Survivor Stories

Janis' Cancer Journey

“ I’m a completely different person. I was so close to giving up, and this was my last hope. ”

Janis

They gave me several diagnoses, and the last one was stage 3 breast cancer with lymphatic involvement. I went to have a mammogram – I had not had a mammogram in about three years because I did not have health insurance, but before that, I had my mammograms religiously every year. When I went, I just knew that something was wrong. They came out and said, “we want you to have more test done” and I was officially diagnosed on October 23, 2013. At first, it was diagnosed as stage 2 breast cancer, and I thought “that’s no problem, I can handle that.” Later it was diagnosed as a stage three with lymphatic involvement.

We started the treatment and I was scheduled for 6 months of the “red devil chemo”. They call it the red devil because it’s the most effective chemo available and the subsequent reactions are horrible. After the third round of the red devil, my skin came off one night in bed. I couldn’t walk anymore. At my next appointment, I told them that we need to change the treatment because I couldn’t do it anymore, I was dying. I was pretty sick throughout the chemo and had my plan b in place. I was planning on going to Ecuador and retiring there at 63 and I thought to myself “I may not be going to Ecuador but think about the trip I’m going to have.” I had really come face to face with my mortality.

At this point, the cancer tumor had shrunk by 90% so they were able to change my chemo to something milder. I slowly regained my strength and I made a turn for the better. I felt like I was going to live. The next step was the radiation, which was optional, but I was so angry with the cancer at that time I decided to go forward with the radiation. I had 35 rounds of radiation and compared to the red devil; it was nothing. I got through that and had to wait for the skin to heal for the reconstruction surgery. I had a double mastectomy and diep flap reconstruction. I told the plastic surgeon “If I’m going to be dead in three years, I don’t want to have this done” and he said, “Janice, I have a feeling you will be around for a long long time.” That involved two surgeries 8-10 hours each.

Once I was healed for the surgery, I packed up my bags and headed to Ecuador where I lived for 4 ½ years. After about three years I started having really bad neuropathy symptoms and about six months ago I started developing lymphedema. I saw many doctors in Ecuador who wanted me to use a cane, and another one said I had scoliosis, and I knew that was not it. I came back home to the states for help. I was looking for help for 3-4 months and the pain was just indescribable. I went through my insurance company and was sent to a physical therapy place that I knew couldn’t address my needs.

I finally found the Touro Cancer Rehab Center for post-cancer treatment, which was exactly what I needed. I was in so much pain and I don’t even remember what I told them when I first met them because I was so discouraged. This place has literally been a lifesaver for me. I’m so much more mobile, the pain is ¾ of the way gone and the treatment has really been a big factor in that. I can feel my arms tingling, I’m walking better. It’s a combination of the Anodyne Therapy and the exercises we’re doing here. It’s night and day, I’m a completely different person. I was so close to giving up, and this was my last hope.

I am more than a survivor; I am a writer and an activist.