Featured Jersey Girl Survivor: Lisa Bagley
New Jersey Origin: Old Bridge
Diagnosis: Breast Cancer, lymphedema (compression garment and physical therapy)
Treatment: Radiation, Chemo, Double Mastectomy with Lat Flap
Lisa is a mother to four children (Nicole age 30, Travis age 28, Jake age 22, and Mikayla age 12).
Like myself, she currently lives in our hometown of Old Bridge, NJ…AND she works at my former grammar school, Alan B. Shepard Elementary as a lunch aide. When I heard that Lisa was diagnosed, I reached out to offer my help with information about my own personal experience and advice about what to bring to the hospital and preparing for her return home. Us Old Bridge people are very loyal to each other. I feel very blessed that we have each other for support.
Now, post-treatment, Lisa and I met for coffee (my favorite thing to do!) and discussed her journey through the mess of cancer treatment. In our talk, we both came to the realization that the struggle isn’t so much in the “treatment phase”, but more so within the “aftermath”. We agreed that when you are going through all the madness with the doctors and the poking and prodding of being a patient, you are actually in this “survivor mode” that just keeps you focused and moving forward.
We discussed the bigger struggles that surface during the “recovery phase”. It’s a phase where you start to come to terms with the “what the heck just happened?” realization. You are faced with accepting your new body and dealing with the chronic fatigue and the effect on all your personal relationships and the financial strain and….oh Lord, I could go on and on!!! It’s this “recovery phase” that can take years and years to overcome.
How did you feel when treatment was completed?
“Crazy because you would think after beating cancer and finishing radiation. I should be ecstatic. But the truth is. ..that is when it all hit me. I had time to breathe and think. And I said to myself. Wow..I had cancer. I had chemo. I had a double mastectomy. Wow. Reality hit. Now I’m feeling better. .and had another surgery. ..well, three at once. This was harder for me then the mastectomy.”
What advice can you give to someone who has a friend or family member who is newly diagnosed?
“I would tell them to be more about action than just words of encouragement. You need so much help with the day to day when you are going through treatment and afterward in your recovery. Offer to give rides, take the kids for a day, bring food, do a load of laundry, etc. Show them that you are willing to step up and help out”.
How has your cancer experience changed you?
“I am not the same person from before I was diagnosed to who I am now…inside and out. This entire journey has changed how I think, how I live, it even has changed my looks. Before my hair was pin straight, and now it’s thick and curly. Before, my body didn’t hurt so much Now I am reminded every day of the pain I endured. But I learned to live with it, not complain and be thankful to be here. None of us know what tomorrow may hand us, but we do know we have this moment. Embrace it.”
What advice can you give to other survivors about getting used to our new bodies?
“I’m alive and I don’t care about anything else. I have to do what I need to do. I’m not happy with it, I don’t dwell over it. I miss my old body. Just be thankful.” Lisa credits her children to give her the will to push through and toughen it up during all the pain. First and foremost, she wanted to be strong for them. She took this as an opportunity for a “teaching moment” for her kids. Lisa said, “I wanted them also to know that just because I was bald, it did not matter. I embraced being bald. It is what is on the inside that counts.”
Lisa is a force. She credits being able to self-coach herself out of the “why me?” moments. At those low moments, Lisa was able to remove herself from the situation and rise above. As she says, “I would look at myself and say ‘what are you doing?’, ‘Cut the shit and get up!’, ‘Get your sh*t together!’ and I would get my as* up.”
And that is why she is our Featured Jersey Girl for Summer 2018!
Janice M. Woerner, MS, OTR/L