Community Spotlight: Erin Cummings
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Erin Cummings, a HYLETE community member, shares her breast cancer survival story with the our community. Here is what she has to say.
When did you find out that you were diagnosed with breast cancer? What was your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) on 12/19/19 at the age of 48. The full extent and classification of the cancer was completed after my surgery and revealed that it had become invasive into the breast tissue, but only by 2mm. It was classified as stage 2, triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form that has a high rate of metastasis. I opted for a double mastectomy as I had already been identified as having the BRCA1 genetic mutation 5 years prior. The twice yearly screenings recommended for those with the BRCA mutation meant that it was caught early and fortunately, I did not require chemotherapy as part of my treatment.
What would you tell somebody who's just starting on their journey or just received their diagnosis?
First, breathe…… You are about to have a million people and internet sites weigh in on what you should and shouldn’t do, who you should listen to, what you should eat, how you should feel, etc. It is overwhelming on top of the cascade of emotions that comes with a diagnosis of cancer. Breathe and let your heart be your guide. Your mind will make you crazy (along with a whole lot of well-intentioned people!). But your heart knows the way…...get quiet and listen to it. Second and more practically speaking, find a Breast Center and make an appointment. At a Breast Center, you will have access to many different specialists and all the latest research and treatments for your specific breast cancer. I was fortunate that I was already being seen by a physician that I loved and trusted because of the BRCA testing. I absolutely love the entire team of people that took care of me and they never failed to show me how much they cared about my well-being. The radiologist who did my biopsy even went so far as to give me her personal cell phone as my diagnosis came the week of Christmas and she knew I would have limited access to information. Trusting your team is so important and there are many wonderful providers out there. Again, follow your heart in choosing the one right for you and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
What has helped you maintain a positive attitude during your treatment?
Oh, I had plenty of days when I wasn’t feeling positive! As women, we are wired to take care of other people and this can lead to burying our own feelings as a way of protecting others. The truth is, cancer sucks and you go through every emotion in the book. I distinctly remember “knowing” that I was going to be fine while almost at the same moment envisioning everyone crying at my funeral. Your mind really does go crazy with all the possibilities! My advice to others is to honor your process and don’t get upset with yourself for feeling afraid, anxious, angry and certainly don’t feel like you are somehow failing if you are not positive all the time. It is all very normal. However, it is important to have an outlet for the roller coaster of emotions. My long time practice of meditation was key in helping me to stay grounded and centered so that I could make the best decisions moving forward. I also was not afraid to really lean on my family, including my young-adult children. I think it’s important for our kids to learn that it is ok to be not ok sometimes and that their love and support helps us navigate the unknown. My amazing husband, Tom, has been and continues to be my rock through it all. But I did not hide my pain from my kids. Instead, we all traveled it together and I believe this has helped empower them as adults.
Is there anything you're doing now to help boost recovery?
Well, I love my Bikram Hot Yoga!!! I returned to the hot room way too soon after my surgery, to be honest, but I really just wanted to sit there and absorb all the love from my yoga family. It is such a wonderful community! When I got the ok from my doctor to actually start practicing the poses, it was instrumental in recovering all the mobility and balance that I had lost due to the surgery. I opted for a DIEP flap breast reconstruction where instead of having breast implants, grafts of fat tissue are taken from the lower abdomen. So I had multiple areas of my body that were impacted from the surgery and the yoga helped me work through all of it. And did I mention the amazing yoga community??? I can’t say enough, really.
What does health mean to you?
I prefer the term well-being rather than health. I think we all can get caught up in “being healthy” so much so that we forget about overall “wellness”, not only physical but mental, emotional and spiritual. And much of that well-being comes from how we think and feel. I spent much of the last 15 years studying nutrition, homeopathy, herbal remedies, etc, because of my family history of breast cancer. And yet I still somehow ended up with cancer. I don’t say this in any sort of negative way or that everything I have done in search of health was for naught. It certainly helped my recovery and I value everything that I have learned. But now I am choosing to expand my focus on well-being. How can I experience more joy in my life, more balance? Am I enjoying what I am eating or is it all about making sure I eat “right”? How can I connect more with my body and allow it to tell me what I need vs letting the internet tell me what I should do? How often do I get quiet and listen to what my body is telling me? The journey continues…..
Anything else you would like to share with our community?
Many people who are fitness oriented are very conscious of alternative medicine and proper nutrition, myself included. However, as a Registered Nurse, I also have great respect for conventional medicine as it most certainly saved my life. I mention this because there are many women who are afraid to get mammograms and are using thermography as an alternative. So I feel that it is important to mention that I had breast thermography done the same week that I had the MRI that found my cancer, and the thermography scan came back completely negative. If you are choosing thermography as the only screening for breast cancer, please discuss this with your doctor. When I discussed my concern with radiation from the mammograms with my oncologist, she stated that you are exposed to more radiation flying in an airplane than you are getting from a mammogram. The screenings are so important and they can make all the difference in catching it early. I never felt a lump in my breast. Even after I was diagnosed and knew the location, I could not physically feel a lump. And if I had put off the screening and the tumor had grown a mere 3mm more in size, I would have required chemotherapy. I am grateful, in so many ways, for listening to my body.