From the moment I discovered the lump, my life was never the same. It happened in November (2000) right before Thanksgiving. I felt the lump while taking a shower and the next day I called my doctor. I noticed the look of concern on his face when he scheduled me for a mammogram. The lump was easily detected by the mammogram and I was then taken across the hall to the ultrasound room. The tech wouldn’t answer any of my questions and I knew she was leaving that up to my doctor. He told me the mass was solid and I needed a biopsy as soon as possible. The surgery was scheduled for the 30th of November. I survived the surgery with very little pain or discomfort………on December 5th, my doctor called me at home to tell me that the tumor was malignant — at that point, the room went blank. I felt this strangling, choking feeling…..that I had to get air. At this point I can’t remember what happened…….I know I must’ve sat for 20 minutes with the phone frozen to my hand…..I called my mom who was waiting for the results too and all I could do was cry and she knew. The doctor arranged for me to meet him the next day at the hospital for the portacath procedure. It was a simple procedure and afterwards, I was introduced to the man who would be in control of my life . He’s a gentle, soft-spoken man and I liked him from the very start. He explained the regimen he had planned for me and at that point, I simple put my life into his hands.
Days later I began to regroup. The shock of surgery, finding cancer and it’s painful aftermath, had siderailed my life. I knew chemotherapy and radiation would confine my life a bit, but I was determined to keep working. Cancer had become an inconvenience, a minor glitch in my plans, but it was not going to rule my life.
My first chemo treatment was on the 12th day of December and exactly 13 days later on Christmas day……my hair started to fall out. A part of my soul went with every strand. My daughter shaved my head the next day and I’m not sure who cried the hardest — she or I. At one point, in a feeble attempt to stay in control, I told my daughters I was sorry that cancer had ruined our Christmas and I promised them that next year would be better. But it never entered my mind how terrified they must have been of losing me.
I tolerated the chemo very well — it seemed to be gentle with me and I always felt a bit guilty when there were so many sick ones around me in the therapy room. I took my treatments every three weeks for five months and continued to work full time. Once the chemotherapy stopped, my radiation treatments began. My chest was tattooed with little black dots so that the nozzle of the radiation machine lined up exactly with my tumor. The walls of the room were two feet thick and although the technicians were very nice, explaining every adjustment they made, I was terrified. From the minute they closed the vault-like door behind them, it was all I could do not to run behind them, screaming.
As suddenly as cancer started, my treatments ended. It was August (2001) and though I would continue to see my doctors every three months, it felt as though an umbilical cord had been cut. My hair began to grow back and although I looked like Sinead O’Connor, the very fact that there was fuzz on my head signaled the beginning of my rebirth. Slowly the fatigue lifted, and I knew I needed to start tackling the many issues that faced me as a cancer survivor.
There had been no formal exit from sick to well, no instruction sheet on what to do next with my life. Cancer was my “trial by fire”. In surviving it, I had learned many precious lessons. Perhaps one of the most important:
Staying alive is just the initial challenge; living with the consequences of the disease and therapy becomes a lifelong responsibility. As I reflect back over the past months……..I can honestly say with conviction that I have sooooo much to be thankful for this year and every year after. I won the war against breast cancer and I have slowly regained my health and my life.
Now I face a still greater challenge of reaffirming within myself the power of life — of beginning again.
Slowly I begin to realize that my body may not look, feel, or function exactly the way it did prior to my illness. I have been reevaluating my relationships, my job, my goals and even my sense of purpose. And on top of this comes the ever present threat of recurrence. A fear that I’m sure stalks every cancer survivor .
I want women to know that they are not alone; that others share their experiences, their thoughts and feelings. I think that each breast cancer survivor has to struggle to regain the part of the woman that she once was and work to accept the altered version. No woman should have to suffer in silence.
There can be joy in beginning again — an excitement that comes from making every single minute count. If my story makes that happen for just a few survivors who read it, I know I’ve done my job.