Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor Shares What to do After a Diagnosis

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — At 31 years old, Caryn Sullivan was newly married and getting ready to start the next chapter of her life. She never suspected that things were about to take a sharp turn.

“I had no family history so we didn’t think breast cancer would be in our cards but we felt a lump,” Sullivan recalled.

The diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.

“My stomach fell and I just felt like there was a fog that went from my head all the way to my feet,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t know what to think or do. I just sat there.”

Sullivan underwent two years of intense treatment, including chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Nine years later, she thought she was in the clear.

“I decided for my 40th birthday I wanted to get a full body scan because I wanted to go into my 40s healthier than I went into my 30s,” Sullivan explained. “So it was almost a fluke that we stumbled upon the fact that my cancer returned.”

The cancer had spread to her sternum and spine. But Sullivan persevered through another round of treatment. Today at 44 years old, she is still on a chemotherapy pill and has some advice for others just learning they have cancer. First…

“I always tell people, especially in the first few weeks of a diagnosis, to bring somebody with you to every appointment,” Sullivan said. “You’re under such stress. You don’t really know what you’re going to remember, even if you’re great at taking notes. It’s just so much easier to have somebody there to hear it with you.”

Sullivan also recommends seeking second opinions.

“Sometimes a doctor will give you new information that you didn’t already know of in that second opinion and it helps you make the choice who you might go to and what different treatment you might take,” Sullivan said. “Other times you’re getting the exact same information but you have the opportunity to probe and ask more questions.”

Also keep a file of all your records.

“After every scan I would go to medical records and have them give me a copy,” Sullivan said. “If you have those handy, it’s easier when you’re getting seconds opinions or seeing a specialist.”

And Sullivan says seek out help. CancerCare.org connects patients with financial assistance, support groups, and information.

“There are other websites like MealTrain where your friends family and neighbors can put together a meal train for you and organize it in a seamless manner,” Sullivan explained. “There’s CleaningForAReason.org where you can get cleaning services donated to your house while you’re going through this hardship.”

Sullivan also says consider forming a wellness team which could include a naturopath, massage therapist and acupuncturist. To get more healthy advice from Sullivan, visit her website PrettyWellness.com.

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