Oliver Goldsmith once said, “Life is a journey that must be travelled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” Life takes us on unexpectedly and it is up to you how you pave your way.
I would like to share a bit with you about my cancer, my life and all the crazy twists and turns that got me to where I am today. I will also be sharing a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. I hope that somehow my story can help others who are feeling scared, hopeless or alone.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I did not have a family history. I found the lump during a routine self-exam in the shower.
LESSON 1: Do your self -exams!
My general practitioner told me to “keep an eye on it and come back in a few months.” My inner voice said “umm, I don’t think so.” I followed up with my gynecologist who sent me for a mammogram, an ultrasound and ultimately a biopsy. I will be forever grateful to my inner voice and my gynecologist, who took me seriously, despite my young age and zero risk factors.
LESSON 2: Trust your gut and be your own biggest advocate!
My cancer was stage one. I was a great candidate for a lumpectomy because the tumor was small. A lumpectomy would mean that I would need radiation along with scans and MRI’s for the rest of my years. Scanxiety was a very big issue for me and I was crippled by worry while awaiting test results. I opted, instead, for the bilateral mastectomy. My surgeon really pushed for the lumpectomy, a simpler, not as radical procedure. Once again I trusted my gut and insisted on the mastectomy. A few days before the surgery my surgeon called and said she was happy I had insisted on the more invasive surgery. As the medical team further studied my tumor they realized it was directly over my heart. Radiation would have caused problems down the road, maybe even heart failure.
The surgery went well, lymph nodes were clear! I was released 23 hours after a surgery where they removed both breasts and surrounding tissue, lymph nodes and severed nerves, muscles and tendons. I went home with some sort of pain blocker catheter in my back and the wonderful drainage tubes. My poor mother had to remove the catheter tubes after a few days and drain my tubes daily. It is still shocking for me to write the words “released 23 hours after surgery.” I don’t remember much of my recovery and for that I am thankful.
I was prescribed Tamoxifen for 5 years. Hello early menopause and fibroid tumors in my uterus. A year after my mastectomy I had a full hysterectomy due to side effects from Tamoxifen. This sounds awful but it was really just the beginning. Here is a little timeline of what happened in between my surgeries:
- May 2013: Diagnosis and Mastectomy
- October 2013: My husband (of 19 years) confessed to infidelity and I asked him to please LEAVE.
- January 2014: My beloved Dad died
- Filed for divorce
- May 2014: Hysterectomy
LESSON 3: When you hear people say ‘you are stronger than you seem, braver than you believe and smarter than you think you are”… they are correct!
Early menopause hit me hard. I was not ok emotionally due to all the turmoil in my life. Throw in some wicked hot flashes and mood swings and the result was a sweaty, man-hating, angry woman. I knew this was not who I wanted to be. I knew I had three kids to raise and set an example for. I was at rock bottom so the only place to go was up. I reached out to friends and family. I went back to church. I found a therapist.
LESSON 4: Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
LESSON 5: It is ok to not be ok. Own it. Stay there for a minute. Wipe off your tears and work through it!
The end of 2014 was when I began to heal. My doctors were happy, no new lumps or bumps. I was tolerating the Tamoxifen better. I had a strong tribe of people who loved me and supported me. I was still dealing with my divorce but I was strong enough to handle the drama and help my kids navigate as well. I was beginning to find the joy in every single day, even my bad days. I was doing yoga and seeing a nutritionist. I scheduled one night out a week with my dear friends.
LESSON 6: Putting yourself first is not only ok, it is essential.
I realize how lucky I am to still be here 7 years later to tell my story. I know I’m considered a “survivor”, but aren’t we all survivors? Everyone has their own cancer in life, whether it is disease, divorce, addiction, depression, etc. We all build up walls thinking that it protects us from illness or hurt. The truth is that when the walls come down, that is when we truly thrive. I finally healed enough to let the walls around my sad, scared heart crumble and I’m so grateful that I did. I remarried in 2018 to a wonderful man that I’m quite sure my Daddy in heaven sent my way. I am healthy and happy and consider cancer a part of my past now. My children are now ages 21, 18 and 15. They are well adjusted and as normal as kids those ages can be, haha!
Cancer is scary. Fighting it is exhausting. Facing your fears is overwhelming. Life can throw you a lot of curveballs you don’t deserve. Life is hard, I don’t think it is supposed to be easy. I think it is meant to be lived. Living means experiencing the good along with the bad and learning along the way.
Peace and love to all of you and thank you for allowing me to share my story.