The Renaissance Woman: Mindy Blackwell

January 1, 2012

Mindy and I worked at the same Los Angeles ad agency years ago. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know who I was, but I certainly knew her. She was a vision of cool as she buzzed through the hallways. I was fresh out of the Midwest, and had yet to discover eyebrow waxing. Mindy was smart, talented, successful, beautiful, fun and she had it all.

 

Present day, to me, Mindy is still all of the above plus so much more. She is an accomplished career person and mother. She is a breast cancer survivor who is now managing cancer in her bones…

 

Mindy may not know it, or believe it, but her determined spirit and energy has empowered me throughout the years. And continues to do so today.

where are you from?
I was born in Long Island, New York. My childhood was tragic with my mother dying in a car accident when I was 3 years old.

describe who you were ten years ago?
10 years ago I was a successful copywriter at a large Los Angeles Ad agency. I was also the mother of 5 year old and my marriage was still in tact. I exuded confidence. I was high energy, funny and could talk my way into or out of anything. This was a time when I truly liked who I was. In a sense I had it all.

describe who you are now?
I am a woman whose identity is all tied up in being a breast cancer patient. I thought I was a breast cancer survivor until my oncologist found cancer in my bones this past August. I now have an incurable but “manageable cancer”. I get shots monthly to stop the production of estrogen in my body. It’s so fun to be in constant menopause! I recently lost my most beloved dog, Willie, who was by my side through all my surgeries and cancer treatment. I am devastated by the loss. So right now I would say I’m a mess!

how did you find out you had cancer?  what was that day like?
My friend Julie and I were talking about mammograms one day and she mentioned she had never had one. She was scared to go. I knew I had a large lump in my breast (which I assumed was a cyst like the one I had the year before) and it might be a good idea for me to have it drained. So, I told her we could go together. Her report came back a week later (it was clear) and mine was nowhere to be found. I called the office of the mammogram center and they said I would have to get the results from my gynecologist, so I called them. I waited for a return call for days…I was starting to worry. Finally, I got the call and was told that I needed to go get an ultrasound, then a biopsy. Being the impatient person I am, I called St. John’s hospital’s lab myself for the results. It was a Friday and my radiologist who did the mammogram didn’t work on Fridays. I didn’t want to sweat the weekend (I knew it would be a no cancer verdict), but I had to know for sure. The lab is not supposed to give results to patients but my gift of gab got the info out of the woman on the other end of the phone.

It was September 19, 2008 and she told me I had Breast Cancer. Unfortunately, that was all she told me. I didn’t know what stage I was in or what the next step was, I was just in disbelief and shock. I spent a lot of the day letting the closest people to me know that I had Breast Cancer. I cried a lot the day because I was so frightened by the news. I had to tell my 12-year-old daughter the bad news. Of course, she was hysterical. I told her everything would be fine and I would not die on her. Still, it was a hard concept for a little girl to absorb. Cancer meant dying to her.

describe your support system.
My friend, Julie is my support system. Also, my dog, Willie, who stayed by my side through it all. Willie just died a horrible death from a rare disease and I am grieving. I never felt totally alone because I had him. I tend to isolate when I am sad or depressed and Julie is the only one I really let in.

My husband and I, at this point, are married but separated. I stayed married for the health insurance. He is not the caregiver type. My daughter and he live downstairs in our house while I live upstairs. They did not take care of me through my ordeal. My daughter was young and also very angry with me for getting ill. I didn’t join any Breast Cancer Support groups and I did not reach out to anyone except Julie. My sister lives in NYC and I spoke to her almost everyday but she never came here to see me. She never saw me bald. I still have a hard time over the neglect I felt during all of this.

The chemo caused nerve damage in my arm and neck so I had to have surgery on both. The surgery on my arm did not work so I have two numb fingers on my left hand. I went through some bad doctors, fights with my insurance company and overall, a living hell for 3 years. Now, that I have cancer again, I am more prepared to deal with it than the first time. Unfortunately, I’ve become very knowledgeable on the subject. (It’s a subject I wish I didn’t have to know so much about.)

does your family have a history of cancer? did you realize you were at risk?
My family does have a history of cancer but not Breast Cancer. My mother died when she was only 36 so we don’t know if she would have developed cancer. I even took the cancer gene test and I don’t have the gene. It’s a mystery to all why I got breast cancer in the first place and with an 8% chance of it returning, that I have it again.

what can loved ones do to help those who have cancer?
Loved ones need to give emotional support and be able to physically be at hand to help. It’s hard to be so ill and get through the simplest of chores, like laundry. Family and friends can offer to do grocery shopping, housework and can even set-up a schedule for friends and family to prepare and bring meals to the cancer patient and their family. It is very hard to cook for a child when you have no appetite yourself or the energy to even do it. It is really important for friends and family to get the person suffering from cancer out of the house and have them do things they enjoy. Also encouraging to continue working. My mistake was that I stopped living and just became a patient as my job. As you can imagine that can be depressing and isolating.

what do you want people to know about you?
I would like people to know that I am a strong person because I survived cancer treatment for my original Breast Cancer and now I am dealing with my new treatment, I hope with the same resolve. I grew up without a mother so I will go through whatever I have to to be there for my daughter. I did make mistakes during the last 3 years but hopefully have learned from them. I wouldn’t want people to know this about me but it is the truth. In the last 3 years my identity has slipped away. I don’t feel sexy anymore because of all my emotional and physical scars, and I go in and out of deep depressions. I stopped working when I had cancer the first time, which left me with feelings of inadequacy. This time round, I’m reaching out more. I go to physical therapy and see a psychologist. I realized that no one could truly get through cancer without help and lots of it. Thank you Julie!

what would you do on a much needed vacation?  the sky is the limit.
If I could go anywhere right now I would like to go back to Maui. I lived there for 2 years and there is something about that island that blesses me with a feeling of peace. Perhaps the beauty Maui trumps all else.

what achievements make you most proud?
These days I find it hard to be proud of myself. I am doing whatever I can to stay alive for my daughter but wouldn’t any mother do the same? I am not working and I am on disability. That’s not the person I was before this all happened. In fact, at 51 yrs. old, I was taking ballet 4 times a week and was learning to go On Pointe. If I have to be proud of anything it’s the fact that I am seeking more help this time around.  It’s not a fight you can do alone. A hard lesson to learn.

what do you collect?
I collect sea glass from the beach and I would say, rescue dogs! I’m actually looking for one right now.