Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to reprise the blog I had published earlier on October 2, 2013, about my personal story. As a cancer survivor who is 3 years out from the original diagnosis, surgery and treatment, I can tell you that life is FABULOUS! I may not be exactly as I was before, but I am OK with the 'new normal'. In fact, I am pretty much OK with everything, since it means I am alive. And that, my friends, is the best feeling in the world.
I no longer have a check-up every 3 months - it's now once every year. So far, I continue to be cancer free, and beyond thrilled about it. However, in all honesty, each time I feel a little 'off', I have to fight the uneasiness that grows in the pit of my stomach. Could it be? Is it returning? That, it seems, is the case with most breast cancer survivors. It is the lifetime residual that cancer leaves you. Just because the treatment is over doesn't mean that you don't think about it. And you should - stay educated and informed, but don't stop living your life! What a wonderful gift it is! I am grateful each morning when I awaken for another day.
At times, finding the subject for my blog has been a challenge. That is not the case this time. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of all the brave "Pink Warriors" who have both lost and won the fight, I am sharing a story that is very close to my heart. It is my own.
I remember 'that' day very well. I was working from my home office in late June of 2012. As some of you know, a home office can afford you the luxury of starting your workday in your robe and slippers, favorite coffee mug in hand, which is exactly what I was doing. I had decided mid-morning to grab a quick shower. As I got into the shower, I noticed that the net 'scrubbie' I used for soaping up and exfoliation was very worn. With a quick toss into the wastecan, I made a mental note to buy a new scrubbie on my next shopping trip. Grabbing the bar of soap, I stepped into the shower. Using only soap and my hands, I began to bathe. And I felt it. What felt like a marble-sized lump under my left breast. I don't remember getting out of the shower or getting dressed. I knew. Deep down, I knew what I had just found.
I began immediately calling for an apointment. I wasn't even sure who to call first, as I didn't have a primary care physician. I had been healthy all my life, no broken bones or stitches, no severe illnesses. Just the occasional stuffy nose or allergy. I located a program who provided the clinical exam, then would refer me for a diagnostic mammogram, if needed. During the clinical exam, the nurse practitioner was gentle, and kind. She quietly informed me after the exam that I would be having a diagnostic mammogram, and possibly a biopsy. She asked me which major medical center I preferred in Springfield, Missouri. I chose Cox South.
When she called me a day later to tell me the date and time of my mammogram appointment, she informed me it would be at Hulston Cancer Center. The Cancer Center? It all became painfully real at that moment. I hysterically called my youngest sister, who reassured me that, 'until they say you have it, you don't have it'. I hung on to that, all the while knowing in my heart, that I did in fact, 'have it'. I didn't want to tell my mother that I had found a lump, but I needed her support. She was, as always, my rock. She was calm, hugged me, and assured me it was probably nothing.
The mammogram appointment was 2 weeks away, and the waiting was mentally agonizing. Once the time arrived, I talked myself into being positive. At least on the outside. I didn't want to worry my mother, who went with me. After the diagnostic mammogram, I was told that I would need a biopsy. I was not surprised. We scheduled it for one week later. It was painless, at least physically. Once it was over, they led my mother and me to a small private consultation room. I saw the box of Kleenex immediately. "Bad sign", I thought. "This is where they take you to tell you it's the "C" word." I was silently praying that all would be OK. What the doctor said was, "it looks very worrisome". Worrisome. Not a good word. When the results came back, the whirlwind started. Whatever it was, it had mutated into something they didn't recognize. Was it really breast cancer, or was it lymphoma or sarcoma which had metastisized to the breast? They sent slides to the Mayo Clinic for an opinion on where the cancer had started, since it didn't look like most breast cancers. Mayo returned their diagnosis after what seemed like a lifetime of waiting. Those results sealed the deal, and the whirlwind began.
Appointments with a breast surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a plastic surgeon ensued. I was informed that the growth was Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Stage III, invasive ductal carcinoma. Surgery was set for August 9th, 2012. During all this, I noticed that a classmate and friend of mine had begun posting pink ribbons on her Facebook page. I contacted her, and she too, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We discovered our oncologists were in the same group, and that our surgery was scheduled for the same day at the same place. While I wish with all my heart she had never had to experience this, I am glad she was right there with me. While the cancer presented only in one breast, I chose to have a bi-lateral, or double, mastectomy. I was NOT going through this again! Once a plan of action was decided upon, I felt a calmness as I prepared to move forward. I was determined to survive this, and survive it well. I didn't want anyone to feel sorry for me, and I resolved that it wouldn't change my life any more than absolutely necessary. I came through the surgery with flying colors. I can remember the first thing I saw afterwards - my youngest sister's pretty face peeking around my hospital door, with a happy grin. I was never so glad to see anything in my life.
I healed well after surgery with the help of my niece, Rachel. She was attending nursing school at the time, and couldn't wait to practice on her first real 'patient'. She and my mother took excellent care of me post-surgery, and two weeks after surgery, I returned to work, grateful for my job and my boss. Without the support of my boss, this journey would have been much more complicated and difficult. I didn't have to worry about my job, I knew it would be there, regardless of what I would have to go through.
4 long months of chemotherapy followed. I lost my long hair, some of my appetite, but not my determination. My middle sister ( I am the oldest), brought my nephew to my house, and he shaved the rest of my hair off when it began to fall out. I have to say - throughout the entire ordeal, losing my hair was the worst part. I had already been wig shopping, as I knew what lay ahead. We made the wig shopping excursion a party, with several of us going, and then lunching afterwards.
Chemo was rough, but it allowed me to spend every other Friday with my mother during treatment. I loved those days - the nurses were sweet and funny, and I had a great time just being with Mom. I also have to give an extra special shout out to Geary, who took care of me when I was sick, when I was tired, when I was hungry, angry, scared, determined, etc. He cooked, cleaned, and ran the household when I wasn't able, made sure I ate, took care of the pets and did all of things you can (and can't) imagine that a chemo patient might need help with. During treatment, the Hulston Cancer Center began to feel comforting to me. It was a "safe' place. I was cared for, and cared about. I can't say enough good things about the supportive people there. I made a special friend who was receiving chemo during the same time as myself, and we got to 'ring the bell' together in the lobby of the Cancer Center, signifying that our treatment was over. What a happy day!!!
Radiation was next, with 33 treaments. For those of you that aren't familiar with radiation treatments, they are daily. Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. Towards the end, my skin was very, very red and painful, but manageable. I could not wait for the day when I got to ring the bell again. I was beginning to feel 'normal'. While I had missed swimming in the lake during the summer, and attending all of the great fall festivals, things were about to turn around. I had continued to work all through chemo and radiation, because my office was one of the places I didn't feel 'sick'. The world keep on turning around me, and I wanted and demanded to be part of it. I didn't want to miss a thing! The end of this part of the long journey was in sight.
Today, I am cancer-free and a survivor. I still have check-ups every 3 months, because a cancer diagnosis means ongoing care and vigilant observation. I am thankful for each day, each morning, each minute. I said I didn't want cancer to change my life, but it did. It allowed me to put everything into perspective. I realized that faith, family and friends matter more than anything else in the world, and without each of them, I would not have survived. My support group was large, and loving, and essential to my healing. I realized that just one kind word can make all the difference for someone who desperately needs to hear it. I also learned that if someone offers to help, it is because they want and need to. Let them. My mantra became the 4 P's...be Positive, lots of Prayer, have a Purpose, and be Peaceful.
Pink Warriors - please share your story with us on our Facebook page by clicking on this link: https://www.facebook.com/BransonOnlineLeisureResources?ref=hl. We want to honor you, and those that support and love you. Breast Cancer is not just a woman's disease. Remember, real men wear pink. So guys - if you are a Pink Warrior, we definitely want to hear from you!! Silence won't finish the fight, but action will. Speak out!
If you take nothing else away from this blog, remember this: Do regular self exams and get your Mammograms! Early detection saves lives, and that's what we all want....more Birthdays.