Survivor since 2001
It was eight years ago. It feels very far away now, but it was very intense at the time. The lessons I’d like to share with you are all about support from friends, family, and people I hardly knew. It’s about finding resources that were available that I’d never heard about. And it’s about getting second opinions and finding good doctors that I could trust.
As much as you are comfortable, tell friends and family and even acquaintances what is happening. My best friend, Marilyn, who lived in Minneapolis, called a mutual friend, Judy in NY. She called and asked if I had called our friends Herb and Betty. Dr. Herb Jacobs is a semi-retired gynecologist in Denver. Herb listened to my story of seeing the local surgeon (who said she wouldn’t know until she was in the surgery if she would need to do a mastectomy). He said, “That doesn’t sound right to me. Let me set up for you to see doctors in Denver.” And he did.
I stopped in at Challenge Aspen to give an update to friends there. A volunteer, Patti, who was a nurse, asked what she could do to help. I hardly knew her and she wound up taking me to Denver for two days to see the oncologist and surgeon. Not only did she understand the medical issues and could decipher what the doctors were saying, she was a blast to spend time with. Kat, another ski instructor, offered to let me stay in their condo when I needed radiology treatments in Denver. Other friends gave me books and tapes and lots of emails and prayers. I created a group email list and sent out periodic updates. I received over 400 encouraging emails during the course of my treatment.
Trust your own instincts, get a second opinion and give yourself time to make decisions. When Dr. David Hollander, the radiologist told me I had a tumor, he said, “This is a speed bump, not a wall.” I was coping pretty well until I talked to a local surgeon. After 30 minutes with her, I was totally terrorized and immobilized. It was by far the worst part of the whole experience. Then Herb connected me with an oncologist, Dr. Sami Diab. Dr. Diab, who is a kind, caring, patient man, changed everything for me. Within ten minutes of meeting him, I felt like this was an illness, not a catastrophe. It became a speed bump again. He referred me to Dr. Sally Clark a surgeon at the Sally Jobe Clinic where I got terrific, caring treatment. (I felt all those Sally’s were a good omen.) It was five or six weeks from my diagnosis to the surgery and I’m glad I took all of that time to find the right doctors and the right plan of treatment for me.
Join a support group and let others support you. Herb told me one of the most important things was to join a support group. The Sally Jobe Clinic in Denver had a weekly support group. I met many women who had, or were still going through, what I was dealing with. They had answers to my questions and lots of good advice like “get a stocking cap to wear to bed, because without hair you get cold.” They also knew a wonderful beautician who sold and styled wigs and told me to “go before you loose your hair, because she will match your hairstyle and color”. They knew of a health club in Denver that had a program supported by Komen. My greatest fear was not coming back 100% physically after the chemo. Karen, who led the program, had been through chemo and went on to win a national bike race within two years. I only went twice, but she and Naomi, who I worked with, were a huge inspiration and support for me. They also knew that the American Cancer Society had a connection with hotels that would provide one or two nights of free lodging for people in treatment.
I rarely think about it now. Being a cancer survivor isn’t a big part of my identity. I’m a woman, a skilled consultant, a ski teacher, a friend, a town council member, who, years ago, had breast cancer.