My Journey Back: Reclaiming Your Life After Breast Cancer

My name is Sherri Menslage. I’m 43 years old, married to one amazing guy for 22 years now and we have two unbelievably terrific children. This is my story of how in one moment, a blink of an eye, my world was rocked.

The call.

On October 15, 2012 I received a phone call, “Mrs. Menslage, your tests have come back and you have breast cancer.” At that moment everything stops, every emotion rushes into you and you become paralyzed. Your life really flashes before you and…it SUCKS! (Sorry, but really there is no other nice way of putting it.) I took in the biggest breath, let it out, put on my big girl panties and told myself that this would not defeat me.

Early detection saved my life.

In my early twenties, newly married with a baby, I woke up one morning and felt a lump on my left breast that just didn’t seem right. So I called my doctor for an appointment.

I’ll never forget that look as she examined me and felt the lump. She looked scared. She wasted no time and ordered a mammogram ASAP. I met my first “booby doctor,” Dr. Dinn, who had a great way of explaining things with a touch of humor.  He told me I needed a biopsy.

When my results came back, Dr. Dinn said everything was fine. That was music to my ears!  He explained that I have very dense tissue, and it decided to give me a “third boob,” the lump. It does have a more professional name, but that is how he explained it to me simply.

Early detection saved my life. Since then, I have mammograms each year. Please get to know your body. It’s beautiful and it’s amazing how it will ask for help, but please listen to it! It will save your life. Never be afraid of calling your doctor even if it’s a spider bite. Looking back, my body saved me. If I had waited until I was in my fifties to have my first mammogram, I don’t think the turnout would be good.

In the blink of an eye, my world was rocked.

Life went on, watching my children grow up and become amazing young adults.  My husband and I became empty nesters seemingly overnight, which was hard. Our children are our world, but it is their time to fly. So, now Momma and Dad could get back to dating, I thought.  But it wasn’t that simple.

When I had my routine mammogram last summer, they saw a shadow and ordered a biopsy to check it out. I had been through this many times before, so it had become a routine thing for me. But not this time.  This time, it was cancer.

“Sorry, Mrs. Menslage, you have breast cancer.”

So, you have just been given the most horrifying news ever, now what do you do?  First, an MRI.

It came back showing shadows on my right side that they needed to rule out. But because I have such dense breasts, they would need to do a MRI biopsy. It was worst thing I have ever gone through.

In an MRI, they put you into a big tube and you cannot move at all. Well, an MRI biopsy is the same, but they also do a surgical removal of the tissue that is in question. The Novocain didn’t work. I felt everything and could not move a muscle. I was in that tube for six hours of hell.  My loving husband stayed in the waiting room with the lights off, as the place had closed. I love that man with all my heart.  (Thank you Flipper.)

I came out with a boob the size of the largest watermelon you could ever imagine. I had a massive hematoma, and had to go back the next day to check for infection and review my results.

Am I going to be able to do this?

I’m so lucky to have a terrific supportive family with me every step of the way. It’s very important to have someone there with you — a family member, a best friend or someone from a church or organization that you belong to. They are your back up. They help listen to the doctors and write things down for you and make you stop and think before you react. This was so helpful. You get pushed and pulled in all directions and get all this information, and all your brain can do is think I HAVE CANCER OMG!

Some wonderful moments that have changed me.

The day I went back after the MRI, I was placed in a waiting room filled with all likes of women — it didn’t matter if you were red, pink or purple we all were there for the same thing.

We didn’t know each other…but we did. Looking back, sitting in the seat, wearing a Johnnie and looking at all the women in the room, I remember the looks on their faces. At first, no one spoke, but you could feel and see each woman’s emotions.

We started talking to each other, helping to understand what would be next, talking about family and loved ones, and how badly we felt that we were putting them through this. That was one of the hardest things: you know how you are feeling, because you have cancer. But, it’s hard to explain to your loved ones, and they are just as scared as you are.

It was nice to sit in that room talking to women that I had never seen in my life before, but felt like I had known them my whole life. We laughed, we cried.  It was a moment that I will cherish forever. 

It is my body, my decision.

The MRI biopsy showed no cancer on the right side. Now, it was time to decide what action I wanted to take. My husband and I met with my primary care doctor, Dr. Kimberly Mead Walters — who I adore, she is so honest and compassionate — to talk about our game plan. She told me that it is my body, my decision, and she would be there to fight for me. She suggested that I should meet with a couple of different cancer doctors.

When I met with Dr. Jill Oxley in Hyannis, MA, she made me feel so special. She sat with me for about two hours in her office and explained all my options. There was no question in my mind at all that she was the doctor for me, and you really need to feel that.

I chose to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction surgery. I chose this action for myself because I’m still young and I don’t want to be put through all those tests again. I never want to receive the phone call that its back.

January 2, 2013. Rock Star Day. 

My surgery was scheduled for January 2, 2013. My daughter named it the Rock Star Day: She said I’m going to be, “Rocking some awesome rock star boobies.” (LOL.) Through this, you really need to find laughter — it helps!

I met with the plastic surgeon, Dr. Mark Fader, who would do the reconstruction after Dr. Oxley removed my breasts. The medical world of technology amazes me. Dr. Fader is funny, awesome and another compassionate doctor who sat with my husband and me, explaining what would happen every step of the way.

Rock Star Day came and I was so nervous. Everyone at Cape Cod Hospital was outstanding and made me feel safe. The operation took about 7 hours. I didn’t feel a thing.

I had my new Rock Star Boobs. I named them “the aliens” because, when you have breast cancer, they cannot save the nipple. At the first phase of reconstruction, they insert the implant and, down the road, reconstruct the nipples out of skin from your hip. That was hard to take in at first.  It’s truly amazing what they can do.

In the hospital after my surgery, my daughter never left my side. I was not in the best shape. Everything hurt, the medicine was making me sick, and I was scared of what I was going to look like. It all came to a boiling point — every emotion that I had held inside just came rushing out like a dam breaking. Oh, did I cry…which scared my daughter because I never cried. I got the best hug ever, and then she cried — which made me cry harder — and then tears turned to laughter. Oh, I really cannot put into words on how I felt after…except free.

She said I was beautiful…and she was right.

I returned to Dr.Fader’s office after the surgery with my loving daughter by my side, holding my hand as I looked at the new me for the first time.

I closed my eyes as the nurse took the bandages off. I just couldn’t look, I was scared! My daughter yelled at me (in a nice way) with a tear in her eye and told me to look. She said I was beautiful!

It was hard to look down, but I looked, and she was right. They are different, but they are healthy me. And, I do have to say a new perky me (LOL). ROCK STAR BOOBS! Never have to wear a bra again…yay me! Once again, laughter is the key.

What a difference a year makes.

Breast Cancer Survivor and Koko Nut Sherri MNow here I am, October 2013, Breast Cancer Awareness Month: healthy, happy and ready to live my life to the fullest.

After going through many surgeries, I’m being told by my doctors that I’m cleared to get into the gym. They say it will help all my muscles that were pushed and pulled in every direction possible.

I have never been a gym junkie, I’m an active farmer and gardener. I have always been very intimated by gyms — you walk in and after 2-3 sessions with a trainer, they let you go on your own way. If you need more information on your workout, you have to pay an arm and leg. I just always felt so defeated and never wanted to go back.

But, I told myself that I needed to do this to keep my body healthy. I had heard about Koko FitClub and stopped in to see what all was about. Let me just tell you right now, IT’S AWESOME! They have a program for everyone. The thing that impressed me…well, there are a lot of things that have impressed me with this gym. First, they have a program for breast cancer, a workout plan and nutritional plan. How awesome it that! Second, you have your own computer personal trainer every time you are there. It’s so motivating, I enjoy my workout every time I’m in there. I have not missed a day. I’m feeling stronger, less tired, and great about myself.

I would like, from the bottom of my heart, to thank Koko FitClub founder, Mary Obana for opening Koko FitClub. It has changed my life.

You are never alone in your journey.

I hope my story in some way helps someone out there. Please remember to be proactive with health and see your doctor regularly. And never, never feel that you are not important enough. Early detection can save your life, and you are never alone in your journey. Remember, LIVE, LOVE and always LAUGH!


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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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