Co-survivor: Her husband, Jerry
My sister, Connie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974 and is now a 31-year survivor. She was the first one in my family with any type of cancer. I am the second, and am now a 6½-year survivor. I was diagnosed with breast cancer during National Breast Cancer Awareness month in October 1999 at the age of 55, and my life was forever changed.
The lumpI found my lump while talking to my son, Todd, on the telephone about a novel I was reading. I reached across my body to pick up the book and felt something different in my right breast. I had to stifle the urge to gasp because I didn't want him to be alarmed. When I got off the phone, I checked myself, and my husband, Jerry, checked me as well. We both felt a lump.
Fear began to set in for both Jerry and myself. I immediately called my family physician and was scheduled for a mammogram and a general surgeon consult a couple of days later. When Jerry and I went to the general surgeon's consultation, I was barely examined by the doctor and was told I had a malignancy. I couldn't believe that he could know this with just a brief exam, but the mammogram showed a high probability of malignancy.
I had been doing things right…having mammograms every year, having my breast examined every three months, and doing self- breast exams. As we walked to the car, the fear crept into my body. Jerry held me as I cried, and I know he was crying inside, also. It must be a terrible feeling to be on the other side of this disease, fearing the loss of someone you love, someone who is your soul mate.
The treatment decisionIt's such a strange feeling to feel fine, yet know that something is growing inside you and is threatening your very life. Jerry and I did a lot of research, and decided that mastectomy was the treatment for me. One lymph node was positive, which meant eight chemotherapy sessions. Jerry moved his office to our home so that he would be there when I went through the side effects of chemo the first week after each treatment. He would continually put relaxation tapes in the player to help me relax.
I remember vividly when my hair began to fall out after my first chemo session. It was a cold February day. I was at work and ran my fingers through my hair. Several hairs came out of my scalp. I knew the time was coming but was sickened when it actually happened. I became obsessed with my hair falling out, and couldn't keep my hands away from my scalp. When Jerry came home, I asked him to shave my head, something which we had spoken about on numerous occasions. We went into the kitchen where I sat in a chair with a towel draped over my shoulders. He took the first swipe with an electric razor, and chills overcame my body. I sobbed throughout the entire ordeal. I felt humiliated and couldn't look my dear husband in the eyes. I went to my bathroom, and without looking in the mirror, put on a scarf. I couldn't look in a mirror for two days. After I got used to it though, I found that it was very convenient!
A constant source of supportJerry was there for me every step of the way, and still is… He truly is my angel. He deserves a higher place in heaven for the support he has given me. I am the luckiest person in the world. This breast cancer has strengthened our marriage and made me a much stronger person. Since being diagnosed, I have lost three friends to breast cancer, and I miss them so very much. They all took different paths of treatment than I. Everyone has to choose their own options, and hope and pray that they make the right decisions.
I now do public speaking to my community, and to students at the medical school where I work. I encourage listeners to be proactive with regard to their health, and explain to medical students how a patient feels, hoping that it will make a difference to them in the care of a patient who develops cancer. Jerry also speaks to the students and tells them how it feels to be an advocate and support person for someone going through cancer.
I have never felt alone during this disease. I am a survivor!! Thanks to God and to Jerry.
Maria De La Torre