My world changed on November 22, 2006, when I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, stage 0 noninvasive breast cancer, at the age of 44. For 7 years straight, prior to this, I had faithfully gotten my mammograms without incident from the “mammo mobile,” as I call it, when it came to my employer’s workplace. I was so proud of myself for faithfully signing up each year.
Little did I know that I would become the poster child at my company for being diagnosed at a young age. Due to my mother having fibroid tumors years ago, I went earlier than the recommended age because I wanted to do what I could to lower any possible risk. Knowing numerous breast cancer survivors within my circle of friends and workplace, I did not want to join the club if I had anything to do with it.
With my diagnosis fresh at hand, I was surrounded by all those pink ribbons. They were everywhere, especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October: at work, displayed outside at businesses throughout my community and at the annual Race for the Cure walk. The diagnosis came the day before Thanksgiving, and with the medical offices closed for the next 4 days, my mind had plenty of time to wonder. Wonder what the diagnosis actually meant, what treatment would be required, if I would lose my hair, and if I would survive to see the next spring, or the next Christmas. So many thoughts and questions; so few answers.
It was difficult and probably only natural to think, "Why me?"I wondered if this really was God's plan for my life. Looking back, though, I know it was! While waiting on biopsy results, I commented to my sister that I knew my life would never be the same with or without breast cancer. It was a wake-up call, and if I didn’t know it before, I knew God now had plans for my life and, by His grace, He would allow me to fulfill those plans.
After undergoing a lumpectomy, 6 weeks of radiation therapy, and 5 years of tamoxifen, I am 6 years out and still feel truly blessed. When all was said and done, my course of treatment gave me peace of mind in knowing that I had done everything within my power to treat this dreadful disease. I tell people that my faith in God, my family and a positive attitude were the keys to my recovery.
When I was newly diagnosed I feverishly wanted to rid my body of this disease, and now, I have to remind myself that I once had cancer! Had it not been for my cancer diagnosis, I would not have met so many women from so many walks of life. We share a common bond that only breast cancer survivors can share. Being a survivor provided me opportunities and enabled me to reach out to others in need, not only to breast cancer survivors but to others in the community. It has also enabled me to volunteer at my local Susan G. Komen affiliate’s office.
Every cancer patient has a story, and while I always enjoy sharing my journey, I also enjoy listening to what others have gone through. Unfortunately, though, you meet far too many newly diagnosed women and a few men along the way. Giving back is priceless and provides unspoken rewards.
My community has held an annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for the last 15 years, and for 9 of those years I walked to support a couple of my co-workers battling the disease. Little did I know that I would walk the next 6 years as a survivor! It is so awesome how God works!
In retrospect, I believe God was slowly introducing me to the breast cancer world when I walked in the race to show my support for others, surrounded by my many survivor co-workers. One of the most rewarding moments for me since my diagnosis was when I was asked to say a few words in front of over 15,000 people at our 14th annual Race for the Cure walk two years ago. To think that four years prior to that moment, I was newly diagnosed and questioning my mortality, and now here I was before so many other courageous women that have fought the fight and won! It was extra special because some of my family and friends were there to witness it. To look out over that audience, see a sea of pink and know that I was a survivor was not about being seen; it was about being heard and getting the message about breast cancer awareness to all the attendees.
Every year, on December 5, I throw myself a party at work so my co-workers can see that with God, family and a positive attitude, you can WIN! My everyday mantra is “celebrate life.” On this side of cancer, you take nothing for granted, you cherish every moment and you adapt to a new normal. You see, life really never is normal again. Choose to embrace the positive, and know that your identity is not your cancer!
1. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for assistance; they feel a need to help out, so let them. It’s ok to ask for help.
2. You may physically look the same as before your diagnosis, but it’s ok/normal to feel tired and express your feelings when others ask how you are feeling.
3. Keep a daily journal during your treatment/journey. Not only is it great therapy, but it’s also interesting to reflect back on that time, knowing that you made it.
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The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.