When Tina Vitolo-Kester received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, she wanted her treatment to move fast and so it did. During the time in which she had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, other health problems emerged that were unforeseen. She had a heart attack during a procedure. Shocked to find herself in the Intensive Care Unit, she was concerned that this turn of events would set her treatment plan back. Things got back on track as soon as possible. As treatment and healing took top priority, Tina’s employer was unable to wait for her return and dismissed her from her job.Always an optimist and strong believer in her faith, Tina knew that she would need support and resources to get her through this. She found just what she needed at Swedish Issaquah and with her family and friends. After her surgery, she received 175 cards in the mail which was very uplifting.
Tina says the most difficult part was not knowing what to expect. Things were always changing. The realization that she needed to go with the flow and not worry when plans changed gave her peace of mind. Focusing on each day through journaling, a lifelong habit, was a way to document her journey and reflect on her feelings.
It was through the relationships that she had prior to her diagnosis and those she made during treatment that she found the greatest strength. Solid friendships were uplifting. Her friends got together and made her a “Feel Good Box,” containing slippers, toys and other treats. Whenever she felt down, she could grab something out of the box and feel their love. Tina bonded with her caregivers and found them to be kind and caring.
Although she knew about the various supportive care activities, such as music and art therapy, and support groups, she shied away from them during this time. The name, “support group”, was unappealing. She was afraid she would be too vulnerable. After treatment was finished, she decided to enroll in the After Breast Cancer class facilitated by Patti Carey and is now a convert to group participation. The common thread that is established through hearing the stories from others is nurturing and healing. Women discuss things that she thought had only happened to her. She was relieved to find that she could openly speak about her issues during and after treatment. Tina’s mantra is now, “Always take advantage of the After Breast Cancer class!”
Tina recommends meditation and prayer (if that is something that resonates for you). She worked with a nutritionist to make sure she was eating as healthy as possible and continues that relationship. Tina exercised throughout her treatment, even if it was only walking 10 to 20 minutes a day. Joining the Silver Sneakers exercise class continues to keep her moving and she enjoys being the youngest one in the group.
Even though she misses her care team, the day that she could ring the bell in the Treatment Center was a day she will never forget. Tina celebrated by throwing a huge “graduation from radiation” party. She had really done it, completed all of her treatment. Now, she drops by to say hello to her care team from time to time and is very happy to be a visitor.
This article is from the Fall 2017 issue of Life to the Fullest, the newsletter from the Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) dedicated to those with cancer, cancer survivors, and their family members and caregivers.