October is such a special month to me. I've always loved Halloween – the decorations and the change of seasons. It’s the time when everyone gets a jump-start doing crafty projects for the holidays. I think it’s so appropriate that Breast Cancer Awareness month is in October. Breast cancer (or any cancer, for that matter) is so scary. And dealing with it can be a jump-start to life changes.
I was 38 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. No family history of breast cancer, not a smoker. I convinced my primary physician the year before that I needed my first mammogram due to chronic soreness on my left breast from my armpit along the side of the breast area. My mammogram was clean as a whistle. Never in my life did I do self-examination.
While on a weekend trip, I noticed what looked to be a bruise on the side of my right breast. At first glance, I wasn't alarmed because I had twisted my ankle and fallen a few days prior. Then I touched the area. Yes, there was definitely something there. I worked as an administrative assistant at a large medical facility. Monday when I returned to work I had one of our nurse practitioners exam me. She didn't like what she felt. She walked me in the back hallway still wearing a paper gown to the general surgery area. There a physician immediately took a biopsy saying they would call me when the results came back. I went home that evening and told my dear husband that I was worried but didn't want to jump the gun.
Two days later, the surgeon's nurse called me to say that the doctor wanted to see me before I left the office. He told me that I had cancer. He told me that I would be having a total mastectomy in six days, that I needed chemotherapy and radiation, and that’s about it. I had been working with this man for seven years and had total confidence in him. I didn't feel a second opinion was necessary. I remember feeling like "Alice In Wonderland" shrinking and alone in that examination room.
Somehow I drove home. Told my husband the news. Told him we had to go to my mother's house to tell her. We had just gone through the experience of losing my stepfather to liver cancer two years before. I dreaded this conversation.
So began my journey. My surgery went well. I recovered at my mother's house. She needed to be with me as much as possible and my husband was fine with that. As soon as possible, I saw an oncologist – actually two. Each one had a different plan for me. Both telling me I had a 50/50 chance of survival. I had a stage III tumor and stage I in my nodes. Trying to choose the "right" treatment was one of the scariest things I've ever done.
I chose the more traditional treatment with three rounds of chemo. I would finish a six-month round and my doctor would say, "You've tolerated this so well, let's just do it again." I also had radiation treatment five days a week for six weeks. Radiation was harder on me than chemo. It totally drains any energy you have. The burns didn't occur until the very end of treatment. All in all, I was very fortunate. I tolerated my treatment with less nausea and discomfort that many. I was able to continue working throughout the whole ordeal with exception to the radiation.
I became very active with the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen foundation.
I wanted to preach the importance of self-examination to as many women as
I could. I joined the speaker’s bureau and told my story. I was also asked to serve on the
Survivors' committee for our local Race for the Cure, which I did for three
years. My friends and coworkers have enlisted me to talk to patients about
treatment as a means of words of encouragement and hope.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. And I want to thank Making Memories with all of my heart for supporting this very personal war. I am a Pink Warrior and will always be for many years to come.
Fort Worth, TX