My nurse navigator suggested I not mention the “C” word to my children as it is often scary to little people. At the time, Lucy and George were ages six and three, respectively. I thought, “Well, I’m scared, too!” Thankfully, my journey ended on a positive note and with an unyielding passion to help and educate others facing breast cancer. It is very scary and overwhelming for the patient but also for her children, spouse, siblings, family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Everyone you know is impacted in some way and fear is often one of the emotions expressed.
My story began in July 2020. I remember it clearly because it was the week of my 43rd birthday, and as I put on a bathing suit, I noticed an odd lump. The tsunami effect of the pandemic had already disrupted my somewhat predictable life, and I thought it could not get any worse — but I was wrong. The mass felt like Silly Putty, and after consulting my sister who has a healthcare background, I decided to have it checked out. My two previous negative mammograms no longer mattered.
Fast forward to the call on Aug. 12 as I was sitting in the hospital lobby in Evansville waiting for my mom to come out of surgery for glioblastoma. Yes, she had brain cancer that was unexpectedly diagnosed on July 31, 2020. Following her surgery, we had a tough, emotional, challenging, and memorable 16 months together that I will cherish forever. Initially, I didn’t share my diagnosis with my parents because I felt they had enough worries to focus on and I did not want to distract from mom’s treatment. Additional testing and medical visits came up at an exhausting rate: breast MRI, genetic testing, appointments with my breast surgeon, oncologist, plastic surgeon, psychologist, and back to gynecology to have my IUD removed (tumors that are hormone responsive need the supply of hormones to them shut off as soon as possible; this could be birth control pills, hormone patches, or IUDs.) I wish there was a way to give patients immediate results before leaving appointments because the horrible mental game of “what if” ensues and is certainly the root of much anxiety.
My surgeon recommended a double mastectomy due to the size of the mass and the hormone-positive receptor status. Thankfully, early detection removed radiation and chemotherapy from the treatment plan, however I tallied up ten surgeries in the past 24 months, including an ablation with testing of an ovarian cyst to ensure the cancer had not spread. My last (and hopefully, final!) surgery was on Aug. 11, 2022, and I’ve since been released from my plastic surgeon. Finally, I’m cancer free and feel good about the way my reconstructed breasts look. As I take a deep breath and celebrate that success, I also recognize that every breast cancer journey is different. I have friends who choose to be “Flatties,” friends facing Stage Four, and friends who are just starting the process with the anticipation of a surgery date next month. My heart is heavy as I mail their care packages, write notes of encouragement, and offer a listening ear. While I know each journey is unique and each of us experiences varying challenges, I feel hopeful that some of the wisdom that I have gained can be useful to others.
As a patient, we don’t have all the answers. It’s difficult to comprehend all the information doctors and nurses provide. For a recovering control freak like myself, I found the waiting and unknown debilitating. My stress and anxiety multiplied exponentially throughout the past two years. I was continually on and off work, yet very thankful for the flexibility and support of my employer, Buckingham. I was prescribed hormone blocker medication to put me in early menopause, which equates to poor sleep, headaches, weight gain, and so many more unpleasant effects. The combination of instant menopause and “what-if-itis” changed me. I didn’t discipline my children well and instead chose to hide in my bedroom away from the noise. I had a ten-pound lifting restriction after every surgery and couldn’t pick up my baby when he needed me. I was short-tempered with my husband, yet he stuck by my side and I’m so grateful he remained steadfast throughout a tumultuous 24 months. I avoided people when I was feeling low and tried to hold it together and be present in my life. I didn’t read a single book that was gifted to me, and I missed working out and feeling strong in my body and in my mind.
My mindset has finally shifted, and I feel more like “Becca.” I will continue to have a voice helping others and back organizations offering programs and resources for breast cancer patients. In Indianapolis, I support I.W.I.N. (Indiana Women in Need) Foundation and Indianapolis BRA Day. What’s next? I’m focusing on all aspects of my health and a renewed commitment to my family. My mom taught me well, and I’ll channel her big Christian heart and positive spirit for years to come.
Becca Manolov is the curator and facilitator of engaging Buckingham’s team members through employee experience and events. She has a passion for personalized service, connecting people and creating memories. Prior to joining Buckingham, she was the director of membership sales for LA Inc., the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau and served in various tourism roles in San Diego. In 2012, she was selected as a member of the Indiana Business Journal’s “Forty under 40” and has received Buckingham’s Productive Thinker and Outstanding Performer Awards of Excellence. Of all her accomplishments, Becca is most grateful for her husband, Manny, and two children, Lucy and George.