Breast Cancer Awareness

Elyse Waronker

I received my diagnosis with breast cancer in January 2004 following a particularly difficult time in my life. During the previous eighteen months, my husband of 25 years and I decided to separate and divorce, and I subsequently made the decision to sell the home in which we had raised our two children and move to a smaller, more affordable place. The move also separated our two children, as the decision was made to have my son live with his father and my daughter stay with me. I was just settling into my new life and home, beginning to learn how to live without a partner, and was on my way to making peace with myself and my new life. Little did I know that everything I had been through was only a precursor to what was to come.

The morning after Thanksgiving, while taking a shower I felt something hard in my left breast. The following Monday afternoon, I found myself in the office of my longtime OB/GYN, Dr. Orlando Leon. He reviewed the films from my most recent mammogram taken the previous July and felt the lump. Even though the lump was clearly evident, he was not alarmed because the mammogram from just four months ago was clean, but he referred me to a surgeon nevertheless. The surgeon recommended waiting 3-4 months, and then repeating the mammogram, but I, the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, the best friend of a breast cancer survivor, and the first cousin of a breast cancer survivor, asked him to find a place in his schedule for the removal and biopsy of the lump. He encouraged me to wait and not subject myself to unnecessary surgery, but I insisted. I am convinced that that decision probably saved my life.

The diagnosis was only the beginning. There were decisions to be made. Lumpectomy or mastectomy? How much time would I need off from work? I thought I had been through hell with the divorce. What I learned is that the strength I found that I didn’t know I had that helped me get through the previous months would be nothing compared to what was required to fight the battle ahead of me. Thankfully, my story has a happy ending. Even though the cancer was confined to my left breast, I made the decision to have a double mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery. Upon the recommendation of my oncologist, I went through four months of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of radiation. Everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer has to make the decisions that are right for them. These were the right decisions for me. The fact that I am able to lead a normal life (whatever that is) makes me the most thankful of survivors.