Woman, 31, urges others to 'drop the loofah,' after she finds breast lump in shower
The night before her double mastectomy, Theresa Sundstrom posted a photo on her Instagram account asking followers to "drown her loofah" and spend time feeling her breasts for lumps with her hands while showering.
"I urge you to get to know your body: every lump, every bump, every wrinkle and every freckle," wrote the 31-year-old in the post. "Having a built-in map of your body could save your life."
Sundstrom, who recorded her breast cancer treatment on her Instagram account Quarantini and Chemo, was showering after a particularly hard ride on her Peloton bike on April 21 when she dropped her loofah.
"I was in pain with training earlier in the week and had just done a 45-minute Cody Rigsby ride so my thighs were tired from cycling," Sundstrom said TODAY. "I dropped my loofah and thought, 'Oh my god, I'm so lazy, I don't want to pick it up.'"
"I forgot to shave my armpits," she continued. "So I just lathered soap with my hands over my chest and armpit area and then brushed a bump."
The next few days were a whirlwind for the anesthesiologist who lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota. After a virtual visit to her doctor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was sent for a mammogram and ultrasound. Doctors performed a biopsy, and a few days later Sundstrom received a call informing her that she had invasive ductal cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer.
"I never thought I would have breast cancer at the age of 31," said Sundstrom, who received the call while she was at work. "I went home and screamed it out and then said," Let's find out. "
While breast cancer is rare in young women, about 11% of all new breast cancer cases in the US occur in women under the age of 45. It is important for women to speak to their doctors to find out if they are at increased risk and to know that lumps aren't the only sign of breast cancer. Other signs of breast cancer may include dents, pits, red rashes, swelling, nipple discharge, or inverted nipples. Changes to the chest should be discussed with a doctor.
Sundstrom began chemotherapy on May 7 and completed 16 rounds of treatment on September 25. A month later, she underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. During her trip, she posted regular posts on her Instagram account to keep in touch with others during treatment.
Sundstrom says she decided to open an Instagram account with nearly 3,000 followers and a blog to express her feelings and stay motivated during her chemotherapy treatments. She chose to wear a cold cap, an accompaniment to chemotherapy that prevents hair loss, and in Sundstrom's case had to be worn for eight hours on her chemotherapy days.
"The cold cap is like a chore and you get pretty chilled while performing. But it worked really well for me," said Sundstrom. "It's like 'look good, feel good'."
Sundstom's quirky Instagram account, where she reminded followers to do monthly breast self-exams with the hashtag #FeelThemOnTheFirst, also helped her look and feel good amid the grueling treatments.
"I would put on makeup and drag myself outside for some of the photos," said Sundstrom. “I wanted to get my message out there, but in a positive and uplifting way, to give women hope that you can get through this. It won't be the most pleasant thing you've ever done, but you will get through it and it can be done . "
Sundstrom also shared posts about continuing her exercise routines during treatment, which she did mostly on her peloton bike, which she and her husband bought at the start of the pandemic when they knew their gyms would close.
During her chemotherapy treatments, Sundstrom achieved her goals of 100, then 200 rides on her peloton.
"I was in the best shape of my life before I was diagnosed," explained Sundstrom. "I read in my chemo information pack that I should do moderate to light activities like a stationary bike and I said, 'Oh, perfect, I have one of these!'"
"I was just riding my bike and thought, 'I'll be doing my 100th ride by that date, and then my 200th when I'm done with chemotherapy," said Sundstrom. "Keeping that goal was best, what I did. I was only working as hard as I could. I've been short of breath, I've been tired, I've been tired, but I've done the low impact rides and 10 minute rides here just to get my blood flowing. "
The "Quarantini" in Sundstrom's Instagram handle was another way to keep posts light-hearted and entertaining.
"I thought I could make some fun mocktails related to the different drugs I was on or cancer in general," said Sundstrom, who shared mocktails that relieved nausea or a nod to the names of chemo - Medicines were in their posts. "I started with one that had ginger and apple in it. Another good one was 'the red devil,' which is the nickname for one of the chemotherapy treatments I was given, adriamycin."
After her double mastectomy, Sundstrom learned that her body responded well to chemotherapy and that she is now cancer free. All of her breast tissue was removed during her surgery, but doctors have recommended that Sundstrom continue to check for breast changes during monthly self-exams and do annual checkups to monitor for recurrences.
Sundstrom says she and her five-year-old husband, Erik, wanted to start a family before they were diagnosed with cancer. She hopes to continue using her Instagram account to raise awareness about breast cancer and answer the question, "Can we have children?" after cancer? "
"Maybe I'll throw in a surprise cocktail here or there," added Sundstrom.
Sundstrom, whose mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer at age 55 and has been cancer-free for nearly 11 years, said the biggest benefit she has from breast cancer is the importance of self-exams.
"Even though my mother had breast cancer, I never did a self-exam," admitted Sundstrom. "I didn't even have a baseline of how my breasts felt because I didn't check them every month."
"My message is to know your body: you know what is normal for you and it will be much easier to tell if something is abnormal and to act quickly. My stage was 1-B, and when I am Had this loofah never dropped, the cancer I would have metastasized to my lymph nodes and my body. I'm just so happy for tonight. "
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