Cancer, Cancer! What a thing to hear on a beautiful, sunny, July morning. Although, I knew it was going to be. It had to be, just because life has to throw challenges out at you every so often. Because I had already gone through one of the most stressful times in my life, Cancer had to be thrown in there as well.
You see, my mom had just passed away and weeks afterwards, going through my purse I found the little slip of paper from the doctor. I stated to myself, “great now I have to go do this stupid test”. It was to go have my yearly mammogram. So being the proactive person that I am, I made the appointment and went. Most of us hate going to the doctors and being put through tests, I am no exception. Of course I’ve always have been fine, and this day was going to be no different, or so I thought.
After my test I went and sat out in the waiting room, waiting for the technician to come out and tell me to get dressed and go home. This time, she came out and asked me to come back in, that they would like to do a more in-depth test. My heart sunk and started to beat faster. I just knew this wasn’t good. Afterwards I was told to go and see my doctor and when I did, she immediately set me up for another test. This test was an ultrasound of the breast. The only question I asked her is, “if this is cancer, what is it going to look like?” She told me that it will look like a mass with feelers sticking out of it. So, I go to my test and what do I see, a mass with “feelers” sticking out of it. All I could think about was getting that “thing” out of my body.
So there is the beginning of my cancer journey. It was hard to even acknowledge the word let alone that I had it! I was diagnosed with breast cancer seven weeks after my mother passed away. Strange that she would pass away when she had helped so many people pass away that had cancer. While she was alive, she had also helped many women care for their wigs.
The next step for me, I needed to understand cancer. I started reading everything I could about cancer. It really didn’t matter what kind of cancer, I read about all types of cancer. It started to take shape in my mind that each person’s cancer is very individual. Each process or treatment is very individual. From the size of the tumor, where it’s located, if its hormone receptive or not, all determines what treatment is best. I read about chemo and radiation and all of the wonderful side effects that go along with such therapies. I read until I couldn’t read anymore. The internet was a very useful tool. It was also scary that I almost had too much information before I even knew what kind of cancer I really had.
Even after doing research through our local library, the internet and talking with other individuals that had breast cancer before, I still felt ill prepared to face cancer. So I told myself that I would do everything that I possibly could to survive. If it meant that surgery or chemo was necessary then that’s what I was going to do. I read up on what were the best vitamins and minerals to take and how much exercise to get each day. My oncologist also met with a cancer team weekly, that collaborated with cases to get opinions on what was the best treatment for each case. This really helped because you received more than one opinion without having to see more than one doctor.
After much research, crying, praying, and speaking to anyone that knew anything about breast cancer, I decided to go with what my “team” decided for me. At that time it was going to give me an 87% cure rate! The process involved me having a lumpectomy with three to four lymph nodes removed at the same time (called the sentinel node). While I was still under anesthesia, they checked the lymph nodes for any cancer and removed the tumor. Now I am simplifying things as there was a needle placed in the breast with the tumor in it beforehand, to show where the tumor was. And of course there was the die that was injected to find the sentinel lymph node that made me look like a blue smirf after surgery! Oh yes, I did have to find humor in my days.
When faced with a diagnosis of cancer whether it is breast, lung, or stomach you are faced with so many decisions in a very short period of time. The best place to start is exactly what Rhio O’Connor and I did. Research everything that you can about the therapies, treatments, surgeries, and even the different types of cancers that are out there. Rhio had mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the mesothelium; that is typically caused by asbestos. The mesothelium is the protective sacs that cover most of the body’s internal organs. Asbestos was so commonly used years ago. Its affects are not apparent for 30 to 50 years after exposure; so many cases are just coming to light. You can read more about this type of cancer and its therapies, treatments, and about survivors at: www.survivingmesothelioma.com. What I found so inspiring reading about Rhio and his fight is that we really traveled some of the same roads but just carried different burdens with optimism.
I was diagnosed with Stage I, hormone-receptive, invasive carcinoma breast cancer, with no lymph node involvement. I feel that I was really lucky. Lucky to have been proactive in taking care of myself, lucky to have found it at an early stage, lucky to have had the team of doctors that I did, but most of all, I had the support of my family around me. Through the entire process, my husband and daughter has been with me. When going through my treatments, I saw many individuals by themselves. My husband and I would sit and talk with them. If the situation was not really severe, we would make jokes to lighten the day. Especially when going through my treatments, I always tried to stay relaxed, laughing and really hopeful that I was beating my cancer!
Cancer, yes it’s a really hard word to hear no matter what kind of day it is. But the things to keep in mind if you or anyone you know is diagnosed with it are this; research all cancers, therapies, treatments and what other survivors have done. Keep an optimistic view of the end result. I understand that it is a hard thing to do, but do whatever you have to; pray, meditate, exercise, and be with your family. I am a five year survivor; I am looking forward to making it to my tenth! Thank you for taking the time to read my essay.