Fierce, Fighting Friday
“You have a voice in your treatment plan and YOU are the boss! Don’t EVER let anyone tell you how much time you have left on this planet.”
Provide a brief biography to describe your life pre-diagnosis
My name is Cassandra Milone. I had been practicing Massage therapy for 13 years at the time of my diagnosis. I had just relocated and expanded my practice in Quincy, MA. I was vocalist in a cover band called “Up All Night” in the Boston area. I absolutely LOVE performing! I was only 14 months into a new relationship with a strong, lovely young lady, Lydia. I truly value family and quality relationships. I am loving and outspoken, and I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Did you have any symptoms leading up to your diagnosis? What led you to see a doctor?
On a mid November morning in 2018, my partner found a lump in my left breast (do you know how frequently a partner finds cancer? I didn’t). I was about a week out to my menstrual cycle, so I thought to myself I would wait until after my period to see if there were any changes. I was young and healthy after all. At an appointment with my PCP a few weeks later, she didn’t seem too concerned, but ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. Later, a biopsy. I went home and looked up how much it was going to cost and I decided I didn’t have the $5,000, so I opted to wait until the new year when I got a slightly better insurance plan. I wish I had never waited. From the time I found my lump to the seven weeks later when I had my scans and tests, my lump had increased in size and it was likely during this waiting period that it spread to my lymph nodes. January 15th 2019 I was diagnosed with stage 3, triple positive breast cancer. I was 31 years old. If my partner had not spoken up, nothing would have seemed out of the ordinary to me. Sure, I had gained some weight and felt a little fatigued, but other than that I felt completely normal.
How did hearing the words “you have cancer” make you feel?
After being diagnosed with a life threatening disease, you instantly feel faced with death. I thought “why me?” and “what did I do wrong?”. I went home and called my loved ones to share the news. It was a horrifying day that I will never forget. After 1.5 months of researching, processing, and deciding on a treatment plan, I made it my mission to have a positive mindset and find the blessings within the shit storm as much as possible.
–What do you know now that you wish you had known back then?
I wish I knew the strength I had within me and that I could get through anything that was thrown my way. I wish I had known that I was resilient and would come out on the other side stronger than ever!
How has life changed? What has been your biggest challenge since your diagnosis?
Cancer is both a blessing and a curse. It has a way of giving you perspective on EVERYTHING. It promotes growth and change and makes you realize what and who is most important in life. It was a surprise to see who showed up and who didn’t. “Family” isn’t always blood and life has a funny way of making space for new relationships to come into your life when you need them most. It taught me how to truly express myself, listen, and see life from a more compassionate space. We never know when our time is up and life passes by very quickly. Chemo really kicked my ass but I was also shocked by my mental and physical resilience.
What do you wish people knew about supporting a loved one with cancer? What have been the most helpful ways that friends and family have supported you?
When sharing the news of cancer with loved ones it is very common for people to say all of the wrong things, without having any negative intentions. I would love people to know that you don’t have to say anything to try to make things better, because there isn’t anything that will take the cancer away. Sometimes just simply holding space, being an open ear, without giving your opinion or advise is exactly what we need. Just share a moment of “this sucks really bad” or “you don’t deserve this shit!” rather than comments like ” you got this!” or “it’s just hair, it’ll grow back”. I just wanted my loved ones to check in on me, offer to drive me to chemo, make me a yummy meal, watch a movie with me and make me laugh. I wanted someone to try to distract me from the crazy cancer world I was living in. I needed someone to hold my hand and give me a hug, anything to remind me that I wasn’t alone. No matter how much support you have, it is an extremely scary and lonely experience. Unless you have had cancer, you have no idea what it’s like.
What was your treatment protocol?
After being diagnosed I wanted to make sure I found the right oncologist. It was important to get multiple opinions, and after much thought and consideration, I decided to partake in a trial testing the theory of less chemo at Beth Israel in Boston, MA. Treatment began in March of 2019. It consisted of 12 weeks of Taxol, Herceptin, and Perjeta infusions. Next was a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection surgery where there was still evidence of disease, unfortunately that meant more treatment. Next, 8 weeks of DD-AC and finally 21 rounds of radiation. It was very important to me to have a blended holistic healing approach. To help manage the side effects of treatment, I received regular Jikiden Reiki sessions, acupuncture, massage and chiropractic adjustments. I also made a lot of changes to my diet, eating plant based and organic as much as possible, and I saw an herbalist to add in some supplements.
What is next for you?
I finished all of my infusions April 15th 2020 and can say that I am officially CANCER FREE!! Those are amazing words to be able to say, but cancer doesn’t just go away. In many ways, cancer begins when you’re done with treatment. You are so used to running from appointment to appointment and always being on a mission to kick cancers ass. When everything is over, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. I am trying to figure out who I am and what life is beyond cancer. I am working on healing my inner self, both the wounds from cancer and pre-existing mental traumas that I believe contributed to cancers ability to grow in my body. It takes time and patience. I have an amazing therapist, and I feel extremely grateful for my spiritual growth and path that has only deepened with this experience. I am grateful to have the tools of many healing modalities to get me through the ups and downs. I am blessed to have an amazing massage practice, and I can’t wait to get back to it with a full schedule. It is my mission to help other cancer ThrivRs and teach them to advocate for themselves and trust their own inner wisdom. I am blessed to have a new lease on life and will continue to grow and help others grow. My dream is to create a space/business where a community can come together to build each other up and support one another. As my friend Lauren Lopez taught me, I will continue to live from a loving compassionate space as best I can. She is my guardian angel who still continues to teach me things. I hope to get married and start a family in the near future.
What advice would you give to someone who has recently been diagnosed?
My advice is to BREATHE, take one step at a time, and trust your instincts. I HIGHLY suggest to use holistic treatments like Jikiden Reiki, acupuncture, sound healing and prayer/meditation. I would never have been able to get through treatment without a blended Eastern and Western approach. Don’t forget you have a voice in your treatment plan and YOU are the boss! Don’t EVER let anyone tell you how much time you have left on this planet. That is between you and your God!! You are NOT a statistic!! Be gentle with yourself and constantly remind yourself how far you have come. Continue to kick ass, remember you aren’t alone, even when you feel you are! Reach out to others going through the same type of cancer so you have others who can relate to you. Facebook and hospital-run support groups are great ways to form these relationships. Lastly, always remember that you are a THRIVR!!! In the words of Lauren…”You are seen, you are heard and you are loved!”.