Though October is almost over, it is still Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we are shining a light on those women who have experienced or who are currently undergoing treatments for breast cancer. We asked Rethink Breast Cancer to link us with women who wanted to tell their stories.
Meet Billie Fordham. “When I’m not at work or raising my four-year-old son you can find me at a spin class, trying a new recipe, on a hiking trail, or at camp. If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be sarcastic. I also love to laugh and I’m the person you call at 2 a.m. when you need help.”
I was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, one of the most beautiful places you can find on Lake Superior. Thankfully, we are surrounded by nature here because we enjoy a great deal of outdoor activities. Before cancer hit, I worked as a service coordinator for a Home Health Care Company with an amazing group of people.
I found my lump after I had lost 30 lbs. I was in a great exercise routine and really strict with my diet—probably for the first time since before my son was born. Christmas had just passed and we were getting ready for my thirty-fourth birthday and my son’s fourth birthday. I felt shocked. I’m still in a state of shock, and it’s been eight months since I left the hospital that day with stage 3C triple negative breast cancer. Anxiety was another big emotion for me. It’s still something I’m struggling with almost daily.
Because my tumour was over 8 cm by the time I got my diagnosis, it was decided that I start chemo to try to shrink it. I did eight rounds of dose-dense chemotherapy. Then I was given my surgical option—a bilateral mastectomy, which I wanted from the day I got my diagnosis, and I chose not to do any reconstruction. I’m currently undergoing radiation, and then I’ll be having a bilateral oophorectomy to lower my chances of ovarian cancer.
Chemotherapy was the hardest for me. I didn’t have awful side effects, but I spent a lot of time alone at home, which definitely was hard for me since I was always very busy and worked full time. For the most part, I kept a very positive attitude and outlook; however, chemo plays with your emotions. There were definitely a lot of dark days during those eighteen weeks.
When I got diagnosed, my mom said, “When you get through this, you’re going to see things much more clearly.” I didn’t really understand what she meant by it at the time, but it really makes sense now. I see life in a different way. We only get this one life, and I don’t want to have any regrets. I was very shy, self-cautious and introverted, and it prevented me from doing things and being the woman I wanted to be. I’m definitely much more outgoing now. I have written articles about my cancer journey and volunteered for cancer awareness events. I have these moments that come out of nowhere and it hits me—holy, I had cancer! Also, my anxiety is not as intense since I received word that I am now NED (no evidence of disease). My attitude has definitely changed. I’m much more positive and don’t let the little things stress me out anymore. I will never thank cancer for anything, but I’m grateful the journey made me realize I deserve so much more out of life.
I’m looking forward to spending lots of time at camp next summer with my son. It’s his favourite place, and unfortunately we didn’t get out much last year. I’m also looking forward to possibly going back to school and making a huge career change. I have always had a list of goals and things I would like to do. I plan to actually start checking things off of that list. And I’m hopeful that the research trials I have agreed to be a part of will help women in the future with better treatments or better cures.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, my first piece of advice is to find a support group. My saving grace through this journey was the Rethink Breast Cancer Facebook group, as well as our local breast cancer support group. Being able to talk with other people who have been through cancer and “get it” can make a huge difference. These women become a part of your extended family. I have made lifelong friendships with people I have never actually met.
Second is to try to prepare yourself for lost relationships. I had a lot of friends who couldn’t be around me because, in their words, “the situation is too real.” Cancer is scary and some people just can’t handle it. You need to be prepared that some relationships will not be there through this. That being said, get ready to gain relationships! Some people truly care and step right in when others can’t.
Third, don’t be a hero. Take the extra medication if you need it, tell your medical team about any changes, and most of all, have someone with you at every appointment. Cancer treatments and appointments are overwhelming, and if you have someone with you, they can help you remember your questions and take notes for you.
I never expected this to be my story until all of a sudden it was. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you or a loved one. Please be proactive about your health.