“Cancer Doesn’t Define Me” – Brandee’s Inspiring Story

“I don’t want to be known as a cancer survivor. This disease doesn’t define me,” says Brandee Tronstad, a three-time tonsil, ovarian, and breast cancer survivor who has endured a total of 10 rounds of chemotherapy and 72 bouts of radiation over a period of eight years. “I just want be known as Brandee, but I tell my story because I believe humans can dig deep down and find that they’re strong enough to get through anything, and this is empowering.”

Tell your loved ones to “go with the flow”

“Telling my friends and family seemed harder than hearing the actual diagnosis because I had to see their reaction,” says Brandee. Juggling emotions, appointments, and therapies of breast cancer treatment is a difficult feat for a person who has just been diagnosed. “I was looking for positive, up-beat people, and many didn’t know they were being negative. They were just feeling bad for me.”

Instead of dwelling on the disease, Brandee says, “Now, I’d tell them to just go with the flow. If your loved one doesn’t want to eat because they’re nauseous, go with it. If they only want ice cream, and they enjoy it, let it be.” It takes a team and with the help and with the support of her husband, daughter, family, and friends, Brandee got through it. She says they always helped her, “look back and see the humor of what I went through.”

Everyone’s cancer journey is different

There are no two people who go through the same experience, but every survivor has a different story to tell. “The worst thing I can tell someone who’s going through cancer is that I understand everything he or she is going through,” says Brandee. Instead, she shares four tenets of survival she learned through her process:

  1. Understand that it’s not your fault. “I’ve never smoked, drank a diet soda, or did anything that research suggests causes cancer.” Many believe they must have done something to gain the diagnosis, but Brandee didn’t dwell on it. “For me, it was like, ‘it happened and I can’t undo this. What can I do to get on with it and make it better?’”
  1. Grieving is normal. A cancer diagnosis is a common trigger for a myriad of feelings, and understanding that it’s part of the process is key. “You definitely go through the seven stages of grieving, and that is absolutely normal. Sometimes you get stuck on the stage and you need some help to get through it, but just be aware they’re normal and you’ll get through it.”
  1. Build a close connection with your doctor. “It’s really important that you have a good relationship with your doctors and they listen to you.” There were times when Brandee would go to her doctor appointment and wait for hours in the waiting room past her appointment time. “I had a wonderful, caring doctor; when I went to his office and had to wait for hours, I knew there was someone else in there he was spending time with who really needed it.”
  1. Learn to advocate. Whether it’s you or your loved one, being clear with your doctor is key to finding the right resources and educating yourself on what’s available to you. “You need to advocate for yourself, or have your loved one advocate for you.” Learning how to ask the right questions and fight for new tests and treatments is an important part of your journey.

“It’s made me a better caregiver”

After years of battling with the disease, Brandee now works with cancer patients in an affiliate program with the Hearst Cancer Resource Center to help with pain, relief and rehabilitation through aquatic therapy. “Ever since my own experience, I’ve become a better caregiver,” she says. “Seeing all the people in my life send cards, praying for me, and just knowing that every one was pulling for me made the world of difference. It is my time to pay it forward.”

 

Mammograms are critical for finding breast cancers in localized and early stages. We hope this story will inspire you to get screened at a facility near you. To schedule a mammogram in your area, see the following:

Central California

St. Joseph’s (Stockton, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/central-california-mammogram

Mercy Southwest (Bakersfield, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/bakersfield-mammogram

St. John’s Pleasant Valley (Camarillo, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/california-coast-mammogram

 

Southern California

St. Bernadine’s (San Bernardino, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/san-bernardino-mammogram

California Hospital Medical Center (Los Angeles, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/los-angeles-mammogram

 

Sacramento California

Mercy Imaging Centers (Sacramento, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/sacramento-mammogram

San Francisco California

St. Mary’s Medical Center (San Francisco, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/st-marys-mamommogram

Redwood City California

Sequoia Hospital (Redwood City, CA): http://dignityhlth.org/redwood-city-mammogram