Mirja talks about her breast cancer: “I felt like a fighting samurai”

Seven years ago Mirja Taimisto found out that she had breast cancer. The support of her friends and her studies helped her recovery.

In autumn 2006, nursery school teacher Mirja Taimisto was planning her 50th birthday celebrations. Mirja’s birthday is on Christmas Eve and she had promised to organise a party. After this she would go off on holiday to Thailand.

However, Mirja nearly had to change her plans after a tumour was detected in her breast during breast cancer screening.

Mirja had already noticed a lump in her left breast during the summer, but she thought it was caused by age-related hormonal changes.

During her mammogram at the screening Mirja had a bad feeling that something was wrong. She was invited for further testing that included a percutaneous needle biopsy and ultrasound.

In October she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.

Lumpectomy followed by removal of lymph nodes

Mirja was paralyzed with shock after hearing her breast cancer diagnosis. However, after the initial shock wore off she was filled with the will to fight.

“After my initial feelings of fear and horror I was filled with rage and the need to fight. I saw myself in the middle of it all as a samurai soldier, armed from head to toe with weapons to fight the enemy that was attacking my body.”

Three weeks after the diagnosis a lumpectomy was carried out on Mirja’s left breast. She recovered quickly from this operation and was able go out for walks just a few days after the operation.

In a post-operation checkup Mirja was told that cancer cells were found in one of the lymph nodes. At the end of November she had surgery to remove all of the lymph nodes. This was a big operation and it took long to get all of her strength back.  

In spite of everything, she had her birthday party as promised and then went on a trip to Thailand. After this she started radiation and hormone therapy.

In January 2012 Mirja finished her hormone therapy and was given a clean bill of health.

Mind and body recover together

During her treatment, Mirja felt it was important to learn more about her illness. The information about the type of treatment she would be having and what would happen after this gave her the most reassurance.

After her operations, Mirja tried to live as normally as possible. She continued to go to work at the start of her radiation therapy, but in the end the tiredness got too much and she had to take sick leave.

Mirja also felt the need to share her thoughts and talk to friends and acquaintances.

“When I was battling my way through the nightmare, my greatest source of strength were people contacting me and their words. Old friendships were also reignited and have continued to this day.”

In between treatments, Mirja felt she needed something new from life and immersed herself into studies. She went on further education courses and applied to study expressive arts therapy. Mirja also attended the Finnish Breast Cancer Association’s peer support training and now helps other women battling breast cancer.

“As crazy as it sounds, I value this process. I understand now how important my relatives and friends are. I also know how to be more compassionate and easier on myself.”

Three tips for dealing with a diagnosis

1. Deal with it in your own way

It is important to deal with the illness, but everyone does this differently. You can talk to friends and relatives or find peer support through associations. Instead of talking, you can also deal with your feelings using a journal, painting, photography or music. Your body has gone through a lot, so the role of exercising is highly important for a balance of mind and body. 

2. Work on positive thinking

Engage in tentative self-analysis and try to change your perspective on negative thoughts. Try to identify one positive thing every day. Positivity feeds on positivity and will gradually make you stronger. However, there will be times when you need to let it all out!

3. Obtain information from the right sources

Good sources of information on breast cancer include the Finnish Breast Cancer Association, patient associations and your hospital’s patient information publications. Friends and relatives can also contact the Finnish Breast Cancer Association for information and support.

Tips provided by Mirja Taimisto.