Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UAE and in 2021, it accounted for 21.4% of all cancer cases.
Breast cancer can spread rapidly and be caused by genetics or unhealthy lifestyles.
Many people go through varying stages of cancer, and can find it difficult to open up about their struggles and experiences.
Stephanie Neuhold went on her breast cancer journey and in conversation with Connector shared her experience.
Living in Dubai for over 12 years, Stephanie is the Hotel Manager at Rove Hotels and is also a mother to a five-year-old daughter.
While planning on having a second child, Stephanie wanted to make sure she was in the clear before welcoming a new member to the family.
As risks are higher with family history, and having first-hand experience of losing some of the people she loves to breast cancer, Stephanie was diligent and careful to make sure she got regular check-ups.
In March 2020, when Stephanie went for a check-up she got an all-clear, but in August of the same year when she got checked again, a pearl-sized ball was detected.
Unsure if it was benign or cancer, a biopsy was carried out, which Stephanie shared was one of the hardest experiences, as the results could be life-changing and took six days to come.
Stephanie was then detected with BRCA 1 triple negative, which is a mutation from her genetics and was informed that it is an aggressive form of cancer with another one detected behind the first one.
After her diagnosis on 13 August 2020, it was a fast-paced journey as she quickly started chemotherapy, three weeks later on 4 September.
Six months later on 1 February 2021, her 16 sessions of chemotherapy came to an end but due to her genetic mutation, getting a double mastectomy was advised to remove the breast, with the tumour, tissue and lymph nodes, as there was an 85% possibility of cancer reoccurring, and a month later, the double mastectomy surgery was carried out in a five and a half hour procedure.
Stephanie said, "It takes a lot of courage to say I want to know if there is a percentage that I have a reoccurrence because if there is a genetic default, you pass it on to your family."
Stephanie strongly advises people with or without a family history, when ready, to do a genetic test to see if they are at high risk for breast cancer.
With cancer, it is a rollercoaster of emotions that a person goes through, and people do not stay the same and over time, everyone around you has to get to know you again.
As chemotherapy changes hormones and weakens the immune system, it requires dietary as well as lifestyle changes. Stephanie experienced a wide range of side effects from nausea, loss of sleep and weight gain and even when the cancer was taken out, the adverse side effects from chemotherapy included numbness of fingers and toes, fatigue, lack of sleep, memory loss, stressed out by simple tasks, overwhelmed easily and not able to multitask.
For Stephanie, her side effects took a toll on her for over a year and a half and slowly but surely was able to get back to feeling more like herself.
However, with all the pain and hardships endured, Stephanie never saw her journey with cancer as a battle but rather as another chance to start her life again with a greater sense of appreciation.
Throughout her journey, prioritising her healing was more important than the aesthetic.
With cancer, she went through the highs and lows and despite not feeling herself with all the changes, Stephanie started focusing on the positives and taking it from a minute, to a day at a time.
Support is one of the main pillars in our lives and with the help of her family, friends and work, Stephanie's journey was manageable.
As a mother, one of her biggest fears with cancer as well as the main motivation to get better was to be there to raise her child and guide her in life.
Having her daughter reminded her not to slow down, her husband Mohamed being there at every appointment and her family and friends constantly keeping in touch, meant she got more moments with them which made the entire process worthwhile.
Additionally, another motivator for her to stay busy was work, where she worked through most of her chemotherapy sessions and her love for her job made her go back to work a month after the surgery.
Stephanie said, "The support of an employer and the personal community with family and friends and work colleagues helped tremendously on the journey."
As opening up was difficult, she wanted compassion, but did not want to be treated with sympathy and empathy, but rather as herself. Having the people around her treat her as she is, helped in her processing everything in her timeline.
Stephanie said, "My personality is very people oriented and I didn't want to let anyone down more than myself and wanted to stay as who I am because after the journey I will be different and will have to reintroduce myself."
Stephanie shared that everyone going through a similar experience with cancer needs to accept their path and embrace their journey, allowing them to come out stronger from the experience and with a new appreciation for life.
"Don't look back on who you were, just look forward and think about what happens next and how to turn this situation into new learning and embrace yourself as a new character," Stephanie says.
While still balancing at times, Stephanie reminds herself to focus on the things that are in her control.
Stephanie said, "We, the ones who have experienced the diagnose, should not underestimate how much the beloved ones, friends and family join in the suffering and feel helpless."
As it is an experience that takes a toll on the person, the people around you watch the pain you go through and can sometimes feel helpless in these situations.
Similarly, for Stephanie, she realised that the most important help you can get from the people you love is listening skills as well as communicating with them so that they understand how you are feeling, as you can go from happy, grateful to frustrated, depressed and demotivated very quickly.
Going through breast cancer is a turbulent experience and is something that Stephanie now sees as a positive one and, since her experience feels that "everything in a journey like this, which people feel as a battle or a fight, is just a blessing to realise things, and makes you better as a person and more vulnerable to life, and realise you are on a visit."
It has helped her find a deeper purpose, set boundaries, tell people what she wants rather than having expectations and, focus on her health and peace.
Stephanie's advice to people going through cancer is, "Whoever is experiencing this journey, don't fight it, allow the thought of acceptance. Allow the feeling of embracing it and see yourself on the other side, transforming into that new you, because the more you are against and try to fight, let go because you will not have an answer. Instead of being stuck or going backwards, give yourself the power and the energy to move forward."
Cancer for her is not a struggle but a gift to see how life can be and how you can come out stronger from the experience. As she changed her lifestyle for the better by incorporating a healthier diet and more activity, including spinning on the bike and going on walks, she has a happier lifestyle than ever before.
Always be prepared as there will be constant follow-ups as well as times of uncertainty and listen to your body, as she was able to detect her cancer in stage 1 and get the right treatment.
Stephanie now focuses on the daily small wins and knowing it is an ongoing chapter for the rest of her life, and takes the time to appreciate everything on her cancer journey.