I’m sure I’ve read a thousand breast cancer stories by now. Many of the diagnoses are the same but the events are all unique. Each one sheds new light on some part of the journey giving us, as breast cancer survivors, something to hope for. Hope is the best medicine of all, I’ve found. When there is nothing else, there is always hope.
I lost a child to leukemia. He was only two. It turned my whole world upside down. Somehow, I had managed to resume my life without the child I loved so much. I guess I was trying to set an example for my other two children, I’m really not sure. I just know that I got up everyday and put one foot in front of the other and carried on even after such a devastating loss. I wasn’t unscathed by any stretch but I felt it was necessary to get back in the game, if nothing else but to be a great mom for my daughters.
A little over a year prior to diagnosis, I had decided to have implants to correct the ‘tube boob’ result from nursing three children. It was uncharacteristic for me but I was delighted with the outcome. But, just a short time later at a routine annual exam, my doctor pointed out a suspicious spot on one of my breasts. I had noticed it but wrote it off as scar tissue from a previous biopsy. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.
On June 17, 2008, I was diagnosed with stage 1, ductal carcinoma, triple-negative breast cancer. I was completely floored. I was only 42 years old. I had just gone through the worst possible event in a mother’s life and was finally back on my feet-albeit barely-raising two preteen daughters. How could this be happening? The hardest part for me was finding the words to tell my children that their mother had cancer. I could see the fear fill their eyes. They certainly knew the probabilities. They had already seen it first hand with their brother.
I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy and a more aggressive chemotherapy regimen than had originally been prescribed. I was a candidate for a trial that included bone strengthening drugs which, at the time, was being hailed for reducing the occurrence of mets.
Of course, from the beginning the guilt and regret set in. Was it the implants? Did I do this to myself? Thankfully, one of my doctors told me that the implants probably saved my life by pushing the tissue close enough to the surface that it was easily detected.
Those six months of treatment were taxing. I can’t say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done nor was it as bad as I had expected. I progressed well after surgery and blew through chemo with only minor and temporary set backs. It got a little more demanding near the end but I took the nausea drugs and sleep aids as prescribed and was able to carry out about 80% of my normal routine.
I am thankful that my family is close by. They certainly helped with my daughters and filled in the gaps, as needed. My husband was supportive and made sure I had every resource I needed. I realize how lucky I am to have so many on my side.
At this point, I am over six years post diagnosis. I am doing well and experience only minor side effects from the whole experience. I have to work at keeping the fear of recurrence at bay. I think it all gets better with time but I do feel there is a little voice somewhere that reminds me from time to time that the worst could happen. I volunteer some of my time to help other newly diagnosed women begin to navigate the journey. I try to stay positive and enjoy my life as a thriving survivor. I do not waste my time on the negative in the world but instead use each of my days as gifts. These events have taught me that there is so much good in this world, we just have to look for it. Sometimes its buried under so much negative that its hard to see…but it is there.
This year, I lost an aunt to the same dreaded disease. She was my mentor, my friend and a strong woman who I loved dearly. Her death hit me pretty hard. I pray for a day when cancers of all types are eradicated from our population; a time when children and aunts can live without the threat of such an unfair disease. I long for a cure.
In the meantime, I am watching my daughters grow into young women. One will be leaving for college soon and the younger one, the following year.
I look forward to long, lazy beach trips and adventures to new places with my husband. I have hope that I will live a long, healthy life. I’m doing all I can to make that happen.