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Meet Naomi

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It's 2018 and time to meet a new member of our community Naomi. You may know her as ECCS Peer Support here in our community. Take a moment to learn more about Naomi and her family's experience with breast cancer and her mission to give back to others in her community.



Naomi, Reconstructed


 
It Can’t Be True

Hello All! My name is Naomi.  I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma when I was 36 yrs. old. I didn’t know what to do when I heard those words.  “Naomi I’m so sorry, you have Breast Cancer”.  I was familiar with Cancer both as a health care professional, and a caregiver.   I had always taken care of myself, eating right, and exercising, thinking this would prevent me from ever getting cancer.  I found the lump in my breast myself, but it was barely detected when my physician did an exam.  It was after a mammogram that we found it, a biopsy followed, and confirmed my worst fears.  After the call from my physician, tears started running down my face.  I was in shock, and there were so many emotions whirling around in my head that I couldn’t think straight and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  My son saw my tears and crawled up in my lap to wipe them away.  “It’s ok Mommy, we’re ok.” At that very moment I didn’t know if things would feel ok ever again.  I wasn’t ok.  I was scared, confused, and at a loss for how to fix everything.  As the news set in my first concern was how much this news was going to hurt my family, and friends.  I couldn’t bare the thought of telling them such difficult news.  My husband was amazing, very supportive, and willing to support in any way he could.  He took me in his arms and said “We have been through so many things and we have gotten through it…we can beat this together, I will do whatever you need me to and support any decisions you need and want to make.”  We explained things to our 10 yr. old twin girls and 6 yr. old son in the best possible light, considering their age, maturity, and emotional wellbeing. 


Now What?

The plan was to have a Lumpectomy, and Sentinal Node Dissection followed by Chemo Therapy, Radiation Therapy, and long term medication.  After some traditional treatment I then decided to continue with alternative treatments.  It seemed to be a long process with many ups and downs and complications along the way. This process took approximately two years.  My husband drove me to my radiation treatments every day for months.  My children would come down with us to the Odette Cancer Centre and play in the court yard at Sunnybrook.  Sometimes we even brought our dog Baxter, so he could splash around in the Humber River behind the hospital. 


 
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                                       Kids Playing, Sunnybrook Courtyard                                
 
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Baxter Playing in Humber River


 
Decisions

It was during my radiation that I decided to have some genetic testing done.  When I found out that I had a strong genetic chance of getting another Breast Cancer diagnosis in the future, I made the difficult decision to have a Bilateral Mastectomy. After careful consideration I felt this was the best way of preventing a reoccurrence.  It was one of the most difficult decisions I had ever made.  It wasn’t vanity that got in the way.  It was the loss itself.  They were a part of me, a part that I liked, a part of me that began the bond with my children through breast feeding. A piece of me was going to be removed and I would never be exactly the same again. 
 

 
Waiting To Exhale

My surgeons were amazing and the surgery itself went very well. Our decision was to do a Bilateral Nipple Sparing Mastectomy, and place breast expanders where my breast tissue used to be. Things weren’t as expected when I awakened.  I was in quite a bit of pain, and I was shocked to see the flatness of my chest with white bandages stretched across my chest where my breasts used to be.  It took me a few days before I was ready to look in the mirror.  Once my bandages were removed I stood in front of the mirror in the hospital washroom and took in a deep breath.  As I exhaled I opened my clenched eyes and I immediately felt faint.  It was like I just had all the air knocked out of me.  I crouched to the floor and sobbed.  All I could see was to very small bumps and a straight scar across each breast mound area.  To top it off the nipple and areola area were literally black.  I also had long drains in place to remove the excess fluid and blood from the voids inside.  Coming to terms with the way I looked at that moment was devastating.  I couldn’t see past this point to the results of final reconstruction.  Due to delayed healing and poor blood supply from previous radiation treatments the process of reconstruction proved to be a very uphill battle. I went through 7 different surgeries, and dealt with an open wound for approx. 2 more years.  Our attempts at reconstruction continued to fail.  My body wasn’t cooperating and the radiation took too much of a toll on my skin, underlying tissue, and blood supply.  My  surgeon, suggested that in order for my wound to heal properly we needed to do a Latissimus Dorsi reconstruction on the right side and expander reconstruction on the left side.  We needed the whole Lat muscle, a piece of skin, and some tissue from my back that would stay attached to it’s blood supply, increasing the chances of proper healing. The Latissimus Dorsi muscle is the muscle that helps keep your arms down at your side, amongst other important functions.  It was a risk, but seemed to be less invasive then some of the other types of tissue donor reconstructions that are detached from the blood supply.  I was told to be prepared for a list of complications during healing, recovery and possibly for the rest of my life. I was told I may experience loss of strength, and that some women aren’t able to continue with some of the activities they took part in that require strong Lat muscles.  I was so afraid that I would never swim or ride a horse again. I cherish these activities, they have been a part of my life since I was a young child.  The surgery was quite long and like all of my surgeries I have extremely bad reactions to anesthetic.  I was always in hospital longer than expected because my body took so long to recover from the surgery, and dehydration was always an issue.  The surgery itself went very well.  It was my 8th surgery, and my body finally started to heal. I could finally see some light at the end of this long winding tunnel.  My first time in the water after surgery was so scary for me. I was at my cottage in Pointe au Baril, and I needed to try but at the same time I wasn’t sure if I could accept it emotionally if I wasn’t able to complete a stroke.  There was only one way to find out, so as I slipped into the bay with huge trepidation I was pleasantly surprised.  The first few strokes felt odd, but the more I pushed through the weakness, and the strange sensation of a muscle working from a different location, I was able to swim as well as before!


 
 
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Sun setting on Turnbull Island   


 
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    Beautiful Day to try swimming again



 
 Not Alone

I am now in a very good place in my life and I have learned so much throughout my cancer journey. Not only have I been reconstructed surgically, but I have realized a personal and emotional reconstruction throughout.  My marriage, and family have become even stronger than before.  I notice, and appreciate the little things and even though I thought of myself as a very compassionate person before all of this, I have gained a perspective, and insightfulness, that I wouldn’t have if not for this experience. It has been a long road, but I would not be the person I am today without navigating this journey.   I am so excited to devote my time to helping other woman with a cancer diagnosis.  I know that during my experience I would have really appreciated speaking with someone who knew what I was going through. As a Community Support Facilitator I am starting a peer support group called Encourage & Cope, offering one on one support and group support for Orillia, Oro-Medonte and area.  I hope to bring women with a Breast Cancer or Women’s Cancer diagnosis together in a safe, calm environment.  A place where they feel heard, and free to express their feelings without guilt or judgement. A place where no one feels pressured or overwhelmed.  A casual space to listen, or share.  It is so important not to feel alone.  I have seen the amazing empowerment, and encouragement that comes from a support group, and it is my sincere desire to offer this for as many woman as possible.    


~Best Wishes to All, Naomi McArthur


 




Comments

you are a very, big hearted individual and hope you never change!!!!

Happy 420 from Freddy NB!
  • Posted Sat 24 Feb 2018 08:14 PM EST
Thank you so much ashcon, and Warriorprincess for your kind words, and support.  I truly appreciate your encouraging comments, and look forward to keeping in touch:) 
  • Posted Sat 03 Feb 2018 03:11 AM EST
What a beautifully written tale of some tough times that you went through. I particularly like your reference to "personal and emotional" reconstruction. 
You are right about the amazing empowerment and encouragement that comes from a support group; it's amazing what you are doing with "Encourage & Cope".  My daughter lives in Orillia --I may come up and see you and your support group next time I visit her!  I'll reach out to you via PM. 
  • Posted Fri 02 Feb 2018 06:00 PM EST
Thank you for sharing your story! You are a inspiration :)
  • Posted Fri 02 Feb 2018 07:46 AM EST

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