Breast Cancer Awareness

Bonnie Cooper

When I got the diagnosis, a line from a John Lennon song popped into my mind: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Breast Cancer didn’t fit in with my plans or my life. As a single parent with a daughter still in college, an elderly and ailing mother, a busy solo law practice, and strong community involvement, I was way too busy to deal with a distracting and time consuming illness!

Unfortunately, I hadn’t been diligent about my screening. I had skipped mammograms for a couple of years because I was so very busy. Like too many women, I put myself last and instead focused my time and energy on my family, practice and clients. That lapse allowed the mass to grow unchecked until I noticed something abnormal on my right breast. Not what I would call a lump, but a thickening that I couldn’t imagine could be anything serious. But serious it was.

By the time it was discovered, the tumor was over 4 centimeters long. Because of the size of the tumor, the recommended course of treatment was oral chemo to shrink the tumor, a mastectomy, radiation and chemo; what I affectionately refer to as mutilate, burn and poison! A second mastectomy followed with a long reconstructive process to put me back together, which is finally almost finished. Although treatment and reconstruction have been arduous, I have felt confident in the care of the doctors, nurses and staff at UM/Sylvester Cancer Center.

This is not a road to traverse alone, no matter how independent or strong you think you are. Everyone needs a support system. Although my daughter was in school in Tallahassee, my mother was ailing in Broward and my sister was dealing with her family and life in New Jersey, there was a group of people there to take me to appointments, to play bridge with me during chemo treatments, to bring me food in the hospital and at home after numerous surgeries and to keep me from being overwhelmed by all the decisions to be made and the process itself. My undying gratitude goes to my generous and kind friends on Key Biscayne and elsewhere who have helped me get through this challenging experience with my sanity and humor mostly intact, and to my amazing legal assistant, without whom my law practice wouldn’t have survived.

As challenging as dealing with Breast Cancer has been, it not only reinforced the value of friendship, but led me to a new group of friends, all of whom I now consider my sisters. I am a proud paddler with Save Our Sisters (SOS), South Florida’s only Dragon Boat racing team comprised of all Breast Cancer Survivors. Contrary to the concerns that repetitive motion and strength training could cause lymphedema in those who had lymph nodes removed, Dragon Boating has proven to be beneficial to survivors both physically and emotionally, and is growing in popularity with Breast Cancer Survivors around the world. My SOS sisters and I have faced the dragon of Breast Cancer and, as a result have become stronger, healthier, and focused on spreading the message of breast health awareness. I could not have imagined that in my 50’s I would become a member of a competitive sports team, but, as John Lennon so wisely said, life, indeed, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.