As we wrap up the month of October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share some breast cancer survivor stories from ladies I have the honor of knowing. All of these women are beyond amazing. All of these women have fought the good fight and have come out the other side as survivors! My maternal grandmother was the first woman I knew who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and unfortunately I didn’t get to spend any time with her before she died from this terrible disease. I knew then I wanted to do MORE, but I didn’t know how or exactly what until my best friend was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. She is approaching being a five year survivor and going strong!!
On December 22, 2010, I found this huge lump on the side of my right breast. I found out later it was 6 cm, which is 2.36 in. With a lump that size, there’s no doubt what it is. I knew I had breast cancer. Immediately following that thought, I heard the words, “Fear not”. They weren’t audible, but peace permeated my mind and spirit. It stayed with me the entire year as I went through all the various procedures.
I was stage 3, but I felt very close to stage 4. I started chemo (“The Red Devil”), a month after I found the lump. Before my second treatment, I got the flu. I didn’t know I could postpone my treatment, so I went through with it. I slept for days. Scared my poor mom and best friend, Ann, not to mention my family. (***I will never forget that day! Glenna’s mom called me in a panic and told me “I need you now”! It normally took me 12 minutes to drive to her house. I believe I was there within 10 minutes from the time I hung up the phone, and that included getting my son and myself out the door. I was scared!!! – Ann***)
My precious mom took care of my family, as well as me. All I had to think about was getting well. I was supposed to have 8 treatments every two weeks. The first four were “The Red Devil”. At my checkup halfway through, the oncologist couldn’t feel the lump at all. Nothing. The next four treatments had a history of people going into anaphylactic shock. I was supposed to take two or three antihistamines before and during each treatment. And they said this was easier than the first set? No thanks.
I decided not to do it. I also didn’t do the radiation, nor did I take the Tamoxifen. The side effects seemed terribly severe for “just in case”. I did have the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in August. That was my “just in case”. I did it more for my husbands peace of mind than mine. I knew it was gone. January 10th, I reach my 5 years.
Fear not. Trust God. Better than any chemo.
Jeri is one of my Susan G. Komen 3-Day teammates and she is now a 29-year survivor!! YES, she has been kicking cancer’s butt for many, many years and will continue to fight anything that tries to stop her!!
This is Jeri’s story:
I had no family history of breast cancer and I was only 31 when diagnosed…way too young was what I thought. There was no internet to help me and so I began my journey with a trip to my general family doctor. He aspirated the lump and sent the fluid off for testing. It came back atypical and I was referred to a surgeon. The surgeon patted me on the head (yes, he did) and told me not to worry because if you could get fluid from the lump then it’s almost never cancerous but to make sure he decided to do a biopsy. He also told me that if he had done the aspiration he would have just thrown out the fluid because they never tested it! The surgery was scheduled but before I went under I had to sign papers agreeing to a mastectomy if the biopsy showed malignancy. There were no other choices at that time. When recovering from surgery the first thing to come back is your hearing. So I found out that I had breast cancer by hearing a nurse telling another “That one over there is a mastectomy”. And I knew. I had no treatment – no chemo, no radiation and that was even before Tamoxifen. So for that I was lucky. But would treatment have prevented my ovarian cancer 19 years later? I don’t try to answer those kinds of questions. Cancer taught me many things and one of those is gratitude. I learned that I couldn’t do it by myself. I tried, I failed. People really do want to help but you’ve got to let them. It’s not a character flaw to want and ask for help.
I was in a very unhealthy marriage and it took me getting cancer to escape and to know that I couldn’t help him without helping myself. My experience was archaic. My doctors were clueless but I guess they did the best that they could at that time. I was massacred with 200 stitches from under my armpit to my belly button. I didn’t know anyone who had had breast cancer. Because of what I was going thru in my marriage I had built walls around me and I had not let anyone in. I had mentally and emotionally shut down. Cancer woke me up so in a way it saved my life.
Breast cancer took away my feeling of femininity for a long time. I was scarred and had only one breast….but I did have a very handy overnight bag where I could stuff underwear and a nightgown down my bra. The only problem was getting it to be even with my good one! I eventually learned that no matter what, I had to like myself – flawed as I was – before I expected that from others. But probably most importantly, I soon learned that there were so many more people with more problems than I had. Why me? Why not me???
This two-time cancer survivor is here for a reason and I know one of them is to give others HOPE. Cancer does not have to define us. For me it has not been the end but a relationship builder, a reminder that I have a daily choice of giving in or looking up.
Claire has our third survivor story. She is another one of my Susan G. Komen 3-Day friends….
This is Claire’s story:
When I was 31 years old I found a tiny pea size lump in my left breast. My doctor sent me for a mammogram. I was then sent to a surgeon who did a needle biopsy. All I can say is ‘ouch!’ He suggested removing the lump because it looked suspicious. At the time I was more worried about the surgery because I was so afraid of needles than what it could really mean. When I came out of surgery I was told that it was cancer. My first thoughts were how I was going to tell my husband and my family, since we had never had to deal with something like this before.
What made a difference for me is that my surgeon had started a program where you were setup with an oncologist, radiologist, and a counselor. My husband and I were brought into a room with all of them present and we discussed what the plan for treatment was. I had another surgery called a lumpectomy and lymph node removal. I had no lymph node involvement. I went through chemotherapy followed by radiation.
After 18 years during my annual mammogram they detected something in my left breast. My heart just sank. I was told I would need to have a mastectomy, and I choose to do a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery using my own tissue. That was almost 5 years ago.
I don’t know what my life would have been like if I had not gone through all this, but it is very easy for me to count my blessings. It helps when you have the support of your family, friends and most of all, husband who has been by my side all the way. You need to remember it isn’t just the person going through it, but those loved ones around you. I learned very early that you don’t have to go through it alone.
Now I spend my time with my “Pink” family. We walk the SGK 3-day every year. We train together, fundraise together, and walk together. All with the same goal, to find the cure for breast cancer. I’ve seen the advancements in diagnosis and treatments that have been made over the last 20 years. If I could give you one piece of advice, early detection is the key. Do those self exams and get your yearly mammograms. The earlier it is found the better chance you will win the battle.