Breat Cancer Awareness - A Survivor's Story
This November 1st, it will be 10 years since I heard the words “It’s breast cancer”.
My world turned upside down at just 38 years of age. I was doing a regular monthly breast self-exam (and since you have just read this – this is YOUR reminder to do YOURS and get your mammogram! And yes – MEN can get breast cancer too!). I found a lump. I blew it off as “well, I just took the flu shot, maybe it’s just a lymph node that got inflamed as an immune response to the shot or something”. I gave it 2 weeks. It didn’t go away. So off to my doctor I went. And within the hour, I was sent to mammogram, then ultrasound. Two days later those results prompted a biopsy. It was Halloween weekend. At least I had some distraction, but it was always in the back of my mind as I waited. At 9 a.m. that Monday I got the call. My worst fear was in my face. It was breast cancer.
My daughter Katie was 9 at the time and I knew I had to fight. I had so many questions. “Why me?, Why breast cancer? I don’t smoke, I rarely ever drank, I breast fed my child, I exercise regularly, and on and on. But it was what it was. I acquired a Nurse Navigator who helped me set up MRIs, specialist appointments, labs, and so on. I was told of my “stage one” breast cancer, and of my options. I could have lumpectomy, single mastectomy, bilateral mastectomies, and chemo, followed by 10 years of an oral pill a day to keep estrogen from binding to breast cancer cells and proliferate the cancer again. I chose bilateral mastectomies, reconstruction, and chemo, which was then highly recommended, since I was young and wanted to treat it as aggressively as possible. The pain from all of it was unreal, physically and psychologically. The chemo literally poisoned me to do its job; to kill all fast-growing cells. My hair fell out, I was weak, I was in pain from mastectomies and then expanders to prepare my body for reconstruction. I remembered many times crying out to God, begging him for mercy. I didn’t go anywhere except to chemo and doctor appointments due to a suppressed immune system from the chemo. I was on leave from work. My husband Herrick’s position was eliminated at his work. So there we were. All home together, barely any income. But later on I saw this as a “meant to be”; Herrick was then able to be home to help with me and home. We had to use the cancer center’s food pantry. It was quite a low point in our lives. I remember Pastor Ralph Brown coming to visit me and me telling him that I couldn’t wait to walk into our newly built church, as by then I knew I’d be on the other side of my treatment. And I made it, and that day was awesome! I’ve also met amazing women along this journey, and some have sadly died from this disease, and that’s been hard to watch. Survivor’s guilt, depression, chemical menopause, body image issues, medication side effects, anxiety have all been a bi-products of this disease.
I remember being angry at God. Why would he do this to me? I am a health care professional, a mom, a wife, I am a good person who cares about everyone else, usually before myself. But over time, I realized there was a plan. A plan that showed me my strength to fight, and a purpose from my journey. A plan that lead me to become a “Reach to Recovery” volunteer with the American Cancer Society as well as a liaison to talk weekly with newly young diagnosed breast cancer patients at the cancer center where I took my treatment and next to the hospital that I worked at. I provided support, resources, and hope to frightened young women and their families/support system.
1 in 7 women will get breast cancer, and 1 in 3 will unfortunately have recurrence. There is no such thing as “once you pass 5 years, or 10 years you’re cured”. It can come back at anytime and kill, as it has many of my friends. We all need to realize that we are human. God does not “give us a disease”. God does not spare us from a disease. God is not good if we survive, and He is not bad if we get sick or die. Human bodies break down. We all will die of something. But what we can do is realize we can lean on Him with prayer, for peace, for hope, for strength, for comfort. We can also lean on our church family to help get us through tough times. God put the church together for us to be able to help each other get through this lifetime. 10 years later, here I am, telling my story. I am (so far) one of the lucky ones. Remember, “Life shouldn’t be about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning how to dance in the rain”.