“When you’re a performer, the old phrase, ‘The show must go on’ is true,” DeGraaf said. “I had to do comedy whether I was feeling funny or not.”
Testing showed DeGraaf’s cancer was not genetic, which helped determine her course of treatment. She could do nothing, have a bilateral mastectomy or remove the lump and undergo radiation.
DeGraaf researched the outcomes for all choices and decided on option No. 3. Here’s why: Her cancer was not aggressive, was slow growing and had not invaded her lymph nodes.
“They had taken out two or three of them and they were all clean,” DeGraaf said.
Having breast cancer also educated DeGraaf about her condition. She learned that breast cancer is not one disease but many different ones. No one treatment plan fits them all.
In DeGraaf’s case, she opted for three weeks of radiation therapy where she received a “double amount of the zapping stuff” each time, instead of once daily for six weeks.
“The radiation was so cool the way they did it,” DeGraaf said. “They call it ‘prone position radiation therapy.’ You lay down on your tummy on this table and your breast falls through a hole. That way the radiation isn’t going through the chest wall. I didn’t want my lungs or heart or ribs affected.”
The treatments did tire DeGraaf, but fatigue is a common side effect of radiation. The treated skin can also be affected, but DeGraaf didn’t have any problem until after her three weeks had ended, mistakenly giving her false hope she’d beaten this side effect.
“The skin gets a little pink, then red and then it hurts. It’s like having a sunburn from the inside out,” DeGraaf said. “But they gave me a cream to put on the affected area and it does heal up.”
Some women, those with genetic types of breast cancer and those who have undergone chemotherapy, radical mastectomies and long-term treatments with medications such as tamoxifen, might feel DeGraaf can’t relate to their own experiences.
But that precisely is DeGraaf’s point.