CureTalk Interview: Heidi Floyd, Breast Cancer Survivor Talks About her 4 kids, Working and Surviving Cancer During Pregnancy
Heidi Floyd is a breast cancer survivor who wants to help others with cancer. Witty, funny, optimistic are some of the wonderful words that Heidi is known by. Imagine that! Who would have ever thought of a cancer survivor being referred to as “too positive a person?” Read on to know about her journey.
Me: Can you tell our readers when and how did the breast cancer diagnosis come about? What were the symptoms that led you to see the doctor?
Heidi: I was a 37 year old data analyst, with 3 small children and a husband getting a Masters Degree. In the midst of my busy life, I actually found my tumor while changing the bedding on my daughter’s crib. The lump was a small, hard nodule that didn’t seem to move when I felt it. Normally, this wouldn’t have been cause for concern, but I also happened to be pregnant as well. I also have a strong family history of breast cancer, as my own mother died from metastatic breast cancer at age 42.
Finding my own lump during my pregnancy was the main reason I went to see my doctor. After a needle biopsy, I was diagnosed with estrogen-positive breast cancer.
Me: Pregnancy and breast cancer; it must have been a tough, very tough time. How did you cope?
Heidi: I am a person of timid spirit but strong faith. My 3 young daughters and unborn baby were the main coping mechanisms I had – they gave me reason to get up each morning and power through all obstacles. Simply ‘surviving’ this disease wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to make sure that my children, my family, my church, my friends – everyone who was fighting with me saw evidence of their support in my actions. I vowed to find something good in each day, and to make that my focus instead of the incredible difficulties of going through chemo while pregnant.
Thankfully, I had the best oncologist I’ve ever known to handle my care. Dr. George Sledge (Professor of Oncology, Stanford) used his vast knowledge of chemotherapeutic agents that would and would not cross the placental barrier to treat me during my pregnancy.
Me: What was the treatment cycles and schedules that you underwent during pregnancy? Were you ever worried, that the treatment might adversely affect the unborn child?
Heidi: I was given 5FU (Flourouracil), Cytoxan (Cyclophosphamide) and Adraymacin. For every cancer patient, there are risks, side effects and challenges with these fairly harsh medicines. One of them is so hard on people, it’s known as the ‘red devil’. Brutal! So yes, I was quite concerned about my baby. However, my oncologist discussed treatment and risks in exquisite detail with me, so I knew what I would be enduring.
Although my journey was difficult, the arrival of a safe, healthy wonderful little baby boy made it all completely worth it. Completely.
Me: Is there any current treatment regime that you have?
Heidi: Yes, I am currently taking Femara. While the side effects are both daily and constant, I know it is also keeping me alive.
Me: You are known as the cancer girl who is witty and optimistic. Now, that’s a unique and special introduction to someone suffering from cancer. What is it that keeps you so upbeat and cheerful?
Heidi: Is that not the most wonderful title? I was laughing so hard when I was asked to give a keynote speech to a large audience once, after one of the selection committee had heard me speak previously. She said ‘you are that cancer gal, so witty and optimistic! We want you to be our speaker!‘ Yes, I replied, few things are more entertaining than cancer!
To me, after going through cancer (and again in 2011 with a new tumor and more surgery), it’s fairly easy to see what is really, truly important in life.
If you focus on the bad, or spend your time fighting for things that are shallow and unrewarding, you aren’t really doing anything to help your world. Ever day, there is something good that happens. In every situation, in every person, there are good elements. I just like to take time and point out those good things. Even in the midst of very hard situations, there is a silver lining.
Me: Any special lifestyle changes incorporated since the breast cancer diagnosis.
Heidi: I was told to avoid estrogen, including plant-based estrogens. These are particular to my diagnosis, of course, and I don’t speak for all breast cancer patients. That being said, I was guided to be cautious with soy products, never to touch artificial sweeteners, restrict fried and fatty foods. The closer I could get to eating food right out of the ground (home grown fruits and vegetables, etc) the better I would be.
The only insurmountable recommended lifestyle change involves stress. I was told it is crucial to find a way to reduce as much stress in my life as possible. But, again, I work full time and am a mother of 4 children. Stress seems to be the one thing I can’t quite cut out of my diet.
I love both prayer and yoga, however, and find those to be a great way to help find balance.
Me: What advice/ suggestion would you like to share with readers who are currently battling breast cancer?
Heidi: FRIENDS. Oh my goodness, friends. Reach out to everyone you can, and let them help you. Allow them to pray for and with you, to care for your children, to help clean your house, to bring over meals. And while this might sound odd, some of the best support system friends I’ve found are people I’ve never even been able to meet in person!
The online community of breast cancer survivors is a lifeline, and I mean that. I’m part of a group called the “Pink Power Mom” network. It was started by a company whose focus is compassion for Moms with breast cancer. They make children’s products, so mothers are a natural channel for their philanthropy. This group has become like sisters to me. We reach out to each other for advice, thoughts, to express our frustrations, to compare surgeries and treatments, to share milestones and successes – all online. This network is expanding to have a worldwide reach, and I am thankful every day for my Pink Power Moms! Another fantastic group is out on twitter – every Monday night at 9 pm Eastern, the hashtag #bcsm (breast cancer social media) represents questions and answers regarding breast cancer from all over the globe.
Patients, advocates and the medical community are a part of this astonishing hour of conversation – and let me tell you, I feel like I’ve not started my week right unless I am in with my #bcsm friends!
Thank you, Heidi. It was great to connect and hear your story!