On October 5th, 2016 we had the honor of working with 9 beautiful Breast Cancer survivors. They each wrote about their journey in their own words.
One of the most feared things a woman can hear is “You have breast cancer.”
My journey began like many others. I was going about my life, paving my way in the world, and never for a moment, thinking about breast cancer.
The summer of 2003 was like any other, and it came. I felt a small something on the outer part of my left breast. I had an old mammogram order that had expired and thought to use it anyhow. I called for a mammogram appointment and they scheduled me for a month away. My husband thought that was a bit far out so I called back the next day and it just so happened they had a cancellation that day. I went in with my expired mammogram order and they did not realize it was expired until after my mammogram. The Radiologist came in with the first of my bad news. “You have many suspicious micro calcification’s,” and wanted me to get an ultrasound right away. The next day I got my ultrasound… Same results… not good… I need a biopsy.
After a recommendation from Margaret McCoy I went to Dr. West at the Breast Care Center in Orange. His opinion was the same… I need a biopsy and if it is cancer, a mastectomy was my only option. June 9, 2003 was my biopsy. The surgery went fine and I was on my way back home.
A couple days later as I sat in my living room by myself Dr. West called with the news no one ever wants to hear… you have cancer. This is where my journey began…I spent sleepless nights searching the web for information about breast cancer.
I’m not really sure when that moment passed. After the initial shock and hysteria wore off, I created a believable illusion that I was okay. That I could handle whatever cancer handed me because I was a fighter, and I was tough. I let autopilot take over as I phoned friends to break the news. I hate those words. YOU. HAVE. CANCER.
I met with Dr. West to learn my options. It was all too much to take. Without a second thought I made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy. I needed to do everything I could do reduce my risk of developing a new breast cancer in the future. I just wanted to get rid of this “cancer” thing in my body.
I found a web site called Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. The moment I logged on to the site, I felt like I had arrived. I was surrounded by a cyber sorority. Women from all walks of life with one common bond. They were all mad as hell, and not taking cancer lightly. After a few days on the discussion boards I had a core circle of friends. These girls were my salvation. I learned more from them then I did from any of my doctors.
After meeting with Dr. West, I met my oncologist, Dr. Margileth. As the doctor looked over my chart the next agenda was to talk about additional treatments… Chemo. I told him I would decide if I liked him if he let me keep my hair. He then gave me a couple of options. Given my stage one option was to take a lighter dose of chemo over a longer period of time and I could keep my hair. That was it… I wanted it.
I left the office with a plan. Cancer thought it had one up on me, but with my plan set in motion, I leveled the playing field. Cancer was missing one important piece of information– that I only play to win.
First on the agenda… a bi-lateral mastectomy from Dr. West and Dr. Hagstrom, my plastic surgeon, would come right behind him and recreate the breast Dr. West removed. Using my tummy fat and 12 hours of surgery I had my new mounds.
It was not an easy recovery but it was very doable.
Next on the agenda was Chemo…
I went into chemo like it was my first day at school; determined to divide and conquer. My wrists were piled high with pink bracelets. I wore pink from head to toe, I was ready for war. My best friend Jeanne Shroyer sat by my side at every chemo party we went to, that’s what I called it… “My Chemo Party”.
On weeks to come, life was anything but normal. I went to a class called, “Look Good, Feel Good.” I remember sitting in this class and they offered me a wig and I said “no thank you I’m not going to lose my hair”. At that moment a women across the table lifted her wig off and said “that’s what they told me”. I know the look on my face told it all but I kindly said “I’ll wait”.
I quickly learned how to be my own best advocate. I researched, and read books. I joined every online cancer community that was available. Within these cyber walls, I found a sisterhood that welcomed me with open arms. If I had a question, my sisters had the answer. When I experienced side effects from treatment, my sisters knew how to ease my pain. Although I had a huge support team of family and friends in my corner, I knew they could never fully understand. I knew that they wanted me to be okay, so I swallowed my hurt and put on a brave front. With my cyber sisters, there was no need to hide. When someone was sick, we prayed. When someone was sad, we listened. When someone had surgery we sent gentle hugs. When someone was dying, we put our own fears of death aside, and mourned a life that was not done living.
It was the beginning of the next chapter of reclaiming my life.
I had a lot of good days, and I felt like the worst was behind me. But, the downside of having so many friends in the cancer community is the reality that some of them will have a recurrence, and some of them will die. I realized early on, that just because I got better, the fight against cancer wasn’t over. I felt this rite of passage from the sisterhood, this sense of duty to help women through the emotional roller coaster of cancer. I began to mentor women going through breast cancer on my own. In 2008 Janelle Basham and myself were asked to take over the Bosom Buddies, a breast cancer support organization founded in the early 90’s by Carolyn Knight, Margaret McCoy, Linda Johnson and Cathy Zaitz all of Canyon Lake, CA. It was a club dedicated to support woman in their struggle with breast Cancer. Our mission as a Bosom Buddy is to Educate, Inspire and Support newly diagnosed Breast Cancer Survivors during their Breast Cancer Journey.
This experience is more than I ever could have imagined. I am a part of something that is so much bigger than me, and for that I am so grateful. I have the chance to give back what I’ve received.
It brings me great joy to celebrate being a survivor, although it has come at a price. I have lived through triumph and hope, just as I have lived through sadness and loss. I celebrate to honor the lives that cancer has cut short. I celebrate for my sisters who are sick, with hopes for brighter days ahead. I celebrate those that came before me, and those that undoubtedly will come after me. And when the day arrives, when we finally have a cure for this life changing illness, that will be the greatest celebration of them all.
Check out Kathy’s Story HERE
Check out Debbie’s Story HERE
Check out Janelle’s Story HERE
Check out Maja’s Story HERE
Check out Crystal’s Story HERE
Check out Mary’s Story HERE
Check out Laura’s Story HERE
Check out Sylvia’s Story HERE