We are so excited to get to know you!! Please introduce yourself (Name, where you’re from) - What was your life like before undergoing chemotherapy?
My name is Lindsay Hawker and I’m from Bradenton, Florida. I was a busy working Mom of two children before my world was turned upside down with a breast cancer diagnosis at just 34 years old.
Bring us along your journey – when were you diagnosed with cancer? What was your initial reaction?
My children were just 4 years old and 9 months old at the time of diagnosis. I remember crying and saying, “If something happens to me, my children might not remember me.” My children were and continue to be my biggest motivation for getting and staying healthy. I was shocked at my breast cancer diagnosis and knew I had a long road to recovery ahead of me. I’m grateful for a few breast cancer survivors who took me under their wing and let me know that they too had walked the same road. This helped me to see that if others could undergo the same treatment and come out the other end okay, then I could do so as well. I now try to pay it forward and show other women the same grace and support I was given.
What was your first chemotherapy treatment like? What treatment/treatments did you or are currently undergoing?
My first chemotherapy treatment I received Adriamycin, aka “the red devil” which is one of THE most powerful chemotherapy drugs ever invented. After receiving the cocktail, I was very sick and a few weeks after I began to lose my hair and decided to shave my head. One of the hardest parts of cancer is not recognizing yourself in the mirror. Not only do you not look like yourself, you don’t feel like yourself either. I ended up receiving 6 months of hardcore chemotherapy and then 9 more months of a lesser chemo for 15 months total. I now currently take an oral pill (exemestane) to block the estrogen since my cancer was estrogen receptive. I also receive Zoladex which is a shot every 12 weeks to make my ovaries go dormant. You don’t go back to normal after cancer chemotherapy but there is a new normal that you learn to navigate with side-effects and all.
Who did you turn to as your support system?
My family was my biggest support system throughout my cancer journey. Also, I had many friends both old and new that stepped up in big ways. Both family and friends would offer to take my kids when I was unable to physically care for them. I also had friends from middle school and high school who I hadn’t talked too or seen in a while who would drop off meals and offer support. It was beautiful. That is the one thing about having cancer, you quickly learn who is there for you and the true colors of others.
What is something you wished you knew before starting your chemo treatment?
I wish that I knew that everyone is different and can react to chemotherapy different. I had a bad reaction to the chemotherapy Taxol (which is typically mild for most people). It made my levels and body so terribly sick and weak which culminated in me collapsing in the cancer center one day while receiving treatment. The chemo nurse couldn’t find my pulse and dialed 911. Let that sink in with how serious it was – the cancer center I had to dial 911. I woke up in the ambulance and realized just how close to death I was and that chemo had almost killed me.
Had/Has your daily routine changed? If so, how?
I have been changed irrevocably after having cancer. I am now an avid runner and care deeply about my health as I know what it’s like to be bankrupt health wise. So, my daily routine now consists of exercise, healthy eating, being mindful and consciously reducing my stress levels.
After having my 3rd surgery, my doctors indicated that walking would aid in my recovery. So, I began walking the halls of the hospital. Then 6 weeks after my mastectomy, I began running. Running with chemotherapy in your body is hard stuff, but I refused to give up. Running was and is hard, but cancer was harder! My initial goal was to run down the street, once I accomplished that, I went on to run countless 5Ks and 10Ks. Then I eventually went on to run 10 half-marathons and 1 full marathon (and I’m training another full marathon this fall)! I was determined to have cancer leave me better not bitter and I’m happy to say that I’ve done just that.
Have there been certain side effects that have been worse than others?
The biggest side effects for me were the nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Eating smaller meals and consuming what sounded good to me at the time seemed to help some. When I was very sick from chemo, I would revert to a “BRAT” type diet – Bananas, Rice, Applesauce & Toast which seemed to help combat my stomach issues.
What are tips/tricks you have learned along the way to help with chemo side effects?
One of my doctors was adamant that I ditch using straws because they can attribute to nausea and although I had never heard that before, and she was right!
Also, I am very passionate about cancer exercise (so much so that I became a Cancer Exercise Specialist after my treatment). Just getting up and walking the day after receiving chemotherapy can have profound effects and help to combat treatment fatigue. I know firsthand how hard it is to begin to exercise again during or after cancer, but exercise always pays dividends and it can give you energy. So, get to moving (whatever that looks like for you)! I began with small changes – I used to walk to my mailbox, and I did air squats onto my couch in my living room to get started. This was a lot for me at first since I was going from laying in the bed almost all day. I would always remind myself of this quote will beginning to exercise – “Do not let what you cannot do, interfere with what you can do.”
Do you recommend any chemo friendly products?
Unscented products were the best chemo friendly products for me. I avoided perfume type smells and unscented lotions/products. Also, I now use an aluminum-free deodorant after having gone through breast cancer.
Any advice for other chemo patients?
Just take it one day at a time! It was overwhelming for me to look too far ahead in my treatment plan. Some days not throwing up or getting sick was a huge win! I kept telling myself that this was temporary and “this too shall pass”. Also, find your people – perhaps other woman who are going through what you are going through. Support and community make a world of difference in the cancer world and there are tons of survivors and thrivers to look up to out there.