What It's Like to Be Diagnosed With Stage II Breast Cancer – An Interview With Author and Survivor Janet Maker

In 2011, Janet Maker, PhD, was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. She was shocked, to say the least. The heartbreaking diagnosis was found accidentally via a chest x-ray – there was no history of breast cancer in her family.  In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Dr. Maker spoke with Her Campus at The New School about her journey. Read on to see what this amazing woman had to say. 

HC: So many young women (myself included) have been faced with the big C – usually, our first reaction is anger. When you were diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, what thoughts were running through your mind? 

Dr. Maker: When I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, my mind leapt immediately to Kubler-Ross’ first two stages of grief: denial and anger. I thought the lab had made a mistake, and I was angry about it. I remembered that my gynecologist had insisted I take hormone replacement therapy, reassuring me that it wouldn’t cause breast cancer, and I was angry at him. I was angry at myself for letting him persuade me. I was angry at the doctor who had diagnosed the cancer, even though friends pointed out that he might have saved my life. The last thing I recall as I was being wheeled into surgery is hoping that when they opened me up they wouldn’t be able to find any cancer and finally be forced to admit it was all a horrible mistake.

HC: What advice do you have for our readers for better controlling or dealing with negative emotions when they're presented with something as catastrophic as breast cancer?

Dr. Maker: I think everyone deals with negative emotions in their own way. The thing I always do when faced with a crisis is search for information. I channeled all my energy into finding out whatever I could about what I had so that I would be prepared to make my own decisions, not just do what my doctors told me.

My family and friends were supportive, but unless they had breast cancer, they couldn’t really understand.  The people in my support groups understood. Through my research, I found a local group and I joined an international group online. They provided not only a wealth of information—I got all my doctors from their recommendations, info on how to save my hair during chemotherapy, and even a way to reduce chemo side effects by fasting—but they also provided me with emotional support.

Separately, I also relied upon my meditation practice to help me manage my emotions and negative thoughts.

HC: What does the term "advocate" mean to you? How can college-aged women become an advocate? 

Dr. Maker: To me, being an advocate means making your own decisions. So if you are faced with difficult medical issues, you need to have enough information so you can interact responsibly with your doctors, and ask the right questions and evaluate the answers you receive. Cancer treatment is not an exact science, so there is quite a bit of guesswork and answers are rarely clear-cut. In my case, I needed enough evidence to feel comfortable making very tough decisions.

Photo courtesy of Janet Maker, Ph.D. 

HC: When did you realize something was wrong? What encouraged you to seek medical help?

Dr. Maker: My cancer was found by accident when I had a CT scan for something else. I felt perfectly fine, the only time I felt sick was as a result of the treatment. I think the fact that I never felt sick was the main reason my denial was so strong. It also meant that I had enough energy to do the research.

HC: Do you have anything else you'd like to share with our readers?  

Dr. Maker: I think there are two main things that greatly helped me through my treatment and are helping me stay in remission now. First, trust your own judgment and feelings, and second, reach out for whatever support you need -- it’s definitely available.

To learn more about this fearless survivor, visit https://twgbreastcancer.com/janet-maker/