Survivor since 2004…
My dream was always to move to the mountains and work with animals, so I decided to follow that dream and moved to Aspen. Within six months of moving here I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in total shock, having recently received a letter stating that the mammogram I had done two weeks prior was clear. I had never heard of a form of breast cancer that is “mammogram negative,” meaning it does not show up on mammograms. I discovered that the importance of self-exams cannot be overstated.
One morning, I noticed a lump in my right breast that felt like a cyst and, after a few days of procrastination, went and had it checked out. It turned out to be a fairly aggressive Stage II breast cancer, and the doctors gave me two weeks to decide between a simple lumpectomy to remove the tumor or a double mastectomy, in case the cancer had spread undetected. It was a hard couple weeks – not only was I in total shock from the diagnosis and trying to educate myself about the disease, but in the midst of all this, I was having to make this huge decision about whether or not to have both of my breasts removed. I was like the proverbial deer in the headlights. One evening, a day or two after my diagnosis, after about five minutes of lying on my bed, sobbing, I suddenly sat up. Seemingly out of nowhere, I was overcome with this amazing strength to fight as aggressively as I could. I was fighting for my life and nothing was going to stop me. Not even cancer.
I opted for the double mastectomy. My other breast turned out to be cancer-free, but we discovered the cancer had invaded my lymph nodes and I began four months of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation treatment. It was a difficult time physically and emotionally. I was bald and self-conscious, tired or nauseous or at doctor appointments or hospital visits. However, I was beyond fortunate to have the love and support of family and friends, and that was my saving grace. From the minute I was diagnosed, they were there for me, making sure I had everything I needed. I was amazed and touched to discover the depth of friendship and goodness in these individuals, most of whom I had only known for five months. But they were my strength – they were what kept me going each day and I will never forget the love they showed.
Fiercely independent in life, I suddenly discovered that I had to reach out and I had to accept the help so willingly being offered to me. Bland Nesbit, a close friend and fellow cancer survivor, went through everything with me – so much so that I called her my co-patient. Another friend unknowingly gave me what became my daily mantra, when one day he said “Come on. Don’t cry. It is what it is.”
I have a card that is very special to me and I keep it by my bathroom mirror so I can read it every morning. It says, simply …“Then, when it seems we will never smile again, life comes back …” and it does. I am cancer-free. I am a survivor.