Battled Cancer and Survived
Name: Megan Cullinan
Occupation: Bank Manager/Voice Teacher
Website: rebelcancerwar.wordpress.com, sparkofhopepod.com
1. When were you diagnosed with breast cancer, and how did you find out? Tell our readers about your journey.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2016. Almost three years ago now! I visited my primary care physician after my gynecologist brushed off my concern of a lump. About five days after my mammogram and biopsy, I received a call from my doctor that I had breast cancer.
2. How did you feel when you heard the words “breast cancer”?
I was in complete shock. At 35 and with no immediate family history of breast cancer, I was at a low risk of getting cancer. I went through stages of shame, disbelief, devastation, hopelessness, and grief. It was a combination of emotions that plagued me for a while. This was something that I had convinced myself would never happen to me. But it did and it turned my life upside down.
3. I can’t imagine how you felt emotionally. Who or what did you turn to for support?
I internalize my emotions a lot. I really had to work through all of my feelings on my own. I’m not the type of person who seeks support with a group of people so I didn’t attempt to seek out other cancer patients who had or were going through the same thing. Cancer is an incredibly personal journey and unique to each person. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like I could value support from others, it was just that it was not a comfortable approach for me. Eventually I started my blog chronicling my cancer journey, and that became very therapeutic for me.
That being said, I had the incredible support of my husband, family, and friends. I always had someone go to my major treatments with me, which were full day adventures every three weeks. After I dealt with the really difficult feelings, I was able to find the hope and positivity I needed to fight. In turn, that is how everyone else treated it. And my group of doctors and nurses were incredible as well. My questions were always listened to and answered, even if I asked them the same thing over and over!
4. How did you overcome your fears of treatments? Of the possibility of death?
It was about a week after my diagnosis when I found out the stage of my cancer and my treatment plan. I was ready to get everything going, but also more frustrated. Because I had that feeling of shame, I wanted very few people to know as possible so I was hoping my plan would consist of just surgery. That was not the case! Even though I was early stage 2, the type of breast cancer I had (HER2+/ER+) was more aggressive and I had to go through the gamut of treatments: chemo, surgery, and radiation over the course of a year. I was mostly worried about the side effects of my treatments. And I ended up facing a lot of things I never would have imagined. It was more than just losing my hair… I lost my sense of taste and I could barely eat. I was so tired and my eyes would water and my nose would run all the time! I went through treatments during the holidays and it was very difficult to really enjoy anything. I often became very placid and my anxiety flared up often. When I was alone, I would let myself deal with my feelings and I would just cry. I had to let myself be angry and frustrated and scared. And then I had to move on from those feelings so I could continue my journey with hope and positivity.
I was fearful of death in the beginning but thankfully that became a background thought during the course of my treatments. Unfortunately, I think about it a lot more now. There is some fear of a cancer recurrence but mostly the fear is that I won’t accomplish my goals before I am no longer able to.
5. YOU SURVIVED!!!! Are you living life differently?
I definitely work through tough or frustrating situations with an overall positive attitude and I try not to let the little things bother me. I’ve always been an emotional person and I always will be but I have a better handle on reigning those in. I am also really good at convincing myself not to do things and I am getting a lot better with letting myself enjoy life by doing the things that I love and just taking a chance. I have to work on it everyday though and sometimes it is a challenge. I often get very emotional when I think back on that time and the fact that I have not yet healed completely. And I may never heal completely but I know that I survived it and that I’m a lot stronger than I thought!
6. You are also a blogger and podcaster. Tell us more about that.
Like I said, I tend to convince myself to not do things and I’ve always been interested in blogging and podcasting. So for all the bad things cancer did to me, it did give me some good things and that was the kick in the butt to start my blog and podcast. I realized it wasn’t about how many people read my blog or listened to my podcast, it was about sharing my story so that perhaps someone could find hope and positivity in an incredibly difficult situation of their own.
7. What advice would you have for other women/men who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer?
Cancer is awful and scary. There is no getting around that. BUT the best way to defeat it is to fight with all you have and be hopeful. And also to deal with your negative feelings by writing or talking to someone or just crying! That will give you the ability to move forward. And acceptance is a huge step. That was something I was able to do early on and it truly helped get me though that time and it helps me now as I heal. Bad things happen and you can’t change that. But what you can do is accept that it happened and move forward from it. I will never forget what I’ve gone through but I can learn and grow from it and I hope others can do the same.