When Jyoti Mangat found a lump in her breast in early 2016, she didn’t panic but decided to keep an eye on it before following up with her general practitioner. A few weeks went by without the lump going away, so Mangat texted her doctor, who told her to come into the clinic right away. A mammogram was scheduled along with an ultrasound-guided biopsy, and she was officially diagnosed with stage one triple negative breast cancer in June 2016.
Mangat, who is the principal of Bellerose Composite High School in St. Albert, Alta., had a graduation celebration to emcee three days after she received her diagnosis. She persevered through the ceremony and, a month later, in July 2016, underwent a lumpectomy, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and radiation at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.
Today, the 51-year-old is cancer-free. She reflects back on the year she took off work so she could focus on treatment for her breast cancer and her recovery, and here she shares what that experience was like.
“[On the day of diagnosis] I was at school when I got the call [from my doctor] and I remember looking at my office manager and saying, ‘I have to go.’ I just dropped everything.
“I remember my doctor saying to me, ‘I really wish you had brought your husband with you,’ and I just laughed because it didn’t occur to me. I think I was in such a rush to get it over with that I just went [to my doctor] rather than try and coordinate with him.
“A nurse navigator called me less than 24 hours after my diagnosis to say, ‘I hear that you’ve been diagnosed and I’m here to help you between now and the time that you are handed over to the Cross.’ That was really helpful to have somebody [to answer my] questions and book all my appointments, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that. It was wonderful to have that support
“Up until I had my lumpectomy, I never had a hospital bracelet on my wrist. I had never spent a night in the hospital. [I went] from being the type of person who hadn’t taken anything stronger than an Advil to chemo.
“The chemo was more difficult than I thought it would be. I broke my ankle 48 hours after my first chemo infusion and I think it was a result of all of this stuff in my system that I’m not accustomed to. I think my body just rebelled and I fainted, and when I fainted I rolled my ankle and broke it.
“[As for treatment], I wasn’t nauseous but I had thrush in my mouth and that meant I wasn’t able to eat. I survived on Booster Juice with a protein shot and I haven’t had one since. This is just a couple of years before the SkipTheDishes phenomenon. My husband worked downtown and we lived downtown and I would text him if I thought of something I might be able to eat and he was great about running milkshakes home to me. I could have something to eat and then he could go back to work.
“I think the thing I was unprepared for was the fatigue. I remember parking for one of my radiation treatments at the Cross and not being able to walk from my car without stopping along the way to rest. I was unprepared for how bad the fatigue would feel. A friend described it to me and she said it felt like the lead blanket they put on you when you go to the dentist for x-rays — that’s what it felt like.
“I recall saying to my husband after treatment ended, ‘I think I have PTSD.’ After treatment was over, I was getting physically stronger, then the emotional processing kicked in. I think partly what happens with diagnosis is the ball gets rolling so fast that you just hang on.
“I had a ton of support, but when you’re used to working every day and everyone you know is working every day, you’re alone during the day.We can say all we want about technology and cell phones but it sure was handy to be able to stay in touch with friends and family.
“[Support] makes a huge difference. Every day you go into the Cross you think, ‘I’m really lucky to have access to this facility and these people and to know that I’ve got people around me who care about me deeply.’
“[Today], whether it’s work, family or friends, I’ve got a ton of support. The network I have around me is something I’m proud of.”