In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we asked some survivors if they would be willing to share anything about their experience. Our first survivors story is from Patricia Roca. Please read her experience below.
The Beauty of Irony
by Patricia Roca
Almost a year ago, I heard words that no one wanted to hear, "You have breast cancer". I was having a cup of coffee with my personal trainer after my workout. He was sitting across from me when I got the call. I literally said to him, "Oh that's my doctor telling me biopsy was all good". My heart sank, I remember having to put my cup of coffee down because my hands started to shake, and I remembered I kept saying, "OK... OK...OK..." to everything they said. And my journey began.
The irony of this story is that I have been working with breast cancer patients for over 4 years. I work on a pharmaceutical device brand, and we have a huge tribe of patients that I've had the pleasure of getting to know. We've worked on photo shoots, video shoots, social influencer campaigns, fashion shows at NYFW. To be around these amazing women has always been such an honor. These women are brave, courageous, full of hope, love and strength. They smile big, they laugh hard, they live to the fullest. A couple of the women are unfortunately no longer here with us today, which is heartbreaking when you hear the news. But you learn to cherish the brief moments you had with each of them and be grateful you had the chance of knowing them.
My journey first began with information overload. From trying to understand what kind of breast cancer I had, to MRI's, to breast surgeons, to plastic surgeons, everything happens so quickly. I had Stage 1, ER/PR positive breast cancer, which meant that estrogen and progesterone were feeding the tumors. Because I work in the space, I had a lot of background and knowledge on the subject. I knew what questions to ask, I knew how to make sense of what they were saying. I knew how to challenge something that I didn't agree with. Overall, I knew how to advocate for myself to make sure I was always making decisions that I was comfortable with and that were right for me. I was lucky in that regard.
While I only had cancer in my left breast, I decided to have a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction. I made that decision because the thought of recurrence was something I didn't want to deal with. When my mother had breast cancer over 20 years ago, she received a lumpectomy with radiation. She was in her late 50's when she was diagnosed. The lumpectomy was successful and she is alive and well. She was left with a deformed breast, however. My mother is an old-school, traditional type of woman who would never talk about her experience really. Now that I was in her shoes, I wondered what that must have felt like for her, looking at herself in the mirror every day. Did she feel less feminine? Or did she feel just fine? Is that why she never dated anyone again? Did she have body image issues? I don't know if she will ever really share how she felt. But I knew that for me... I was 45 years old, and I am well aware of the advancements in breast reconstruction, so I did opt for reconstructing my breasts.
Double mastectomy also meant that I wouldn't need radiation after. That seemed like a relief to me. I selected an amazing surgical team in Vancouver, WA. Dr. Toni Storm-Dickerson and Dr. Allen Gabriel. They were truly amazing, and took the very best care of me. Dr. Gabriel even had the local support group, Pink Lemonade Project, take complete care of me during my first couple of visits to Vancouver. I also chose a holistic center and started natural treatments with them. I chose The Center for Cancer Healing in Irvine, CA, founded by Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy - who also authored the book, The Cancer Revolution. The doctors there basically created an integrative protocol for me, which included changing my diet to plant-based, a tailored supplement routine, and other treatments like Mistletoe and Vitamin C infusions that help boost the immune system.
My family and my friends were there to support me; by my side the entire time from Day 1. And still are today. From traveling to Vancouver from the east coast, to making schedules, to helping me braid my hair for surgery, to making my favorite Ecuadorian foods, to helping me with my drains for the first week after surgery, they were there. I'll always be grateful for the special friends in my life.
I had my surgery on 1/7/2020. I returned home to California on 1/24/2020 and celebrated my 46th birthday on 1/26/2020 with friends and one of my sisters who now also lives in California. It was a really special day. A week later, I flew HOME HOME to NYC. I got to see the rest of my family. But I also had a fashion show event that I had been working on all fall, where breast cancer patients are the runway models. The show supports a metastatic breast cancer organization called METAvivor, who my company has partnered with the last 3 years. I felt it was so important for me to be there, surrounded by other strong women, who are just trying to live their lives every day and move on. It was an inspiring and emotional week.
COVID-19 hit shortly after I returned back to California, and I can say that it has been an up and down roller coaster and a whirlwind of emotions, just trying to get through these crazy times. I think we are all going through this right now. But it's OK. I have my moments, but for the most part, I've tried to make the best of it and make the best use of my time too. First and foremost, I'm focused on continuing to stay healthy, maintaining my mostly plant based diet, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, staying on my supplement routine, ensuring stress levels are low, etc. I've also done things I never had time to do before. I was a pastry chef years ago, and I started baking again and opened up my own online bakery. I love wine, so I decided to take some wine courses and get certified. I started doing Pilates because it really helps with my shoulder pain after my surgery. I loved it so much, I decided to go for teacher training! I still practice my French a few times a week. I also got trained to be a helpline volunteer for a breast cancer organization, so I can speak with newly diagnosed patients. Most importantly, I take things one day at a time, one minute at a time if I have to. I realized in all of this, that sometimes you just need to slow down and be still. But I also have no intention of stopping... I am living my life to the fullest!
They say everything happens for a reason, and maybe that's true. Maybe this is all a blessing in disguise. I can tell you for sure, I am stronger than I thought I was. There are things I thought I was afraid of, that I just had to learn how to do. Sometimes, you just have to put your big girl panties on and do what you need to do. So when I look at it that way, it is a blessing. I'm stronger, I'm not as afraid to do things, I'm also able to put myself first now, which I absolutely didn't do before. So if you take anything away from this post, I would say: Self-care is so important, don't wait until it's too late! Put yourself first ALWAYS! Live your life and try new things, even when you think you're too scared to do them. You'll surprise yourself, I promise. But most importantly, when it comes to breast cancer, make sure you book that annual mammogram, do a monthly self-exam. And don't be afraid to ask ANY questions to your doctor because the only one who has to be OK with your healthcare decisions is YOU. 1 in 8 women get diagnosed with breast cancer. 30% of those who get diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will develop metastasis. So love yourself first, and take care of YOU first.
You can follow Patricia on Facebook and see what she's up to these days.