“You’re gonna rock this.”
Lani Novak has been getting mammograms since she was 35 because after her son was born, she said her breasts had changed.
After a routine mammogram in March of 2021 (when she was 40), her doctor called her right away and told her she had to come back for additional imaging through an ultrasound. Then, she had a biopsy done, fearful it was cancer.
She said there’s a lot of cancer in her family history. She went through the genealogy and discovered that some of her mom’s cousins had breast cancer. Her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 at the age of 65, but has fully recovered.
Her doctor put a rush on her biopsy so she could get her results right away instead of having to worry about it all weekend. So she and her husband found out on a Friday in 2021 that she had stage two invasive ductal carcinoma, triple positive.
“You hear that word [cancer], and you automatically think death. Like is this a death sentence?”
Through tears, Lani told me it all felt like a nightmare. She said she was thinking about her life and her kids and the unknown future.
“It all happened very quickly; I was emotionally a mess,” said Lani.
When the doctor talked to her, Lani said he didn’t sugarcoat it, but was very positive.
“He said ‘you’re gonna rock this.’ I’ll never forget those words,” she said.
Lani’s husband and a good neighbor friend were a great support system. Her husband kept her grounded and focused, and her friend would come over and help with the day-to-day things, and just listen to her. She also received gifts, meals and flowers from friends and her large family.
“There was just this outpouring of support,” she said. “Like I never felt so loved in my entire life during that time.”
Throughout the next 18 months, she completed six rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation and 17 cycles of KADCYLA which is a low-dose chemotherapy. She also underwent a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. She said she’ll be taking Tamoxifen (a hormone medication) for the next few years.
Lani said it was hard trying to convince herself to believe that she was going to be okay.
“I’m going to do everything that I can to be successful. And if I’m not, then it’s out of my hands.”
She said the whole treatment process was like a roller coaster.
“You’ve got your hard moments – I’d be doing great and then, I’d be like, oh man, I’m down in the dumps,” she said.
Lani said she had a hard time winding down at night and sleeping, but then in the morning had a different attitude.
“I’d be like, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow or next week,’” she said. “But nothing is happening today.”
Lani didn’t join any support groups during treatment, but reached out to friends and acquaintances who went through cancer to compare journeys. She said after having a hard time with her whole experience, she sought therapy to “get on the right track.”
When asked what she learned from all this, she started crying as she reflected upon her attitude toward her children pre-cancer.
“I feel like before my cancer, sometimes I didn’t fully appreciate my kids,” said Lani who went on to say that unexpectedly having three children under the age of three was difficult.
As she was going through cancer, she said she contemplated the meaning of life, and if she was to leave Earth tomorrow, what would she be leaving behind.
“I appreciate them [my kids] much more now, and am more grateful for life because not everybody gets that chance to grow old.”
Her advice to someone going through breast cancer, is to talk about it. Everyone processes things differently, and not everyone wants the pity or sympathy, but finding your support network does help. She said it’s not something to be ashamed of, and she found out that in general, people are responsive and encouraging.
Lani said traveling is definitely a high priority for her future plans. After completing her treatment and then her reconstruction through Aurora BayCare Plastic Surgery last year, she ventured to Florida, went on a Mediterranean cruise, a Caribbean cruise and did a girls trip to the Dominican Republic. She wants to start thinking more about retiring somewhere warm.
“I’m living with no regrets,” she said.
Last month, Lani had her first haircut in two years after losing all her hair.
Born and raised in the Green Bay area, Lani just celebrated 10 years with her husband Bill. They have a nine-year-old son and seven-year-old twin girls.
She substitute teaches in the West De Pere School District and enjoys going out for dinner, traveling, following fashion bloggers and camping with a group of family members.
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