Friday, May 31, 2002. 4:10 p.m. Funny how you remember the exact time of things like this. It was a phone call from the doctor. It was one I was waiting for. The one I was dreading.
In April of that year, I was living life normally, doing all the stuff you do at 44 with a family and a job. Taking care of them, a house, the bills, the ‘normal’ things. What I was about to be thrown in to, I never ever dreamed would happen to me, especially at that age. I had been getting a shooting pain in my right breast, not thinking it was anything serious, because cancer doesn’t hurt, right? One day I was walking in to work and a little voice in my head told me to reach up. I did and it was then I first felt it. The lump. Again, thinking it had to be nothing, because this just wouldn’t happen to me out of the blue, right? Tried to ignore it, but knew I couldn’t. I called my doctor from work and she had me come right in. I got sent for a mammogram to check it out. I called my sister because I was ready to have a meltdown and didn’t want to go alone. I didn’t tell my husband as it was nothing. It had to be nothing. There was no reason to think otherwise.
When the mammogram was done, they told me it was just a cyst. (The tumor had been surrounded by cysts.) I was sent on my way. I am lucky I had an appointment with my regular doctor right after that. She asked if I wanted to get that out of there as even a cyst didn’t belong. And it seemed to be growing. Of course, I agreed. So an appointment was made with the surgeon to drain it. But it didn’t drain and he ‘changed gears’ as he said. Suddenly I was having a biopsy and because it was so fast growing, and my age and other things I don’t remember, he did NOT expect a diagnosis of breast cancer.
But the next day the phone rang. Friday, May 31, 2002. 4:10 p.m. “I HAVE SOME TOUGH NEWS FOR YOU. ” Then ‘aggressive’ and ‘fast growing.’ I begged him not to tell me that. And then I broke. I sobbed. I could not believe it. How did this happen to ME? Why now? My kids were young. The boys were 16, 14, 12 and my daughter was 10. Oh God, my kids. HOW would I tell them? How as a mother could I destroy their safe world? We waited until after the doctors appointment on Monday to tell them, so we would have more information. We sat them down after dinner and told them. It broke my heart. My oldest already had a clue as he was paying attention, my 12 year old was standing by his dad and his knees gave out. My 10 year old cried and asked me if I was going to die.
My 10 year old daughter had to worry that her mother was going to die. I told her NO. and I believed it. I would do all I could to make it true.
I went through it all. A double mastectomy with reconstruction. Lymph nodes removed…all negative, btw! Yeah! Chemotherapy. I lost my hair, I got sick, my bones hurt from it. Radiation. 7 and 1/2 weeks…5 days a week with a targeted area where the tumor was…..a large 5.2 cm tumor that was 1 mm away from attaching to the muscle! I find myself pretty lucky, ironically, as things could have been much much worse!
Physically, I went through SO much and I still live with the after effects. My right arm strength is much less and it seems to be always numb. Some days there is still pain. Have you heard of chemo brain? Talk to anyone who has been through it…we have it. Reconstruction? Not so good. It remains uncomfortable and unsightly. A daily reminder of what I have lost…
Because although I faced a life threatening disease, and I always worry during checkups, and yes, other times, I also now live a much more fulfilled and happy life.
That is probably another common thread with us survivors. I try not to sweat the small stuff. I laugh more, I tell the people in my life I love you, more! I try to not stress so much over small things. I remind others also not to. I have traveled all over the country, seeing places I never ever thought I would. I have LIVED.
I wrote a book on my experience called My Face To The World. When people ask me to autograph it, I always write, “Find joy in each and every day.”
I try to and I hope you do too. Sometimes you have to look harder to find it, sometimes it is easy. I will leave you with that sentiment, as simple as it is.
I hope that you find your joy in each and every day!
Last October, with my husband in Washington, D.C.