At the age of 34, on my 2nd anniversary, my husband noticed a lump. Tears rolled down my face as I prayed for the best and feared for the worst. The very next day I set up an appointment with an OB/GYN who told me that she was 99% sure this was fibrocystic. I was really too young to be worried about breast cancer. I was told to go home and they scheduled a mammogram for a month out, “just to be sure”. One moment of fear and fortitude made me ask them why we didn’t just go ahead and do it now. They told me if they were “that” concerned about it they would have sent me to a surgeon that day. I left feeling relieved but vaguely disturbed.
A month later I was planning on going to my mammogram alone, since no one was particularly worried. Some strange force made me ask my husband to take off work that morning. I’m glad he did. From the moment I got there I knew it was cancer. I cannot explain how. I am not religious as most would define it, but am very spiritual. I prayed one prayer; “Your will be done.” Then as many people realize when faced with this type of life experience, it occurred to me that the only thing I had control of is how I respond to what is happening to me. I did my best to make informed choices for my treatment.
I had a lumpectomy for a 2.8 cm tumor, with axcillary dissection. I had 8 affected lymph nodes. That meant chemotherapy for me due to my age and lymph node status. I had two types of chemo, Adriamycin and Taxol. I also completed 61/2 weeks of radiation. At the time I write this I am watching my hair for signs of life. It has certainly enjoyed a long vacation. Its now time for my anniversary again. October 10 will always be a day of mixed emotions for me and my family.
Another important thing I realized early on is how important my sense of humor was going to be. It was in many ways my saving grace. As I began to go bald I had a head shaving party to the tune of “The Barber of Seville”, I made terrible jokes every chance I could, and I began to write a book: “Don’t Let the Cat Get Your Wig…and Other Things the Oncologist Never Told You.” I felt it was advice that needs to be shared. I even entered a beauty pageant to make a statement. Would you believe my bald head won photogenic? And I won 1st runner up and talent. Yes I’m a singer. One other thing that helped me through this process was the desire to keep performing. The music saved me as much as the humor. I wouldn’t say I laughed and sang through the entire process, I cried too. But I laughed more.
I found out through various surgeons and professionals that by the time my tumor had grown to that size, it had probably been there 10 years. I would have been 24. If I can share anything I hope it to be early detection. Thank God I found it when I did, but if I had found it 8 or even 5 years ago, perhaps I could have saved myself some of the treatments. It isn’t just lives I hope we can save, but the quality of those lives as well. That is why I share my story with you.
I, too was diagnosed at an early age (32), so I know what you’re going through. I had lumpectomy, then mastectomy after finding 8 of 13 positive lymph nodes, chemo, radiation, and am still undergoing reconstruction. I did not perform regular breast self exams at the time I was diagnosed – lucky for me, my tumor happen to become painful, and it was then that I checked for a lump. As far as what you said about quality of life, it’s true, maybe if I had caught it earlier, I wouldn’t have had to have “the works” as far as treatments. That’s why I want to reach as many people as possible – early detection saves lives and also affects your quality of life.
I agree with so much of what you said – how you have to have a sense of humor to get through it. I think we younger survivors are more likely to just do the “bald” thing instead of wigs. I wore hats. I couldn’t stand to wear my wig all the time. I had a “cancer sucks” hat. I wore pins with different bald-themed lines. I found this really helped break the ice with people staring. Then they didn’t feel so uncomfortable seeing a bald woman.
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