on surgery #10 so they can fix some things that are just not right. Who knows when that will happen as I keep getting told “tomorrow”. With implants having a shelf life of about 10 years, I’m guessing the corrections will be done when the replacements are put in. 😉
So that is my Breast Cancer Journey thus far…or at least the medical side of it.
Through it all, I was still a business owner too. With over 1,000 clients needing support, especially during tax season plus the COVID trials and tribulations for families and small businesses, I was fortunate to have such amazing staff and colleagues to help ensure my business survived and my clients were looked after. Not one tax filing was filed late, I might add. Clients were extremely supportive too. As they say, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When I was finally on the road to recovery, I realized that cancer was a blessing in disguise. It was a message that I needed to hear. I was overworking myself for far too many years and not spending enough time with my family and friends. It was a true wakeup call and as hard as it was to say goodbye to many long-time clients who had become more than just clients, this became the time to downsize my business and refocus on my health and family while supporting a much smaller client base.
As I said before, I have a voice and believe it should be used in the hopes that it might help someone else in a journey of their own. Here are my takeaways from this journey.
- Advocate for yourself. ALWAYS. And this is not just with medical stuff but CRA (because I am an accountant after all so had to share that one) and everything else that comes your way. You are your best advocate and if you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.
- When in doubt, always call your doctor or go to the ER. Surgeons are great at doing surgery but in my experience, the aftercare should be handled by someone else. Not only so the surgeon can move on to the next patient who needs them in the operating room but wound care, infections, and such is just not their specialty. Or you get blocked by their Medical Office Assistants (MOAs) who think nothing is ever urgent. Although that might be true most of the time, it is not always and when necrosis/gangrene sets in, you need someone now which is your GP, ER, nurse friends, etc.
- Positive Attitude. Ya, sure, this journey really and truly sucked. But there was no option in giving up. One day at a time. One minute at a time. I got through this because I was always positive and always looking forward.
- Cancer was not a scary word in my house. Not only has my mom had it many times but our families are much stronger than we often give them credit for and it’s how we communicate these things with our kids which helps them get through it too. My kids never feared that I would not survive because I openly communicated with them about everything that was happening and always kept a positive outlook about it. There was no reason for them to fear because I didn’t fear regardless of how sick I was.
- Rally your people. Cancer is not a journey that any of us ever want to go on. But if you are going to go on it, take your people with you. You will also find some people are no longer your people and you will gain new people. There were many middle of the night freezies (the giant ones) and other treats delivered, comfort gifts, middle of the night calls and texts, especially with my friends in nursing. Reach out. Don’t go through this battle alone. If it weren’t for all the amazing people in my life, I'm truly not sure where I would be right now. To my family and my people, you all know who you are, thank you will never be enough.
- BC needs better Breast Cancer support for us patients. We need a team of doctors, nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, and more who all work together from the time of diagnosis to the complete and full recovery. Our system segregates every part of this process. No one talks to each other, and you are left in the dark to navigate what is next. Ontario has such a thing with their Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and BC should too!! Recently, Eagle Ridge Hospital started a pilot project for this so hopefully, Fraser Health will allow it to stay. After all that I went through, IMO, cancer gets enough PR and donations, we need a breast cancer clinic. If you agree and want to support this with me, for future breast cancer patients, please consider donating to ERHF and designating the donation to “Sharon Perry’s Breast Cancer Clinic”. I don’t expect it to be named after me (although one can always dream) but this will at least help the Foundation track the donations for this specific need at Eagle Ridge Hospital.
Although I truly hope this helps you or someone you know who might be facing a challenging journey, writing, and sharing this has been a healing process for me so thank you for following along. I wish for nothing less than health and happiness for all.