Blindsided by a Breast Cancer Diagnosis - Tami Weitzman

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  In the United States after skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women.

In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States.  Unfortunately 42,170 of those women are expected to die in 2020 from breast cancer.

I had the honor to interview my friend, Tami Weitzman, on her journey with breast cancer.  Her story is one of courage, determination and strength. Here is what she had to say:

Getting my chemo treatment
When were you diagnosed and at what age?
I was diagnosed in July of 2017 at the age of 44 years old.

What was your official diagnosis?
My diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer stage 3B

How was the cancer initially detected?
I felt a lump and went for a mammogram and then a biopsy.

How did you feel when you first received the news?
When I got the call from my doctor telling me I had cancer, I was shocked! I didn't have a family history of breast cancer.  I was in the best shape of my life.  I lived a healthy lifestyle.
I have three children and I waited to find out my treatment plan before telling them.  It was scary at first because my tumor was large.  Once I met my oncologist and had a treatment plan, I felt more reassured.  He told me he was treating me for "cure."  Not every cancer patient gets that prognosis.

Did you have a support network?
My Riverdale community where I live, supported me with meals and play dates for my kids, as well as rides to treatments as did my sister and my extended family.  I was really exhausted after long days at the hospital so when people took over driving and cooking and other parent related duties it was a big help.

Tell me about your treatment process.
I was treated by 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 radiation sessions. A bilateral mastectomy with tissue ex-panders for breast reconstruction & an exchange reconstruction surgery with breast implants. 

Were there any programs or services offered to you that helped with the treatment process?
I contacted Sharsheret (a Hebrew word for "chain") which is an organization helping Jewish women facing breast and ovarian cancer. They match you with a breast cancer survivor who had the same type of cancer.  We spoke on the phone and we texted on a regular basis.  She was there to support me in any way that I needed.  It was helpful to have someone like that to ask questions, and support me emotionally.

My range of motion is back thanks to my PT

Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome
these obstacles?
I lost my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows during chemo.  I was fatigued, but I continued to exercise during chemo.  I had been kickboxing and strength training before my diagnosis so I continued to do so. 
Workouts were definitely harder, but they prevented many side effects of chemotherapy so I continued.  Exercise helped me mentally as well, especially boxing.
Dealing with cancer plus insurance companies, medical bill, doctors appointments, and pharmacies is extremely frustrating and having an outlet for the stress was priceless.
I was lucky to have great surgeons and though there was a lot of pain post-surgery, I focused on my recovery.  Physical therapy is a must, and not enough surgeons recommend it.  With the help of my PT I gained most of my range of motion back which was really important for me as a personal trainer and coach.  
And then, there was Radiation - Lets not sugarcoat it ---- it SUCKED! It felt like a full time job.  You have to do it everyday and it takes a toll on your body.  I did get burns toward the end, and used the creams that were prescribed.  My radiation team was great, and made me as comfortable as possible, but nothing about that whole process was easy.  I found that the practice of meditation and breathing techniques were very helpful while lying on the table.  I really recommend it.
What message would you like to provide women in this community?
What I learned from my breast cancer diagnosis is to take it one day at a time - so
you don't get overwhelmed.  There is so much to process and be afraid of - but I refused to allow my mind to go to a dark and catastrophic place.
Lifting weights while in treatments
I set a goal to just get through one day at a time.  One obstacle at a time. One treatment at a time.
My best friend who is also a breast cancer survivor advised me to make a photo journal and record my experience.  Writing things down and taking pictures helps when you want to look back and see how far you've come.
For women who are reading my story on this blog - I want to say "keep up with your screenings."
I got yearly mammograms, and I still managed to have an aggressive stage 3 breast cancer.  So don't skip mammograms, and if you feel a lump get it checked and don't wait.  
The last thing I want to say is If you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis of any kind stay positive.  Modern medicine is great, but a fighter's mindset will get you through it. 
Teaching boxing at Ardsley, NY
Editor's Note: Tami Weitzman is a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Personal Trainer, and a Boxing/Kickboxing instructor. You can find Tami on IG at @tami_training. 
I have known Tami for 6 years.  We used to attend the same local gym.  I want to thank Tami for sharing her story on this site.  I wish her nothing but the best that life has to offer.  I am so very proud of you Tami.

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