By Rifka Coleman
Hello beautiful overcomer! My name is Rifka and I am fighting cancer during a pandemic. My diagnosis came as a shock. I was 37 and overall healthy and active. I am a busy mom with 7 children (yes you read that right!), working full-time, and this was nowhere on my radar. No family history and I am too young….right?!? One morning, like normal, I was taking a shower, and something felt off. My doctor was able to get me in the same day and I was able to go from finding a lump to a diagnosis is just a week. Talk about a whirlwind. I was diagnosed on February 25th 2020 with triple negative breast cancer. This type of cancer is rare and aggressive so the treatment would have to be aggressive, too.
I started with 16 rounds of chemotherapy, in March, using 4 different medications. That was a grueling 20 weeks. I had a partial mastectomy in September which removed the remainder of the tumor. Once I was healed enough, I started 6 weeks of daily radiation. I was so thankful to be done with this treatment just in time for Thanksgiving. I was supposed to start my next treatment in December, but I got COVID-19 for the Chanukah.
I had to undergo 5 COVID-19 tests over 21 days to get my 2 negative tests, which my Oncologist requested, prior to getting the greenlight to start oral chemo. After a month delay, I was able to start my first cycle of Xeloda, an oral chemotherapy, which is used in some Triple negative patients that still have residual tumor after surgery per the pathology. This regime is 8 cycles total; the medication is in pill form and I take it 2 times a day for 14 days, then I have 7 days to recover. I will be on this treatment until July. My hope is that after the 8 cycles are completed, so will be my active treatment and I will be able to be in maintenance mode for life.
Nothing truly prepares you for the effects that cancer has on you, your body, caregivers, friends and even co-workers. As much research, googling, and chatting with survivors, which I did the month before treatment started, I still was not prepared.
Let me tell you what helped me cope and deal with the repercussion’s cancer has on your entire world.
From one cancer patient to another – control your controlables. We cannot control that we have cancer, what medications or chemos we may need, or even the side effects they may cause. However, we can control our reactions. We can control our mindsets, what we eat and our motivations. We cannot control the sunshine or the rain, but we can control the weather of our mind. What does this mean to me? This means I choose not to dwell in the anger, sadness, or fear that comes with this diagnosis. Sure, I had/have all those emotions (and more), especially with the initial shock. I process them though, not suppress them. I ask myself questions, like why am I feeling this way? I try to get to the root of it. With this activity I start to feel more clarity about my feelings. With clarity comes relief. Your feelings, whatever they may be are valid.
You have every right to feel anything you want or need to feel. I tell my friends who may be experiencing a hard trial in their life, feel free to visit the dark place, its easy for depressive thoughts to creep in (adulting is hard), but you cannot live there.
Treat each day as a new gift. It is called the present after all. Embrace the everyday moments. Before cancer, cooking dinner for my large family felt like a chore. Now, the days I feel well enough to do it, I rejoice. I do not have to cook dinner, my husband does a fine job of that, but I get to cook them dinner. Take out is great, but I get joy feeding my family’s belly, while feeding their minds at the table.
Friend, whatever you are going right now, its temporary. Grab hold to your mindset and know that you are the keeper of your joy, no one else. The choice to keep it is yours.