My name: Montana Mawhinney
Where I live: Norway, ME
How far out of active treatment?: Nine months post-chemo, seven months post radiation.
Stage 2 Breast Cancer Diagnosis (with invasion of lymph nodes) at age 24. Original lumpectomy / biopsy, then bi-lateral mastectomy straight to implant reconstruction, four rounds of A/C chemo, 12 rounds of Taxol, 33 rounds of radiation.
My long term plan to prevent recurrence is Lupron monthly (15 so far) & tamoxifen daily for 5-10 years since I am estrogen/progesterone positive.
What does the word 'survivor' or 'survivorship' mean to you?
To me, being a survivor means not being defined by my circumstances but by how I react to them. I cannot control cancer, but I can control how I handle it and I can help raise awareness.
If you had to describe what survivorship feels like in three words, what would they be?
Bittersweet. Empowering. Vulnerable.
What's one thing you wished people outside of the cancer community understood about survivorship?
It does NOT end after you are determined "cancer free" - we are unable to "move on" because every single day we are reminded of cancer - most of us are on long term treatment plans that still require medication/appointments/follow ups/etc.
What are some things that have helped you during this time?
THE BREASTIES & the online community of friends I have made with similar stories. I felt so alone before I found others closer to my age. Traveling. Journaling. Going for walks in the woods with my dog.
Biggest survivorship pet peeve?
"Aren't you SO GLAD it's over?" How is it over? I take 6 pills every single day and get a painful shot in my ass every single month? I am constantly reminded of my probable infertility and likelihood that it could return! I have to watch my friends deal with recurrence / terminal cancer and there is nothing I can do but sit and watch? Definitely not "over" from where I stand.
What, if anything do you think should be done more in the cancer community in terms of survivorship?
Mental health services for life after cancer - I think people assume that once you are "cancer-free" you can just jump right back into your "normal life" but that is not your "normal life" anymore—it is your life before cancer. Figuring out your new "normal / life after cancer" is completely overwhelming and confusing and I think there could be more services to help along this journey.
What's your favorite swear word?
FUCK, it’s so versatile.
What's something you haven't said out loud about survivorship that you want to get off your chest? If there's nothing, that's OK.
I'm afraid to make long term life plans because I am worried I won't still be here.
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.
I wish I was traveling, getting married & having babies like my friends. I used every bit of savings I had to pay medical bills/costs, might be infertile, and feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that I "survived" and others have not / will not. It's really hard to stay positive - but I am trying my best!
Connect with Montana on Instagram.