After my cancer diagnoses, I knew I needed support. Friends and family wanted to jump in, but I wasn’t sure what kind of help I needed (or was too shy to ask). That’s why I created Mend Together – to make life easier for patients who truly need help.– Lisa Lefebvre, Founder/CEO/2x cancer “endure-er”
My name is Lisa Lefebvre and I’ve had cancer on and off during the last 15 years.
My cancer experiences have been harder than some, easier than many. I was raised in Minnesota – a kind, stoic Scandinavian/Germanic culture where we tend not to talk about feelings – we just hunker down and bear things. If I were to be honest, I would say that the “inner” account – or dialogue – of my cancer recoveries has been very emotional and volatile. I also lost several people to cancer along the way. I struggled so much, so often.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. Both breasts had tumors and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, so I underwent a bi-lateral lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
My chemo side effects were significant. This taught me the very real difference between pain and suffering. I went from being in the best physical shape of my life to finding it difficult to walk more than 1 block or exit the subway without resting. Like most people, I lost my hair. The treatments also sent me into chemical menopause. Regardless of the temperature, I could never get warm and I was quite sad to have my sexual chemistry changed so abruptly at a young age.
During this time, I was treated by a functional medicine MD. He prescribed a range of nutritional supplements that were instrumental in helping me regain my stamina and manage my nausea. I am not sure I would have made it through treatments without extra nutritional support.
Shortly after, I learned I had a BRCA1 genetic mutation which carries high risk of additional cancers (85%). And each prior tumor also carried a 15% chance of metastasizing (e.g. becoming terminal). I was glad to be aware of my increased risks, so I could be proactive, but my worry became all-consuming: I wasn’t at the end of my cancer journey, I was at the beginning.
I spent many nights building spreadsheets to predict when I might die. My statistical skills aren’t that advanced, so I finally gave up, ball-parked that I probably would die on the early side, and prepared to just live fully for today.
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Two years later
Within a few years, an ultrasound revealed multiple growths on both ovaries. I had preventative surgery to remove the ovaries and I went into surgical menopause. Going from chemical to surgical menopause was a cliff drop. It was bewildering — physically, emotionally and socially — to be walking around with no estrogen in my body.
Because of my high risk for new breast tumors, my oncologist strongly recommended a mastectomy. I dreaded this so he reluctantly gave me a 5-year deadline. Six months before the deadline was up, they found cancer again and it had spread into my lymph nodes once more. I had a double mastectomy and a different chemo protocol that caused significant weight gain. I was disheartened to be tasked with losing 30 pounds after a major surgery.
During this time, my dog died unexpectedly while I was away celebrating the end of my chemotherapy, my consulting income dropped to virtually zero due to the recession, and I lost my fiancé because of the impact of cancer on our relationship. This period was simply brutal.
Over the next 6 months, my pectoral muscles were gradually separated from my rib cage to make room for implants. I was enrolled in an implant clinical trial (which failed). This was quite a painful process. My chest muscles wouldn’t stretch enough to accommodate the experimental prostheses. I developed PTSD and a phobia of being touched due so many needles and the open-ended onslaught of the pain. I was
ultimately prescribed 4 levels of pain medication so I could focus enough to hold a conversation with others.
I struggled to find less toxic solutions to managing the pain — and my PTSD. During my years of searching, I found multiple products (specific bras, mattress toppers, seatbelt covers) and specialized services (EMDR, myofascial release) that significantly improved my daily life.
Over time, I passed some chronological hurdles and my survival rates improved greatly. This was truly disorienting and required a major emotional course correction. I was angry that what I thought was a prudent call — getting ready to die and living for now – resulted in me not being as financially prepared as I would like for retirement. An immersive arts workshop was surprisingly instrumental in helping me reorient.
Fast forward to today
I recently completed a 10-year hormone suppression protocol that was required because one of my tumors fed on estrogen. With literally zero estrogen in my body, I am a completely different person in a way that is hard to describe, except to say it is heartbreaking on a deeply personal level. Frankly, I hate it, and I am working hard to find ways to hopefully reverse this state without stimulating any dormant cancer cells.
I have one elective surgery in front of me to remove my failed textured implants, which have now been shown to generate an additional risk of cancer. I will be glad to remove this long-term source of chronic pain, but I am not looking forward to another major surgery and recovery. But I know Mend will be is a wonderful resource to turn to during that period.
In the meantime, I’m focused on introducing newly diagnosed patients, and longer-term survivors, and the people who want to help them to the resources on Mend Together.
My hope is that we can eventually expand Mend Together to help survivors of other traumatic diagnoses or events that need “Mending After” such as cardiac problems, domestic violence, or even natural disasters. For the time being, 10% of proceeds from purchases on this site go to cancer patients in need.
Thanks for reading this and thank you for your support.
Lisa Lefebvre is the Founder of Mend Together. She has experience recovering from 8 cancer-related surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, radiation protocols and hormone suppression therapy.