Survivor since 2007…
March ’07 – Original diagnosis – I had pain in my armpit, agitated to get in for a mammogram quickly. Fortunately my doctor wrote an order for both a mammogram and an ultrasound as the radiologist did not think they would have seen the tumor with just the mammogram (dense breast material.) The ultrasound was on a Friday, I came back a few hours later for a biopsy, and the following Monday I got a call from my OBGYN telling me I had breast cancer. Tuesday I met with the surgeon and then went in for a breast MRI. The MRI showed more significant tumor size and changed the surgery plan. I had a mastectomy on Friday. The surgery was not so bad physically – mentally accepting that a part of my body had been amputated was a slow process. Most upsetting was the fact that I had a large tumor and cancer in all twenty one lymph nodes and was staged at 3C.
From the moment of my diagnosis, friends and family were cheering me on, showering us with food, flowers and prayers. I have children and a husband who need me so there was no choice in my mind that I had to accept whatever my oncologist recommended when it came to treatment. So, surgery to put in a port (I have “difficult” veins – the port allowed easy access and then two rounds of chemo (AC & Taxol). My husband is a teacher at the middle school and the gifts of food he brought home sustained us – since the nausea made eating difficult I definitely wasn’t cooking. My husband is the biggest hero – he kept everything going for our kids, made me feel beautiful despite being one breasted and bald, cleared everybody out of the house when I just needed to sleep and loved me when I was at my lowest. On the day of chemo, he would dance around the living room with me to Stevie Wonder blasting while I got myself psyched up to face another treatment. I am a big wimp and the treatments scared me. Fortunately, the Oncology staff is comprised of angels who were so understanding, and allowed my support team of friends to crowd one corner of the room and distract me during the treatment. So many people reached out and helped my family and me. One friend attended nearly every appointment with the oncologist, radiologist, etc. Sometimes I would be so overwhelmed by the fear and emotions that I would have to ask her later what we had heard. I don’t know how anyone navigates this journey without advocates who research and ask the hard questions and let you cry with them because you want to be strong later for your kids. I felt like I bounced back pretty quickly after the first couple of treatments. I attribute that to my acupuncturist. I took many supplements that helped restore my digestive system after the onslaught of the chemo drugs. My oncologist just asked to be kept in the loop on what I was taking and was very open to me forming a team that helped me survive chemo.
So chemo was March through June, then radiation July through September. Unfortunately, one must travel to Idaho Falls (or further) for radiation treatment and you need to go 5 days a week. I never traveled alone which made the time go faster. I had continued to work through both the chemo and radiation, so I would work until 2 pm, drive over to IF for the last appointment of the day, spend the night in IF, go for the first treatment of the following morning then back to Jackson for a day of work. I loved the time spent with friends and family who accompanied me to IF, but I got pretty tired of the radiation…. In the midst of all that I also had a booth with my lampworked glass beads and jewelry at both Art Association Art Fairs and Taking it to the Streets – what a blessing it was to continue working and making art, allowing me to feel like my “real life” apart from treatment would still be there for me when I was done with the “indignities”. I finished radiation on 9/11/07 and went in for an ooverectomy (removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes probably spelled incorrectly) on 9/18. This was recommended by my oncologist to eliminate hormonal activity. My OBGYN seemed genuinely shocked when she told me that the pathology showed that my ovaries and fallopian tubes were also cancerous. So just when I expected to be on the upward, most positive, post treatment trajectory, I found myself recovering from abdominal surgery (we had hoped to do it laproscopically) and I now had Metastasic Breast Cancer Stage 4. I think this was the lowest point for me emotionally since my initial diagnosis. My insurance company denied a PET scan which would indicate whether I had cancer in my liver, lungs or bones, but my husband and I felt there was no choice but to do the test so we knew what we were dealing with. Fortunately, the Pet Scan came back clean and when we exhausted the appeals process several angels appeared and helped us financially to pay for the test.
I am told that as soon as you have received your diagnosis you are considered a survivor, but I didn’t feel that way until I had a couple of blood tests and a breast MRI. My oncologist indicates that it is very likely that cancer will visit me again, but I am currently Stage 4, NED (No Evidence of Disease). I feel strong and healthy and grateful. I want desperately to raise my beautiful boys (age 7 & 15) and watch my wonderful step-daughter make her way in the world, but I know that every day is a gift. Through the cancer journey my family and I have been showered with love and compassion. This is an amazing community – and between the community, loved ones near and far we feel very blessed to have had such an outpouring of support. Just ask my husband – I still sweat the small stuff – but cancer has changed me, taught me much, and brought our family closer and more aware of what is truly important.
“Love is the world’s most powerful medicine. It is invisible, abundant, affordable and safe. An antidote to all forms of violence, disability and disease, the healing power of Love can be harnessed and activated by anyone with the right balance of Patience, Humility and Gratitude.”
While I made beads this weekend, I listened to the show “New Dimensions”. The speaker was Dr. Noah McKay, those are his words above. He was fascinating, and I thought a lot about my journey as he talked about the power of the breath of fire, lessons from prison (incarceration can truly give you the gift of time!), and love.
I realized that, for me, the love I was shown throughout my treatment was what truly sustained me, and brought me to where I am today. I am fully cognizant that I may not be done wrestling with cancer, but today, right now, I feel healthy and vital and busy and capable. Cancer treatment leaves you weak and vulnerable and small. I am grateful for my treatment, but I didn’t like those side effects. But for me, all those feelings were minimized by the love that surrounded me every step of the way. My family, friends, acquaintances, those with whom I had lost touch, people who didn’t really like me – I felt completely supported, and yes, loved throughout those months. Whether you drove me to Idaho Falls, made my family a meal, sent a card, or just said a little prayer for me – I was held up and sustained by your love.
I know it sounds crazy, but cancer can be a gift. It focuses us on what is really important – and helps us slow down and express love to our families and friends. I am writing this today with the wish that cancer only touches your life through me. That you and yours remain healthy and vibrant, and you express your love for those who are most important to you each and every day. Terry will tell you that I still sweat the small stuff, but I know our family has become more aware of the transient nature of this life. I continue to feel blessed each day by the love that manifested in our lives back in 2007. I am grateful we have returned to regular life. But I have not forgotten. I will not forget. You helped me build the bridge that brought us to this day. Thank you!