My name: Kate Martin
Where I live: Boston, MA
How far out of active treatment?: 15 months
As I approached 40, I decided to pause my career of dating men who weren't right for me and focus instead on what I knew was right for me: motherhood. In 2013 I bought some sperm on the internet, and in 2015 my (extremely expensive) son was born.
In 2017 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive lobular carcinoma in my left breast. I had no family history, no genetic mutation, and no reason to suspect I was at an increased risk for cancer. My daily life as the sole provider and caregiver for a toddler was already so absurdly challenging that I barely batted an eye at an out of the blue cancer diagnosis. I believe I said something along the lines of "yeah, that feels about right". As a mama bear who was no way in hell going to let her son grow up an orphan, that was quickly followed by my mantra of "NOT TODAY, cancer".
My treatment was 16 weeks of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy with a whole lotta lymph nodes removed, 28 rounds of radiation and implant reconstruction surgeries interspersed. In 2018 I thanked my ovaries for their service and had them removed so I could stop doing the monthly Lupron shot, and I take Letrozole daily until I either sprout a penis or my bones shatter. :)
What does the word 'survivor' or 'survivorship' mean to you?
It's when active treatment ends and the mind games begin.
If you had to describe what survivorship feels like in three words, what would they be?
Existential crisis olympics.
What's one thing you wished people outside of the cancer community understood about survivorship?
There is no "after" cancer. Once you're diagnosed, there's only "during". We finish active treatment and may be declared 'cancer free', but for the rest of our lives cancer will be part of us.
What are some things that have helped you during this time?
My yoga practice is a constant source of nourishment for my mind, body and soul and continues to evolve with me as I navigate the complicated path of survivorship. I have an amazing therapist who helps me sort through the wreckage, as it reveals itself. Connecting with my sisters in this tribe has been huge. Our family and friends can love and support us all day every day, but nobody can truly understand what it's like unless they've been through it themselves. #breasties4life
Biggest survivorship pet peeve?
This isn't specific to survivorship, but it needs to be said. Hearing "you got this" when I was diagnosed was brutal. If I'm running a marathon, giving a TedX talk, or about to perform the symphony I just wrote, great- let me know you see all my preparation and dedication with a "you got this". If I've just been handed a health diagnosis that I have zero control over, hearing "you got this" feels disproportionate to the gravity of the situation. And also like I'm going to be a huge disappointment if I don't, in fact, got this. Suggested alternates include "I'm so sorry you're going through this" or "I'm with you every step of the way".
Also if someone tells you about their cancer history and you respond by telling them about the person you knew who had the same kind of cancer... and go on to reveal that said person is deceased, you may want to take a hard look at your social skills. See above suggested alternates for more appropriate responses.
What, if anything do you think should be done more in the cancer community in terms of survivorship?
I think we're doing it! Talking about it openly, acknowledging that none of us returns to "life as normal" after a cancer diagnosis, and sharing our stories helps each of us understand that we're not alone and not crazy if we vacillate wildly between opposing emotions.
What's your favorite swear word?
Ugh this is one of the hardest parts of parenting. Finding alternate words for cursing that will carry some weight but are not going to result in a call from school when your kid repeats them is not easy. I've settled on "oh, NUGGETS" as a crap/balls/shit replacement and its oddly satisfying.
What's your theme song?
Katy Perry’s "Roar" when I was actively in treatment, more recently, Sia's "Unstoppable".
Consider this a free space to say anything you want about this topic. Word vomit, away. No judgement. I want the realest of the real here.
Oh man, survivorship is tricky. At first I had the same freakout everyone else does, feeling like I wasn't "doing" anything to fight cancer when I finished treatment. But meanwhile I've completely overhauled the way I live, what I eat, the products I use, and not a single choice is made without consideration of the relationship to cancer. The reality is that every day I'm doing everything in my power to prevent a recurrence. It's made me a waaaay more conscious consumer, and more intentional as a whole. There are so many things we can't control, but making informed choices rather than living by habit or circumstance helps me feel like I can have some influence over outcomes.