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Healthy You

Steps to Survivorship: Patient Side of Breast Cancer

October 16, 2015 12:59 PM with Kayla Redig

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A breast cancer diagnosis and all that comes with it is life-changing, and those who are going through it sometimes find it difficult to discuss with others. Kayla Redig, a NorthShore patient who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24, successfully beating it and becoming an advocate, went through this very same situation. She will be taking your questions, sharing her story of survivorship and providing advice for those who are fighting their own cancer battle or are supporting a loved one.

  Kathryn (Moderator) - 1:00 PM:
Our chat with Kayla is now open. Feel free to submit questions at any point during this chat.

  Justina (Chicago, IL) - 1:01 PM:
Were you prepared for the result of the mammogram when your doctor told you? How did you process the information?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
I felt pretty unprepared in many ways because all along I had heard "you're too young to have breast cancer." But I knew something was off in my body. My mammogram results led to a biopsy where I got the official news, which was much harder to process. I knew something was wrong inside but cancer was a world that I had very little interaction with and only knew so much about. It took a long time for me to really understand what my diagnosis meant and what I was going through.

  Elaine W (Minneapolis, MN) - 1:06 PM:
During your experience, what are some of the best and worst ways to support someone during his or her battle with cancer? Are there actions or words that do more harm than good?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
This is a great question! I think one of the best ways people helped me were just by reaching out. Reaching out meant everything from bringing my family dinner to "liking" a news update I posted. This made me feel supported. I needed a lot of support to get through treatments and beyond. As I went through my experience, I realized that having someone just be there was the best help for me. I think we often try to "fix" problems for others or share advice, when sometimes a patient just needs someone to listen with a closed mouth. I had a hard time when people spoke out about their concerns for my health for medical decisions. I needed a united front, with everyone believing in what was being done to fight cancer. Being included in things was another way I felt supported. Even though I had to say "no" to most invites, it made me feel good to be included anyways.

  Stephanie (Chicago, IL) - 1:12 PM:
How did you discover your cancer at such a young age?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
I was feeling my breasts one night in bed and I felt a lump on the left side of the left one. This was a pretty routine activity for me, so I was shocked to find it. I reached out to a few friends and my mom about it but there was little concern from anyone. I had been feeling "off" for a few weeks, having night sweats and was really exhausted all of the time. So I started at my gyno to have her examine it, and then had further testing done from there. It was really hard to have anyone take my concern seriously though considering my age, so it was crucial that I was an advocate for myself.

  Justina (Chicago, IL) - 1:17 PM:
How did this change your life being that you are so young?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
It altered my life in almost every way imaginable. A lot of my friendships changed, either because people couldn't handle such an intense event at our age OR because I changed a lot in the process. My interests are different, my appreciation and outlook on life are different. I changed my career, where I was living... everything. I have some difficulties relating to my peers now because of my experience. I have to skip out on some typical "young adult" stuff because I need to be careful about what goes into my body. Cancer shaped my life and forced me to grow up really quickly.

  Andrea Z. (Plainfield, IL) - 1:23 PM:
In what ways do you think that a positive outlook affect your recovery process?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
I think having a positive outlook made a huge difference for me. When I was wanting to call it quits and give up, my body was affected by it and all my counts dropped. When I was more positive, I felt better. It also allowed me to have little moments of normality, which fed back into my positivity. Cancer sucks. There's no other way to say it. But you find good moments even during such a horrible time. And when you can't find joy, sometimes you just have to create it yourself. Joy and positivity helped me heal my body, heart and mind.

  Sloane H. (Chicago, IL) - 1:28 PM:
What would you like to share with young adults about body image? How has your experience changed the way you view yourself, inside and out? How has it changed the way you view other people?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
For someone who had always been so confident with their body, going through such drastic physical changes in a short period of time really changed the way I felt about myself. Not only did I grow to be ashamed of the way my body looked, I became ashamed of myself. After I struggled with this for awhile, I saw the way it started to affect my relationships with others too. That's when I knew I had to work to make changes with how I viewed myself. Everything was different, so I had to make a point to familiarize with my new body and work to be comfortable with it. And if there were things I didn't like about it and could change, I worked to do that. It was a huge lesson in forgiveness too. Forgiving myself for not being some perfect image I had in my head. Accepting that this was a new reality for me and to have patience with the changes.

Kayla Redig (NorthShore) - 1:34 PM:
I've learned to transfer this to how I view others too. I know what I have going on on the outside isn't my dream image, so there are probably others who experience the same thing.. feeling judged by something they don't want to be. So I really take the time to get to know people, who they are and how they think, just like I hope others do to me.

  Karen (Aurora, IL) - 1:37 PM:
Did you ever go to any kind of support groups? If so, do you think they’re helpful?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
I was pretty resistant to support groups because I thought I didn't need them and had enough personal support. It wasn't until I started meeting others who were either going through treatment also or were in survivorship that I realized how beneficial it was. I think all support groups and different and it's important to find one that works for you. I could see how some make it worse and others help. But I would strongly encourage others to find even just one other cancer patient or survivor to connect with. There are experiences we encounter that others just won't understand. We can speak another language with each other. Cancer can feel very lonely, like you're on an island. Connecting with patients and survivors makes it feel like you not alone and that's incredibly powerful. There is comfort in community.

  Dani (Joliet, IL) - 1:46 PM:
What kind of steps do you have to take after treatment? Do you have to do follow up visits even after being cancer-free?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
After the initial treatment ends, it can still be pretty tricky! I have numerous follow up appointments and tests that I space out, so I have one every two months essentially. I also have to be on a hormone therapy medication for the next 5-10 years. The check ups and tests will get fewer and fewer as I move farther away from the date of my initial diagnosis. The biggest step I had to prioritize after treatment was caring for my mental health after my body had gone through so much! Survivorship can be a hard time for some, it definitely was for me, so keeping up with support and mental health resources even after treatment had been helpful.

  Caitie S. (Chicago, IL) - 1:51 PM:
I've seen stuff on social media about a documentary film you are involved with. Can you tell us more about what is going on with that?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
I am currently producing a film called "Vincible" about the young adult cancer experience. I would never make the claim that cancer as a young adult is harder or easier, but it is very different! Cancer is very geriatric and pediatric too, but there is a large population of young adults that are diagnosed every year, without a ton of support available for them. The goal of this film is to raise awareness for this population. We hope to further the community of support available and fill in the gaps that are missing. It's a group that needs a face and a voice and we are looking to provide that.

  Lisa (Waukegan) - 1:55 PM:
Do you think there’s anything that girls your age should know about breast cancer?
Kayla Redig (NorthShore)
I think the biggest thing girls my age should know is that while it is rare, breast cancer can happen at our age too. We aren't as young and invincible as we think. This is why familiarizing yourself with your body is so valuable. Start self exams early so you're able to be aware of any changes that may occur. It is so important for young adults, especially women, to be advocates for themselves and their health. It is easy to be overlooked at this age, so we have to speak up! No one else will for you. Reach out, ask questions, know your body and be your own advoate.

  Kathryn (Moderator) - 2:00 PM:
This will be the end of our chat today. Thank you everyone for your questions. To learn more about early detection, schedule a mammogram, or speak to a specialist, visit our Center for Breast Health.

  Kathryn (Moderator) - 2:00 PM:
You can also keep up with Kayla on her blog, and find out more about her upcoming documentary on Facebook and on Instagram
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