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Name: Michelle Hartog
Diagnosed At Age: 50 on Sept. 29, 2010
Status: Cancer-free: bilateral mastectomy on Oct. 1, 2010

Bio: Michelle Hartog, RN, is the Director of the Aesthetic Technologies division of the Bougainvillea Clinique. A lifetime health and fitness fanatic, Michelle has studied ballet since childhood, later on dancing jazz and tap. Michelle was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer in September 2010. She is a mentor to women with breast cancer and advocates that they know their options, including reconstruction options. She is a member of an all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team, Warriors on Water (WOW).

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My reaction when I was first diagnosed: I was upset. I had no risk factors. I had no family history. I don’t smoke and drink little. I eat organic foods and exercise. I wanted the cancer gone immediately, and luckily, I had a support system in my husband and his practice to help move quickly.

How I’m feeling now: Now I feel great. It took awhile to feel “normal” again, especially after having surgery every few months and undergoing chemo. During the last three years, there were times that I thought about it constantly, and now, I don’t always think about it.

My inspirations: A lot of women inspired me and were supportive. One of which was Wendy Chioji, she is a breast cancer survivor. She runs marathons and triathlons. Wendy looked cancer in the eye and decided to do her own thing. Talia Joy was also a source of support and inspiration for me. She gave me advice based on her experience, and she was much younger than myself. She was such an inspiration.
My dragon boat team, Warriors on Water, is an all breast cancer survivor women’s competitive dragon boat team. The women on the team are very inspirational. They’ve all been touched by cancer and are still having a life. It is exercise and a support group.

My support system: My family and friends. I had one friend come with me to all of my chemo treatments. My husband is a plastic surgeon at the Bougainvillea Clinique. He was supportive as a husband, but also as a medical professional. He supported me and helped me make valid decisions on my treatment and reconstruction. People at my children’s school were very helpful and supportive, which was great to have people there for me.

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I’m proud of: My children. They’ve continued to grow and continue with their lives through this process. Myself, because you do what you have to do to get through it.

I’m afraid of: I’m not afraid of anything anymore. Once you’ve had cancer what else is there to fear? I dive with sharks and do as much as I can. I try not to the think about it any longer.

I’ve learned: I’ve learned that I can do anything. My husband and I have swam with sharks. But, I’ve also learned that so many women don’t know their options, especially after undergoing a mastectomy. So, many women don’t know their reconstruction options. Having breasts can be a defining part of womanhood.

My advice to new patients: Find out and know your options in fighting cancer and in reconstruction. My husband is a plastic surgeon at the Bougainvillea Clinique, so he rallied many of his friends to develop the best treatment plan for me, and they were there to guide the way. I want to be a resource to other women. I found that fat grafting was the best option for me for reconstruction. Fat is taken from one area of the body and put in small droplets into the breasts. The breasts are left looking natural looking and feeling, and you can even regain skin sensation. Finding ways to feel like yourself again means a lot.

To see more of our 31 Survivors in 31 Days stories, click here!