Cancer Warrior Lindsey Gerhald
Hi! I’m Lindsey. I’ve been navigating my new normal since June 2018 when I finished treatment for breast cancer at the age of 33. My story is an unusual one. I’m in the 5-percent of women who get cancer a second time after a mastectomy.
I was initially diagnosed in August 2015. My husband and I had just celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary. We were settling into our first home, a fixer upper, while planning its renovation. I had just interviewed for my dream job.
Then a pea-sized bump changed our priorities. “I don’t even know if it’s a lump,” is what I recorded in my journal at the time. I was 30 and found it while doing a routine self-exam in the shower. My college roommate and sister-by-heart, Leslie, had breast cancer in her early 20s and is the reason I was in the habit of doing self-exams regularly.
Turned out that I had Stage 2 breast cancer in my right breast. In the middle of planning treatment and surgeries, I went through two rounds of fertility preservation. I had a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction of the right breast. The mass was 3 cm, my margins were clear, and we caught it before it had spread to the lymph nodes. I started hormone therapy in February 2016.
I was on Tamoxifen for over a year while on a quest to get back to being pre-cancer Lindsey. During that time, I went on a life-changing trip to the Philippines with my family where I jumped off waterfalls and went swimming with whale sharks. My husband and I finished construction on the first half of our home. I volunteered in a community center for women where I helped make a safe space for women to pursue their creativity.
Then came another bump. In July 2017, during a routine annual check up with my plastic surgeon, he felt something suspicious in my right breast. During self-exams I thought it was scar tissue because it was close to the original mass. Come to find out that it was Stage 1 breast cancer and 1 cm large. This was a shock. How could I get cancer while taking Tamoxifen? It meant that this type of cancer was much more aggressive. I had a lumpectomy in August 2017. One of my margins tested positive, which meant another surgery was needed to clear it out.
Since my mass was growing aggressively, I went through aggressive treatment. I had a port put in and underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy in five months. Then came 33 doses of radiation. To boost my spirit and help raise breast cancer awareness, I wore a different shade of lipstick each day and documented it on Instagram. What can I say? I love lipstick and have learned to be unapologetic about my large collection. Treatment was just as hard as chemo, but for different reasons.
As I navigate my new normal, I’m learning that cancer doesn’t define me, but it is part of my story. I accept that it’s an experience that can’t be neatly stored away. There’s a different flow to life and change is the one constant. Instead of trying to get back to pre-cancer Lindsey, I’ve come to accept there’s a new me, and I’m learning to love this process of getting to know her.
My best tips for Cancer Warriors: Take one day at a time. Celebrate all your milestones and accomplishments, no matter how small it is. Lean on your Cancer Warrior sisters for support and remember you are never alone.
I love cheering on others along this path and sharing my story. Let’s connect!