As October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Ms. Sandee Thompson, a single 53 year old woman who has been in Qatar for three years, agreed to share her story about her experience as a breast cancer patient. She is an EFL Instructor at the College of the North Atlantic, Qatar and this is her second experience of breast cancer. She received her treatment at the National Cancer Care Center and Research at Hamad Medical Corporation.
Ms. Sandee is a two-time breast cancer survivor. What that means, as she puts it, is that she has travelled to the edge and back again, twice. At the time of her first diagnosis, she was in the middle of a huge life transition. During her second diagnosis, she was living in a foreign country and didn’t know how to navigate the medical system. Both were learning experiences for her and she has come out of them even stronger than when she went in.
Her breast cancer, and its recurrence, was discovered through routine mammograms. Both times, the radiologist noticed a small spec on the film. She was lucky that they were spotted as both times the cancer was less than 1cm in size, which could have easily been missed because of their location. Fortunately, she was very intuitive and the wobbly smiles the radiologists gave her when they said ‘good-bye’ sent her running to a bookstore to do research. In both cases she was on the operating table within two months of her mammogram.
In 2010, she had a lumpectomy, radiation and started on tamoxifen - an anti-estrogen medication. She was taken off it three months later because it caused a blood clot. The second surgery was a bilateral mastectomy and included new medication. She chose a bilateral mastectomy rather than a single mastectomy because she did not want any chance of the cancer returning. She also had been a 34DDD and the thought of being really lopsided was an emotional trip she did not want to take. Mostly what she felt was, “If her breasts were trying to kill her, she wanted them off… now!”
She had the bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in Hamad General Hospital under the care of Senior Consultant Dr. Salahddin A. Gehani, and his surgical team. The reconstruction process started off slowly because she experienced an infection that lasted a couple of months. However, seven months later they exchanged expanders for silicone implants. She said: “Despite it sounding glamorous, in reality it is far from it. I was still ‘under construction’ and will be for the better part of a year as they try to even my breasts out, and, if I decide to go ahead with it, create nipples with tattoo areolas. I like to think of myself as a work of art, changing every day. All I really want now is for things to be as normal as possible, that’s why I like to talk openly and honestly about my experience”.
Ms. Sandee stayed in Doha after her diagnosis because she has a large support system of friends and colleagues here. She knew she could work through whatever treatment was deemed best for her and she lives near the hospital. She said; “Staying here was the right choice for me. Advanced Clinical Nurse Specialist, and the nurses in Ward 8 South have all been fabulous. They are taking great care of me. Cathie is there for me at every turn and has kept a very close eye on me, especially when I had the infections. I found a great Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) massage therapist and went to the Physiotherapy Department at the NCCCR immediately following surgery to help me heal”.
Ms. Sandee continues: “Cancer does not have to be the big scary elephant in the room. It needs to be talked about openly, honestly and without embarrassment. This is how we will beat breast cancer. This is how we can survive and this is how we live”. She added: “My advice to other survivors and newly diagnosed people is to live their life as largely as possible, ask lots of questions and do not be afraid. This is possible. You have GOT THIS!”
In an attempt to build an active breast cancer support network in Doha, Ms. Sandee has started a dragon boat team for survivors and supporters. In fact, survivors of all cancers are welcome. Contact Sandee directly for more information at email@example.com