Breast cancer: 12 months in 12 minutes

by Thursday, August 14th, 2014Breast Cancer34 comments

Today marks one year since being diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember it was a very nice day much like today. It was kind of hard to enjoy because we knew the call could come, but as the day went on I didn’t think it was going to happen. The call came around 3:45 p.m. and it could have gone either way. It was just so surreal when the radiologist said, “Yeah, the biopsy shows that there are cancer cells”. I sat on the bed with Mark by my side trying to grasp what was being said. I hung the phone up, and all I remember is we just sat there and held each other and cried. I guess I must have made a few phone calls to our families but that all seems a blur to me. The one strong memory that I do have is that Mark needed to be right next to me all night. If he was across the room he just didn’t seem to be close enough to me.

A couple nights after we got the news, Karen and Kevin invited us out to their house for dinner. We went out on their boat and listened to Tig Notaro LIVE with new, heightened appreciation.

Going through all of this has been exhausting, draining, and very emotional. I didn’t think it was going to be such a long process. I’m not sure what I expected.



I knew I would have to go through chemo (5 months), and that I would lose all my hair, that I would have a mastectomy. I didn’t expect to have emergency surgery due to a staph infection and then have 6 weeks of antibiotics administered through a PICC line in my arm.

I did plan on 6 weeks of radiation, 25 treatments to the whole chest wall on my right side and then 5 boost treatments to the incision area where the tumor and lymph nodes were removed. What I didn’t expect was that twenty days after radiation ended, I would have to have surgery to have the tissue expander in my right breast removed because of the reaction to the skin on that radiated breast.

So now that leaves me with one expander on my left side. I will have the right breast back once my final reconstruction is completed next year. I guess I was kind of naive to think that I wouldn’t have any complications. My mind was just focused on getting rid of the cancer, and I didn’t give much thought to what else could happen.

Breast cancer patient Amy Czerniec in Racine, Wisconsin at sunset
Putting this video together, it’s been interesting to see my transformation. I want my old hair back. When I was diagnosed I felt like I was in the best shape I had been in for a very long time. I think that somehow my body was telling me, “Get into good shape, because you’re going to need it.” Since going through my treatments and surgeries, I have gained some weight and haven’t been able to exercise like I did. I feel so out of shape. Just when I think I can start exercising like I used to, something goes wrong. Looking back at all this footage, I know I can do it again.

One of the biggest things I never thought of was how depression can take hold after cancer treatments. I had never experienced depression before my cancer diagnosis. It’s really something to have to deal with. I know I just need to take it one day at a time, and try to quiet that voice in my head. I need to keep an open conversation with Mark, or whoever else is around. When I close up and don’t communicate is when I feel the worst.



I believe that sharing my story through my blog has helped me to cope with all of this. I have been able to communicate to my family and friends what I am going through, and how things are progressing. One thing I really never thought of was all the great connections that I would make with other women (or couples) around the world who have either been where I was, or are going through a cancer diagnosis at the same time. That has made me feel so strong and happy to be alive.

In the meantime, my hair is coming back slowly but surely (or should I say curly?). I walked in my first Relay for Life event. I will be getting my stitches out next week. For sure, I will be getting out for more walks and back on the bike and, who knows, maybe out for a run sometime soon. I am really ready to get back to how things used to be.

34 Comments
  1. janet

    Amy and Mark-All I can say is that I love you both, and wept from a distance when I saw Dr. Mark ministering, Amy choking back fears and tears, and when I saw your face drain of energy. I also cheered your iron will, determination, and resolve about the pain. Your sharing, I hope, has been catharsis for you; for us, who watch you two navigate, it has been an inspiration. Health is ahead, and energy, and peace. Love to you, and hope and wishes. XO

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Janet we both love you too. You have been such a wonderful supporter of mine from the beginning. I want you to know how much I appreciate all of your kind words. Your comments are always so heartfelt and make me cry.

      Health energy and peace to you as well.

      Reply
  2. Jean

    xx, cousin jeannie

    Reply
  3. Scott Blitstein

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I think you and Mark are so amazingly strong and brave for not only facing this head on but also to document your experience. My mom had her similar surgery in June and so much of what you shared resonated with what she experienced. She is enjoying her new hair, deciding to keep it short and with her natural gray remaining uncolored.

    I wish you only the very best as you continue on your journey – you are an inspiration.

    Scott

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Scott thank you for your very kind comment.

      I wish the best for your mom. I too might keep my hair short. I was really hoping that my hair would come back gray. Good for her.

      Reply
  4. Kathy

    So proud of you, and the love that your blog shows between You and Mark is so sweet!

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Yeah Kathy I feel pretty darn lucky to have such a great guy that loves me. It seems like our love for each other keeps growing stronger each day.

      Reply
  5. Nancy

    Wow Amy! What a year it has been for you! I have to say, you’ve done great! I’m so proud of you! Thank you so much for sharing this journey. Truly, you have lifted me up in ways I’ll never be able to express to you. I feel so blessed to have found your blog. Very soon, all of this will be behind you! Don’t worry about the weight…it will come off again. Just make sure to allow your body time to recover between these events. You’ve got more surgery on the horizon…just keep doing what you’re doing! Keeping you and Mark in my thoughts and prayers!

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Nancy what a wonderful comment. You make me feel so good. I am glad you find my blog helpful.

      It does feel good to have all of this behind me and I can look forward to my body healing and getting back to normal.

      Reply
  6. karen elderbrook

    Amy,as i watch your video I can’t imagine going through this myself. You are such a strong person,just like our mom.Iam so very proud of you.May you always know that you can count on me.I wish nothing but good things for you and mark.I love you both very much.Know that i keep you both in my prayers.Love always your sister Karen

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Thanks Karen, you’re the best! :) I love you too.

      Reply
  7. Rosi Geyer

    Hi Amy, what an inspiration you are! Vaclav and I wish you the very best as you continue on this journey and please know that you and Mark are in our thoughts. We hope that if you ever travel to Europe again you’ll stop by to visit with us in Frankfurt. Big hug!

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Rosi thanks for checking in. Mark and I have so many fond memories of our time spent with you and Vaclav. We will never forget about the baby. :)

      Big hugs to the two of you.

      Reply
  8. Jennifer DeCristoforo

    Hello Amy,
    What a moving and personal video of your journey. It helped me mark and appreciate the 5 months since my diagnosis. Sometimes day to day we feel beaten down but your documented year is so inspiring and reminds me that we are heroes to get through this! Thank you….

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Jennifer – I am so glad we have become friends through my blog. You are constantly in my thoughts as you continue your journey.

      Thank you for your inspiration and friendship.

      Reply
  9. Katerine

    Amy, it has been so helpful to watch your videos and get all that information from you. Also, it’s good to know I’m not alone in grieving over my hair and feeling depressed.
    I’ve had a DIEP-flap and am half way through chemo now (first EC, now Taxol). Initially I was diagnosed with DCIS, but after a macrometastasis was discovered in my SLN, further analysis of my removed breast showed a small tumor after all. :(
    I think you’re really pretty with your big blue eyes, and the short hair–even the bald head, believe it or not–suits you very well. I know how much you long after your own hair, because so do I. I have a love-hate relationship with my wig.
    I’m presently trying to get more active again. Like you, I’ve gained weight and I resent it. I was really fit before the cancer.
    Oh gosh, what we have to go through. Stay strong Amy, I’ll be here to read you. x

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Katerine, It is so nice to hear from yet another strong vibrant woman who has been inflicted with this life changing diagnosis. I am so sorry that you too are going through the depression and disruption in your fitness routine. I felt I was on such a great fitness streak and all I could remember was how I didn’t want myself to get so diverted. Well, it happened — and all I can say is we both attained fitness before and we can do it again! :)

      Thank you for your kind words. I really enjoyed being bald but am ready for my old hair. I did have fun with all of the different wigs that I was lucky to have borrowed from women in my support group, but it gets old after a while. I keep getting reassured from other women who have been through this that my old hair will come back in time. It’s funny, I keep having dreams of my hair being at shoulder length. Is that happening to you too?

      I hope the best for you as you continue on with your treatments. I hope your side effects are minor. Stay strong.

      Thanks again for sharing what you’re going through. XO

      Reply
      • Katerine

        Dear Amy, dreaming about hair seems a recurring theme with a lot of women, but I don’t have them yet. I’m sure it’ll happen to me though.
        May I ask, in the video above, is that your hair or is it a wig? I hope it’s your hair, because the length of it–assuming it’s new growth since your last chemo in February, 6 months ago–is very encouraging.

        Reply
        • Amy Czerniec

          Hi Katerine, in the video at 7 minutes and 13 seconds in, I show you the little bit of growth of my hair. That was on March 6th and there are no wigs after that. The last shot of my hair in this video was on July 31st. I have been taking a 5000 mcg tablet of Biotin daily because I heard from others that it will help in the growth of my hair and nails. I guess it’s working. I can’t believe how different the texture of my hair is. It reminds me of a 1980s tight curly perm. :) Mark keeps reassuring me that it looks cute though.

          Reply
          • Katerine

            Dear Amy, I’ve dreamt of my hair coming back! ;p
            It was about 10 cm long and I was SO happy to feel it in my neck. So there we are, I’ve started dreaming about hair.

            I love your original straight hair and totally understand you’re not happy with the curls, although honestly, your husband is right and it looks very cute on you. I keep thinking I’ll look ridiculous with a perm and am hoping it won’t happen to me but that seems fortuitous.

            Because I’ve read so much about you, maybe you’d like to know some more about me. Here’s my journey for you:
            http://silvercooky.blogspot.be/p/my-breast-cancer.html

            x
            Katerine

          • Amy Czerniec

            Ah the dreams are happening a little sooner for you. I know what you mean about missing the hair brushing the back of your neck. I am looking forward to that again. My curls seem to be getting tighter as each day goes by. :( Oh well, at least it coming back just as thick as it always was. I have heard from other women where theirs came back thiner. Yikes!!

            Thank you so much for sharing your blog with me. It always helps to know that other women are out there going through the same crap.

            You are so beautiful and I love the wig. I bet you’re just as gorgeous without it. :)

            XO
            Amy

  10. Karen Fleming

    Hi Amy and Mark,

    What a nice compilation of Amy’s videos. You showed the clip on our boat when you were both over a day or so after Amy was diagnosed, and we were listening to Tig Nataro. We all cried together – wait I don’t really remember Amy crying. If I remember correctly Amy, you said you were curious to experience chemo, radiation, etc (not surprising :) ). For me that day was one of the saddest days in my life. And here we are one year later. We’ve watched you both remain strong through chemo, hair loss, drains and infections. I’ll speak for myself in saying that I feel stronger as a result. Not just because I know more about cancer thanks to the two of you, but because I have spent a year now watching the two of you pick up the pieces and move on. One year later and today is a great day – who would have thought?

    Love you both,

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Yeah Karen I guess you can call me curious George. That was the one strong feeling I had in those early days of my diagnosis. That night on your boat was very special and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

      You have been just the absolute greatest during this past year. Having you by our side (and I mean that literally) has been very comforting for me and Mark. You were the one who encouraged us that we would make it through. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend and sister in-law.

      We both love you so very much.

      Reply
  11. Melissa Laughlin

    Wow, one year…you’re a warrior girl! You have been through so much. I’m so happy you have Mark there by your side. You two are a power couple. You’re strength and courage throughout has been amazing. Be kind to yourself. If I know you, you will be back working out as soon as your body tells you its time. You are so in tune with yourself…keep listening to your body.

    I love you and, as always, I’m thinking of you and cheering you on!

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Melissa, having Mark as my partner has been the real strength for me. I know I wouldn’t have as much courage without his love and care.. I feel very fortunate.

      I need to be patient with myself I know, it just gets to be a little frustrating sometimes.

      Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts. I love you.

      Reply
  12. Amy Evans

    Hey Amy!
    I can’t believe it’s been a year but even more than that, I can’t believe how you handled that year. I’m a blubbering idiot over here just watching a glimpse of what you’ve been through. The fact that you could talk about everything on camera like that is foreign to me. You are so graceful and strong. I love you so much and miss you terribly. I just can’t wait for you to start writing that cookbook we talked about. Go Fuck Yourself Cancer is sure to be a best seller!

    Love you to pieces,
    Amy

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Amy — you crack me up. I love to cook but I am not one to create things on my own.
      I miss you so much and will never forget all the great times we had together. This year has surely been a trip.

      I hope you, Alex, and the kids had a great summer.

      I love you so much.

      Reply
  13. Linda Surratt

    I love you my friend. I hope I have half, a fourth, a tenth, of your courage if ever I get into that kind of situation.

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Linda — Thank you for all of your love and support. You are one of the strongest most wonderful women I know. I love you.

      Reply
  14. Katerine

    Amy, I can’t reply to your replies anymore. At what point do you think you might be able to straighten out the curls with a hot iron? I mean, that’s something I’m thinking about already.
    A fellow Taxol-friend at the hospital just wrote to me saying her hair started to grow back on the 8th round of Taxol. How great is that… cheered me up no end.
    As to my blog: I’ve just decided to turn it private and left a final open entry. I hope to welcome you among my readers.
    x
    Katerine

    Reply
    • Amy Czerniec

      Katerine, It’s funny you talk about a hot iron that crossed my mind last night when I combed my hair out. I think it might be just about there without me burning my scalp. :) Your friend is right, I had my hair growing back a tiny bit while I was still getting the last of my Taxol.

      As for your blog, I would love to be among your invited readers.

      Take care my friend.
      XO
      Amy

      Reply
      • Katerine

        Thanks, Amy!
        Can I have your email addres–I need to add it to the readers’ list.
        Good news: my head is starting to sprout. The peach fuzz is coming out. :)

        Reply
  15. T Wessel

    Thank you for sharing. Sometimes this feels like a lonely journey. I’m 8 weeks post BMX. Your sharing was really helpful.

    Reply

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