While shopping with my daughter for last minute holiday gifts for her fourth-grade teachers, in December 2006, my story of breast cancer survivorship began. It is a moment that I will never forget. My cell phone rang. “I’m sorry,” said the doctor who did my biopsy a few days earlier, “but the biopsy was positive, you have breast cancer.”
Rushing to leave the store, my daughter asked me, “Mommy what happened?” She could see through the façade I attempted. All that I could think to do was to head for our car. I knew her questions would come soon, because she knew about my biopsy.
A few days earlier, while volunteering at her class holiday party, I had to leave early to get to the hospital for my breast biopsy. Moms don’t normally leave class parties early, so I had to explain to her that I had something important to do, while reassuring her.
That day at the mall, there was no possible way to avoid the look of shock on my face. “We have to get out of here,” I remember saying as we headed to our car.
As I started my car, my ten-year-old daughter asked me, “Mommy, do you have breast cancer,” and then she started to cry. I got out of the car and went to sit and hug her in the back seat. “Yes, I said, but I will be okay and we will get through this together.” I wondered at the time if I believed my own words.
It was a mother’s worse nightmare. She was in deep pain and so was I, my heart racing, as we headed home. I called my husband at his office on the way asking him to meet us as soon as possible.
Later that day, I received a phone call from the radiologist who did my biopsy. “I’m sorry; I did not think it would be cancer.” It looked like exactly like a benign cyst, but I wanted to do the biopsy anyway just to be sure. She wished me the best and I went back to having dinner with my family.
Little did I know what the diagnosis meant to us at this point. I knew that I would do whatever it took to survive, but I didn’t know of the tremendous journey ahead and the emotional pain my family and I were soon to endure.
I underwent a complete mastectomy along with simultaneous insertion of expander implants to begin breast reconstruction. Unfortunately the cancer had spread into a couple of my lymph nodes, which was not discovered during the biopsy done during mastectomy. So I had to endure a second surgery, just a week later, with a challenging recovery. My goal at that point was to get to the life-saving chemotherapy as soon as possible. I had to pull myself up and keep pushing on ahead.
I started chemo as soon as I was reasonably recovered and had a chemo port implanted in my chest to make it a little easier for me to have the drugs administered.
I began my fight strong and courageous. I drove my daughter to and from school and tried to keep my head up. I did this for myself and for my family. As the mother of a daughter only age ten at the time, I knew I had to work hard to keep things normal at home.
After the third chemo, I lost all of my hair and that was truly devastating. I also became very tired and weak and at times could barely stay awake to pick up my daughter from school. I later lost my eyelashes and eyebrows and my weight plummeted to 90 pounds.
I am sharing this with you not to scare you, but to let you know of the harsh realities women face during the process of treatment for breast cancer. It really is the big “C”!
But, I was one of the fortunate ones, because I survived. Some of the women who I sat with during chemo did not. One had a little boy and no husband. Some had no insurance and therefore no access to the best drugs for the nausea caused by chemotherapy. All held their heads up high during the process, hoping their story would be one of strength and conquest.
As a mother, I could see that my daughter was deeply affected by my illness. She was initially startled by my hair loss and had to get used to my wig, hats and scarves. It was just before the end of her fourth-grade school year when I was in chemotherapy. I decided to tell very few people about my illness at her school in an attempt to keep her daily life as normal as possible.
I stood outside her classroom door during class performances if my white count was low because I risked infection, which would delay completion of my chemo. I lived in constant fear of catching a cold because it would delay chemo and make the journey last even longer.
My family and friends tried to help console me by taking me to my doctor’s appointments and staying with me at the hospital, but I was inconsolable. The drugs had taken effect and I could no longer taste food or sleep well through the night.
Finally, after a long battle and then slow recovery, I started to regain some of my strength. I was able to sleep better and eat again. I was recovered enough to have a hysterectomy and finish my breast reconstruction.
It was fall, only four weeks after that last surgery when I woke up my daughter early one morning and said, ”Let’s go do it!” Off we went to The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure!
I had about a quarter inch of hair on my head and I could barely walk from my hysterectomy, but we did the one-mile fun walk. Afterwards, we went to the survivor’s tent and had breakfast. It was her chance to meet other families for the first time.
How wonderful it was for her to see other children and their moms who were also facing her ordeal. She was able to see and to chat with so many survivors, their hair grown back. Their spirits strong, it was so reassuring to her that she thanked me repeatedly for bringing her.
My daughter’s words are something I will always remember. “Mommy. before we came to The Race for The Cure, I thought I was the only kid with a mom who had breast cancer. Now I see so many kids with the same situation. And that makes me feel like I am not different!”
Total strangers bound by a common connection provided absolute comfort and encouragement to both my then ten-year old daughter and me.
It was at that pivotal moment that I realized that I was part of a large group known as Survivors. They were a powerful group with a strong voice. They were the ultimate source of hope and comfort for me and my daughter.
Most important of all, my daughter had a blast!!! She ran around the park joyfully for the first time in more than a year! She was so relieved and empowered to hear so many stories, to see so many survivors!
I realized then, that we would participate in the walk every year and grow our team from that of two to that of many.
This is where my story actually BEGINS! It is a story of SURVIVAL! It is a story of the absolute COMMITMENT to putting an end to this disease once and for all.
IF WE DO NOT FIND A CURE, 10 MILLION WOMEN WORLDWIDE COULD DIE IN THE NEXT 25 YEARS! CHILDREN WILL LOOSE THEIR MOMS AND HUSBANDS WILL LOSE THEIR WIVES!
This December marks three years of survivorship for my family and me. I now refer to myself as a thriver rather than a survivor, because I chose to work hard to raise the money necessary to advance medical research, rather than to just sit back and passively survive!
Although my medical tests are frequent, I have moved forward and live my life basically as it was before. Except, I have immerged as a much stronger person. With my tumor markers being done every three months until I reach five years post diagnosis, this can be difficult at times. This is because I am a genetic carrier, which necessitates more frequent testing. So life can be a little like a rollercoaster, anticipating my test date coming up, waiting for results and finally getting good results, a time I refer to as party time!
Whatever part of my testing cycle, I never stop celebrating life. Every moment, however small and insignificant, holds a glorious and wonderful one for me. Because I realize how blessed and how fortunate I am to have my life and to watch my daughter grow up.
Other cancer survivors, I realize, have not been as fortunate to reach their three-year mark. Therefore, we must never lose sight of the need to find a cure in our lifetime.
It is for this reason that I share my story, a very deep and personal story, so that people will understand that breast cancer is a big problem. Often, it is misunderstood that cancer affects the whole family. It is an enormous and challenging trauma for everyone involved.
Most important of all, I wish to send the message that, regardless of the challenges and obstacles on this bumpy road, it is possible to survive, to resume life as you know it, and to even thrive!
There are so many gifts that come out of facing breast cancer.—the gifts of family, love and what really matters. Not the little issues or details once dwelled upon.
In this process, I am also committed to helping find a cure. This year, my family and I have raised over $10,000 for The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, to be held Saturday October 17, 2009, 8:30 a.m. in Bayfront Park in Miami.
As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, please remember to have annual mammograms and do monthly breast self-exams. Early detection is very important to survival.
Many thanks for reading my story and please remember to donate any amount to The Susan G. Komen Race for The Cure.
TOGETHER WE CAN HELP REALIZE THE DREAM OF A CURE IN THIS LIFETIME. TOGETHER WE CAN SEE TO IT THAT CHILDREN GROW UP WITH THEIR MOMS WHO ARE HEALTHY, AS IT SHOULD BE!
With love & life,