Breast Cancer. Here is my story…
Timing is everything!!!! The summer of 2003 was a busy time of my life. My Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy that June. The medications were making her sick. She was staying at my home with nursing care daily. I was running on empty. While away on the trip, my husband became very ill. He was later diagnosed with West Nile Virus. He was hospitalized and nearly died. Now, here I am with a sick mother and a very sick husband.
I noticed the calendar and realized that my annual mammogram was due. To my annoyance the radiologist said that he would feel better if I had a biopsy on a little something that he saw in the films. He would not take no for an answer, thank God. I made the appointment for the biopsy. All the while thinking this was so inconvenient, and I felt as if the doctor was just being overly careful.
Monday afternoon my husband said the doctor was on the phone. Well, it only took an instant to see the pain in his eyes and I knew that he had just heard bad news. My doctor told me that I had a malignant tumor in my breast and that I needed to see an oncology surgeon immediately. I remember that it was as if the breath had left my lungs and I could hardly speak. My knees were like jell-o as I slid to the floor, holding the phone, trying to answer the doctor’s questions, trying to keep it together.
My mother was just starting her battle with breast cancer. My beloved aunt who had just hit her five year survival mark from breast cancer, had been told at her five year checkup that the cancer had metastasized to the brain and was given only weeks to live. Merv’s left arm was temporarily paralyzed from the West Nile Virus and was in terrible pain and; I now have breast cancer, too. Because of my family history, my doctors helped in my decision to have a radical bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Although the doctors were not happy with me when I insisted on postponing my surgery so that I could be at my aunt’s bedside for several weeks and ultimately at her funeral a month later.
My friends were there for me, however, no pity parties allowed. But I also needed someone to talk to who had been in my shoes. It was my lucky day when I answered the phone one Tuesday afternoon and I heard a very cheerful voice, kids screaming in the background saying hey, hope you don’t mind but, heard you have breast cancer, so do I. Oh and just ignore the yelling, I do.
It was something that I had prayed for, someone who said I know what you are going through, and she really did. My sister friend, Colleen Beem was diagnosed about eight months before me with twins under two years old and a little boy under five. She guided me through my endless tests, doctor appointments and decisions regarding treatments. She quickly made me realize that a large safety pin would soon become the next best thing to a pair of new shoes as she taught me how to pin my many drains up and most of all she understood what it was like having your body changed forever and understanding what it was like fighting the dreaded C word.
How shocked I was to discover that we did not have a breast cancer support group in Homestead. Right then and there I knew that I had to start one. As a Councilwoman for the city, my life is an open book. Now, I had a real dilemma, do I keep my cancer a secret or do I share this with the community? I decided to change this horrible situation from lemons to lemonade. I have been an advocate since that day. I know that early detection saves lives; it saved mine. And that is why it is my life’s goal to continue to educate both men and women to see their doctors for regular checkups or if any unusual symptoms appear. There have been five women in my family alone with BC. I now have: hope—hope that maybe my loved ones will not be faced with this same disease, hope that I may see my grandchildren grow up and HOPE that I may grow old alongside my husband.
For me, as a cancer survivor, life will always be one continuous walk of survival. There will be days when I can walk briskly, jog, or maybe even sprint. And there will be days when I am slowed by fatigue and fear because the fear is always there; trust me, it never goes away. Even though it has been five years, I had a pic line with IV antibiotics most of the summer from complications of my last surgery in April, a year ago. However, I plan to wear out many pairs of tennis shoes during my life long survival walk. And when I, too, cross that final finish line, I pray, that it is as a tired, wrinkled old woman and not as the vibrant, energetic, fun loving woman I choose to be, pulled from the race, far too early. Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story, I hope that it will give strength to others. And if you get the chance to dance, don’t sit it out, DANCE!
Judy Waldman, Councilwoman, City of Homestead and Breast Cancer Survivor Councilwoman, City of Homestead and Breast Cancer Survivor