Interview with a breast cancer survivor: Linda Berlot

27 October 2013

“Breast Cancer does not define you; it’s something that happens to you and you overcome it.” Linda.

Linda’s story serves as an inspiration to everyone; she is a breast cancer survivor who fought the disease 2 years ago and defeated it. She is now living a fulfilling life working in the UAE as a relationship coach with big corporates. She is also on the organizing committee of Dubai-based non-profit organization Brest Friends, providing help, support and information to breast cancer patients and survivors.

Italian by birth, Linda lived in many parts of the world before settling in the UAE in 2004. She has been a Client of Globaleye since 2008 and for Breast Cancer Awareness month we interviewed her to find out how she fought breast cancer and what advice she can give to other women.

When and how did you first find out you have breast cancer?

Breast cancer runs in my immediate family; my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50 years old, and she fought the disease for 15 years until she passed away 3 years ago.  My sister was 35 years old when she was diagnosed. She fought the disease and she is absolutely fine now. She was diagnosed 5 years before my diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago when I was 43 years old. I have always been proactive and health conscious because of my family history with breast cancer, and in the last year of my mother’s life I felt I needed to go for screening, which included ultrasound and mammograms more often. As mammograms are not routinely offered before the age of 50, I’m grateful that my doctors listened to me and I was given a mammogram and an ultrasound every alternatively six months.

It was during one of these mammograms that my cancer was discovered at a very early stage. I was extremely lucky having detected it early; because my cancer was not a lump it would have gone undetected for a long time had I not insisted on the regular screening and mammograms.

What were your main concerns after being diagnosed?

Initially the time after diagnosis is very confusing. You are still trying to come to terms with the reality of the illness and at the same time you are afraid of what might be. You are constantly wondering what type of cancer it is, how far it has spread, what can be done next and what are the chances of survival.

After the diagnosis process a series of tests are used to determine the type of cancer and the procedures to be adopted for treatment and recovery. Discussing with the doctors and understanding the course of action towards recovery helps to alleviate some of the confusion.

I had a bilateral mastectomy and a reconstruction in the same operation; it was an eight-hour procedure.

Thoughts about death, or living with a disfigured body, are overwhelmingly scary. I was terrified of dying in the operation. I was not concerned about possible chemotherapy and radiation – I knew if I needed to face treatment, I would do what I needed to just deal with it. For some reason the operation was my biggest fear.

How did your family react to the news?

Initially there was a lot of shock and emotion in the family after hearing the news, but what followed was lots of support and love. I could not have got through it without the love and support of my friends and my family; they have been an important part of my fight with breast cancer.

Hope did you cope emotionally?

I think the hardest thing for a breast cancer patient is to accept is how helpless you feel and how dependent on others you become, because you are so used to being competent. Learning to identify what you need, and asking for help – was for me was the hardest thing of all.

My cancer was detected early, and although I went through a mastectomy because of my family history, I did not require chemotherapy and radiation. As a result, my recovery was much quicker than somebody who needed chemotherapy. Even so, asking for help and feeling absolutely helpless is very difficult for a woman who is used to being in control, doing everything herself, and taking care of others.

To be honest you never ever overcome the fear of the disease; the fear lives closely with you all the time after diagnosis and you just learn to manage and control it. You learn to put one foot in front of the other and slowly get through the treatment. When you slowly get through everything, you realize that you always had the strength within you.

Being positive for me is not about smiling; it’s about working up the courage to understand that you are afraid, and then getting up each morning knowing that even though you are afraid, you will face that fear and defeat it. Being positive for me is having the courage to be authentic.

How did you manage the costs of treatment?

I was extremely fortunate to have taken out a comprehensive medical insurance  5 years ago, and that paid for everything.  When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer I was advised to invest in medical insurance and critical illness insurance that I took out with Globaleye, just in case the worst should happen to me. Looking back, I will always be extremely grateful for having taken that advice.

Financial dependence during illness can be an added burden. Knowing I was covered allowed me to focus on my illness rather than worry about finances. I am glad I didn't have to depend on anyone in terms of money.

My sister, who lives in Switzerland, was also fortunate enough to have the correct insurances in place, so she was very well protected and looked after during her treatment.

How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life?

Breast cancer has had a profound impact on my life. When you are faced with your mortality it makes you appreciate that your time is limited and you realise that life is for living right now. It has taught me to be present every moment and live my life on my terms. After breast cancer I feel much stronger than I ever did, and this has allowed me to stretch my boundaries and push myself in ways that I never thought would be possible.

After the illness I achieved goals that I never thought I could. I was never a very physically active person but I went on an expedition to Antarctica and climbed a mountain there; I had to train myself physically and mentally for that. I also resigned from a very comfortable job and started my own business. So it has given me the strength to take risks that I would have never taken before.

What advice would you like to give to women about breast cancer?

Every woman’s journey from diagnosis to treatment to recovery is different.  I currently work with women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer. In that period before they know what their treatment is, they experience a lot of confusion and fear. One thing I know from my experience and after working with these incredible women is that during those initial weeks women don’t realize how strong they really are. The power they have to face fear and recover is within them all along.

If there is anything that I could say to other women going through a similar experience is to take one step at a time, one breath at a time, and know that you have the strength within you to get through each challenge.  Breast cancer is something that happens to you, and does not need to define you.

I believe in being proactive, and things like exercise and good diet, and going for your yearly mammograms and self-examinations is all about being proactive. Although you cannot prevent a disease, you can surely minimize its chances and its lessen its impact on your life in this way.

By preparing for worse, you can at least make yourself feel empowered and in control should the eventual happen. I know a lot of people, including myself, who would advise taking out a health insurance cover and critical illness insurance as it is an effective step towards being proactive, and feeling prepared and empowered.

What are you doing towards raising awareness about breast cancer?

I’m on the organizing committee of Brest Friends which is a non-profit organization here in Dubai, and we provide support for breast cancer patients and survivors. I am also actively involved in organizing and attending various events to speak about breast cancer and stress on the importance of being proactive in life.

I was part of a team of 12 breast cancer survivors who went on an expedition to Antarctica and climbed a mountain there in order to raise awareness about breast cancer. The more information we share and the more conversations we have about breast cancer, the easier it will be to demystify the disease and get rid of the taboo surrounding it.

People are afraid of the word cancer and it is important for cancer survivors to tell everyone that there is life after cancer. Cancer doesn't define you, it’s just an event that happens in your life and you overcome it. The sooner you detect breast cancer the more your chances of survival are. So it is important to get the message out to everyone and help save lives.

On 26th October I am skydiving for “leap of faith jump” in Pink Skydive to raise funds for Brest Friends and raise awareness about breast cancer. It is scary, but I know I can do it.

Globaleye offers comprehensive Health Insurance and Critical Illness Insurance solutions and qualified advice. To find out more and receive a quote please contact Globaleye today!

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