Patient Perspective for Turning Point

One of the fantastic physical therapists at Turning Point Breast Cancer Rehabilitation asked me to tell my cancer story for their newsletter.  Here it is, published in their December 2013 Newsletter:

Patient Perspective
Getting ready to leave the house one day, I adjusted my V-neck shirt to cover my bra.  My fingers hit a lump on my chest that I knew right away shouldn’t be there.  I was 41.

I’d worked for years with the American Cancer Society, so I was more prepared than most when the biopsy was positive.

We saw a breast surgeon first.   I couldn’t wait to be rid of the cancer and I expected to leave that appointment with a surgery date.

Instead, we found out that the tumor was fast-growing, triple negative and at least Stage 2.  The surgeon felt an enlarged lymph node under my arm that she was sure was cancerous.  We were advised to find an oncologist and consider clinical trials.

I was scared, but I also knew I was lucky.  My husband had a great job with good health insurance, while I got to hang out with our kids, ages 6 and 8.  While they were in school, I ran and biked the trails along the Chattahoochee River, kick boxed and taught Zumba®, so I was physically fit.  We were surrounded by supportive friends and family.

In March, 2012, I joined a clinical trial that included 6 months of a daily chemo pill, plus Taxol and Cisplatin infusions. A bilateral mastectomy followed, with a partial axillary dissection and reconstruction with tissue expanders.  The expanders were filled, then deflated when doctors recommended radiation.  After my skin healed, they were filled again. My exchange surgery was this past June.

I have wonderful doctors, but cancer is full of curveballs and impossible decisions.  Each step was a struggle.

After my mastectomy, I walked in to TurningPoint, hunched over and reluctant to move.  Thick, painful cords ran through my arm.  Lauren was confident she could help, and she did, immediately. She said, “We will get you back to doing the things you love.”

Sept 13 - Teaching Zumba Kids for blog-002Since then, she, Anita and Cathy have provided manual massage, fitted me with a compression sleeve, helped me stretch angry muscles and restored my range of motion to nearly 100%.  I have left every visit feeling better, physically and mentally.

The office staff makes getting help easy.  There is no hassle, no redundant forms to fill out.  And, if you know a survivor who needs a treat, send her to Delores for a massage.

Rehab has allowed me to care for our children and home again, and to exercise, which is especially important for triple negative survivors.  I teach Zumba® at the Y, coach Girls on the Run and we just returned from a family bike trip through Montana.  I am back to doing the things that bring me joy.  And I am not defined by cancer.

Thank you, TurningPoint.  And congratulations on your new digs!
Nicole Yates

A lot of things different about this Halloween!

Halloween, 2012

Halloween, 2013

New wig… New husband…

(Why should kids have all the fun?)

Happy November!

“Wene my mom had canser”

Every day when our children get home from school, I go through their backpacks.

One Year After Chemo

Wishing that all cancer fighters could be so lucky.


Where the Buffalo Roam

We are a week into the new school year and all is well!

We ended Summer break with a lot of adventure in 3 of our country’s most beautiful states – Oregon, Montana and Wyoming.

A quick stop in Portland was all about family, and we spent a terrific evening with my cousin Kurt and his crew.  Our kids hardly remember each others’ names – it’s been a long 2 years with both families fighting cancer – but they had such fun together!  The next morning, Dan – another of my Most Awesome Cousins – and his girlfriend gamely stood in line with us at Voodoo Doughnuts before we caught a flight to MT.

In Yellowstone, we were amazed by the bison, geysers and huge buck that hung out at our campsite.  But biking along Montana’s Gravelly Range, with only a herd of antelope racing by, was the highlight for me.

The time I spent riding alone next to each of our children (both during this trip and in Colorado 2 years ago) ranks as my proudest and most enjoyable as a mom.

Sara rode 15 miles one day, telling me stories the whole way.  I wish I could bottle the contentment I saw on her face, to save for her for the years ahead.  When she came to my tent later and asked if we could do yoga together – she had to be exhausted – my heart nearly burst!

Sam would tell you that it was too much biking for him, but he sang Ease on Down the Road at the top of his lungs while he pedaled!  His killer smile was on full display when he saw snow, peed outside, rode through a herd of sheep and watched our guide Wes do cool tricks on his bike.

He also hunted for a special place in camp each evening to set up his plastic toy animals.  There was “Pine Tree Peak,” “Matt’s and My Mini Man-Made Mountain” (after our guide Matt) and, at the base of Black Butte Mountain, just “The Rock.”

Joey and I got in a little riding time alone and still love each other after a week of not bathing and sharing a tiny tent.

Nature does the heart and mind good.  And makes the body stinky.

Back Home
I’m getting ready to coach Sara and 15 other girls on a Girls on the Run team this Fall, and I just started a new Zumba® Kids class at the YMCA.  Tomorrow I start teaching my first weekly adults’ class since treatment.

Joey is rehearsing for Capitol City Opera’s production of La Bohème – when he’s not at the job that pays for our awesome vacations!  He’ll sing in the chorus and play the toymaker, Parpignol, in shows September 6-8.  Other than filling in on a couple of barbershop shows (and reading Family Book every night!), it’ll be his first time on stage since Sam was born.

We are very proud of him and thoroughly enjoying speaking in Italian accents around the house!

Medical Update
My right implant continues to head south, but not enough yet to make me want more surgery, so I canceled my August appt with Dr. Woods.  Don’t care about the other cosmetic stuff right now, either.

In physical therapy, I graduated to strength training for my left shoulder, where the muscles have atrophied.  The therapists think it’s too soon to focus on my pecs, which are still so tight from radiation.

A new development is pain in my left hand that goes from my thumb and forefinger into my wrist.  I haven’t had it looked at, yet, so no idea if it’s treatment-related or not.  I actually thought it might be from braking while going downhill on the bike for so many miles, trying to stay next to cautious Sara :)

But none of this is affecting me much.  My next check-up at Emory is in October.

Thank you for checking in!