Name: Lisa Cook
Diagnosed at age: 41
Status: In Remission
Bio: My mother died of breast cancer in 1979 at age 44. I was 16 at the time. She had suffered and was in and out of the hospital over the span of four years. It was just my sister and I on our own after that. Since then, my sister and I have both been diagnosed with breast cancer and have both beaten the odds. I grew up in Texas, but moved to California in my 20s. That was where I found a great job and met my husband. Once my daughter was born, we relocated back to Texas and I took time off to be a stay at home mom to my kids. In 2004, we moved our family to Cincinnati, and a year later I was diagnosed.
My reaction when first diagnosed: I was diagnosed in 2005 and really was not surprised or shocked. I had had three biopsies in the years prior and was aware that it was a huge possibility that I could have cancer. The hardest part was learning to cope with my diagnosis and realizing the journey I had ahead of me. I knew I had to stay positive not only for myself but for my family.
My inspiration: God and my two wonderful children. My daughter is now 22, my son is 18. They were young at the time I went through treatment, so I always tried to stay positive and strong for them.
My support system: During chemotherapy, a friend of mine took me to almost all of my treatments. The neighbors in our neighborhood were wonderful as well. They raised money and paid for a housekeeper to come to our house every two weeks during my chemotherapy. It was a Godsend. And last but not least, prayers! Someone from my church would always include me in the petitions during the services, and I swear I could feel the positivity, the prayers, and God’s goodness.
I’m proud of: Surviving. I fought long and very hard. I was in the hospital for over 30 days at different times throughout my battle. I knew I couldn’t give up my fight because I wasn’t ready to lose. And of course I’m always proud of my children.
I’m afraid of: I’m afraid of my cancer coming back and not being able to fight it. I am afraid for my daughter — her two grandmothers, her aunt, and I have all had cancer, and I pray that she does not get it. During treatment, I was afraid when I had to get blood transfusions. I was afraid when I got my first chemo treatment and was deathly ill spending days at a time in bed.
I’ve learned: Patience. I’m definitely a lot more patient than I used to be. I don’t let the little things get me down, and I view each day as a gift.
My advice to new patients: I wish I had brought someone with me to my first oncologist appointment because you just can’t remember everything they tell you. I heard him say I had Stage Four cancer, and then that’s all I remember.
But, Mammograms saves lives!
Please do not have any breast reconstruction until chemo is over. I had a double mastectomy and at the same time I had tissue expanders put in my chest that stretch the skin to eventually get implants. Since the chemo makes you very susceptible to infections, I ended up getting a severe infection that turned my chest red and purple and was hot to the touch. They eventually removed the expanders, and I was told I would not be able to get implants. My plastic surgeon talked me into getting the tram flap procedure, which now I do not think was worth it. This involves the doctor making an incision from hip to hip then a “flap” of skin, fat, and an abdominal muscle is tunneled under the skin to create a new breast. A netting material was sewn into this incision since my muscles were taken out. This has caused me to experience two hernias and an abdominal bulge because the netting has ripped. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than 20 pounds, which is what caused the rip. The surgery is so substantial and has such a long recovery time that I haven’t had it fixed.
Since the surgery is so invasive and the recovery time is so long, I haven’t wanted to go through that again, so now I’m almost in constant pain that prevents me from even standing up straight sometimes.
I hope that I can help at least one other woman and prevent her from getting this type of reconstructive surgery.