Stories From Wildfire: A 9 Year Survivor Turned CEO Looks Back
The words “I’m sorry, you have breast cancer” are words I never thought I would hear, yet, here I was, in my surgeon’s rooms, hearing these very words. That phrase struck fear into me. I felt so many emotions and cried. I felt that my body betrayed me despite my efforts to take care of it and lead a healthy lifestyle.
I remember walking home, crying. I remember it was raining and it felt like the gods above were crying with me. That day was the day my world, my life, changed. That day was Friday, 18 April 2008.
If you told me 9 years ago that I would be alive and well, I don’t know if I would have believed you. When I was diagnosed, I had celebrated my 37th birthday a few months earlier. When I was diagnosed, I was unsure I was going to see my next birthday, let alone make it to my next milestone birthday, my 40th. I now celebrate every birthday with a grateful heart that I have been blessed with another year.
My cancer was aggressive and I had two tumors. I made the decision to follow my surgeon’s advice. I had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction of my left breast. I also had 5 months of chemo which included 4 cycles of AC and 12 cycles of Taxol. I am currently taking tamoxifen for 10 years… only a few more years left.
Cancer and its treatment is harsh. It is harsh on the body and it is harsh on the soul. When I finished my chemo treatment, I wanted to heal myself from the trauma of breast cancer, its treatment and side effects. I also wanted to appear ‘normal’ again. That is, I wanted to see myself again in the mirror not the breast cancer patient who was bloated and overweight, bald and extremely unfit.
I used a variety of activities to help me heal physically and emotionally from the side-effects of treatment. It was truly the first time in my life (beside treatment) where I focused on myself entirely; and honestly it felt weird to focus purely on myself but it also felt great! I hired a personal trainer and worked with him 3 days a week for the entire year. I loved it! It was great having a having personal trainer focused on me with the aim of returning me to fitness levels (and above) what I had before cancer. One of the reasons I chose to have a personal trainer and not join a gym was motivation. I knew if I had a gym membership I would find every excuse possible not to go, but if I had a trainer waiting for me, well I had to attend, it would be rude not to show.
The program started slow. We started on stretches and gaining strength in my arm (lost all strength from the surgery) and slowly moved towards improving cardio and then toning and shape. It took a lot of work. There were days my trainer was not my favorite person during the sessions and at completion I loved him because I achieved a milestone – like my first 4km run without stopping!
Slowly my body shape started to change (again). I started to lose the weight I had gained during treatment. Instead of returning to my previous body shape of a highway with no curves, I saw myself turn into a curvaceous woman. I always joke that cancer gave me curves. I still train with my trainer, but in his group classes. That was one of our many goals – for me to be fit enough to participate in his group classes. I also do water aerobics and lots of walking. I have also tried yoga and Pilates. My advice to you re fitness program is to find something you love and enjoy doing. This way it will be fun for you and not a “I must do…and I now I feel terrible I didn’t exercise”. It is about doing what is right for you.
During my ‘healing’ year, I treated myself to acupuncture and massage. I would alternate between the two so that one week I would have a needle session and the next week a massage. The needle sessions were to help improve my body’s immune system and build up my blood count, release toxins from my body etc. The massages were to keep me relaxed and help me unwind. I honestly never thought I would love acupuncture yet it became one of favorite methods to help me heal myself from the breast cancer treatment. I still have sessions today when I feel I need to boost my immune system.
Meditating. I am not one for meditating. My mind just will not switch off and I have never been able to ‘relax’. I came across this amazing woman through an Encore session and during the mini meditation session I actually switched off and relaxed. An absolute achievement for me. I later booked myself for meditation sessions so I may learn ‘the secret’ to meditating. The sessions were great and really helped me. I love how meditation keeps me centered and balanced.
Last year, my sister introduced me to kinesiology and I absolutely love it. I am learning more about myself and how to ‘handle or cope’ with external forces out of my control.
The most surprise healing for me came from starting a new mastectomy lingerie brand, Red Fern Lingerie. My brand’s spirit is to empower women with a stylish, fashionable and sexy choice in lingerie. I want to help women heal through the beauty of lingerie and reclaim their body confidence. The amazing thing is that I found creating Red Fern Lingerie helped me heal and helped me reclaim my body confidence. When I receive emails and telephone calls from customers, telling me how much they love the lingerie and how they feel whole again, I become teary with gratefulness. I love helping women feel beautiful again through lingerie. All the models used in Red Fern Lingerie’s campaigns are real survivors.
I love my ‘girly’ treats and I believe they are essential to just feel great. I love my facials, manicures and pedicures. I also enjoy having a cuppa in a local cafe while reading a trashy magazine, time with my beautiful family, having brunch with my friends and reading Cathy Kelly and Jan Mansell novels.
One thing I have learned from exploring and trying many different methods to heal myself from breast cancer treatment and its side-effects, is that there is no right or wrong way. At the end of the day, what you choose to do has to feel right for you and work for you. To me healing is about combining the body, mind, soul and spirit. During treatment, laughter was key for me to keep my spirit positive. I also attended a support group at the hospital and I found prayer during my dark moments.
Today, it is about balancing my busy life with finding my calm. What works for me today may change tomorrow or next week or next year and that is ok. I am constantly changing, so my methods to heal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually will also change.
Tina Doueihi. Business owner, lingerie designer at Red Fern Lingerie. Diagnosed at age 37. Grade 3, ER+. Tina was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 at 37 years of age. There was no family history of the disease. Tina is the Founder & Creator of Red Fern Lingerie, an Australian mastectomy lingerie brand. Tina created Red Fern Lingerie from her personal experience with breast cancer and the extreme limited choice available to women post surgery and treatment. Tina wants to help women heal and reclaim their body confidence through the beauty of lingerie and offering a new choice in mastectomy lingerie. Tina is the youngest of 5 daughters and has 13 nieces and nephews. She always jokes that her family is a blend of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” meets the TV series “Brothers & Sisters.” Tina’s absolute guilty pleasure is eating chocolate while watching one of the Real Housewives series.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been republished with permission from WILDFIRE Magazine, the 2018 “Body” issue (Vol 2, No 2, Copyright (c) April 2017 by Wildfire Community LLC). More information available at wildfirecommunity.org
Every month, Rethink will be sharing powerful stories from WILDFIRE Magazine. Use code RETHINK for 10% off anything in the WILDFIRE Shop.
WILDFIRE Magazine is the only magazine for young women survivors and fighters of breast cancer under 45 years old. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, WILDFIRE is a beautiful, story-based bi-monthly magazine published on different themes relevant to young women survivors, from stage 0 to stage IV. Beautiful and ad-free! Visit wildfirecommunity.org for more info.