Survivor since 1984…
Indeed, today I am a thriving, enthusiastic breast cancer survivor after 12 cancer-related surgeries including 3 biopsies, 2 lumpectomies, 2 modified radicals, 1 false alarm, and 4 reconstructive surgeries over the last 22 years.
My first challenge with breast cancer was in March 1984 when I had 2 young preschoolers. While playing Women’s League Soccer in Virginia, I stretched my pectoral muscle. As I massaged my sore pec, I felt a very hard, marble-size lump in my right armpit (yes, where you put deodorant!!!). With no positive mammogram, no family history of breast cancer, no smoking, an active lifestyle and 2 oncologists advising me “to wait and monitor the lump for 6 mos”, I consulted a third specialist. He immediately performed a biopsy/lumpectomy to reveal I had “infiltrating ductile carcinoma–estrogen receptor positive”. Within weeks, I had a modified radical mastectomy and immediate reconstructive surgery.
Following my surgery, I participated in group counseling and massage therapy weekly. I am convinced through this counseling and my own experience that ……
• you must be your own best advocate by knowing your body and listening to your intuitive gut.
• you need to keep a personal copy of all your medical records, test results, x-rays, etc.
• bring a written list of specific questions/issues and a buddy to any major doctor appt (My husband went with me and this also helped allay some of his fears)…Also, talk to your kids before and while you are undergoing treatment to reassure them that despite any physical changes that you love them and will be ok. Years later, after my daughter was grown up, she confided that it frightened her that I was so silent and “didn’t talk to her about my cancer”…….
• M,M + M = Music, massage and meditation (visualize your cancer being gobbled up, flushed down the drain, whatever powerful image you choose)
• Reclaim your body through active participation in something you are passionate about….gardening, art, biking, or with me, it was skiing!!!! In 1998 in the Paul Mitchell Women’s Ski For the Cure on Ajax Mt, I was shocked to win 2nd place in the Survivors Division.
Needless to say, after 16 cancer-free years, I was flabbergasted and very scared when I got a positive annual mammogram in Oct 1999. A lot has changed in breast cancer treatment, yet, it was not any easier the second time around. This time I was diagnosed with infiltrating ductile carcinoma in my other breast. Again, I used physical challenge through sports to recuperate from the cancer surgery and treatments, and to regain confidence in my body. I chose technical mountain climbing and completed a Mt. Climbing Course standing on top of a cliff at Marker 54 on the way to Independence Pass in July 2000.
Cancer was certainly a rough patch in the tapestry of my life; however, it certainly does not define who I am. How I chose to handle life’s challenges including cancer, is what defines me as a thriving, enthusiastic, loving, athletic human.