My Life After Breast Cancer 10/31/08

I finished radiation therapy at the end of February, 1994.  I got up off the table, got dressed and went out to the reception area.  The receptionist looked at me and said “Here is your appointment card for 3 months from now.”  3 months?  I have been coming here every weekday for 6 weeks, 30 visits, and now I am just sent off on my own to return in 3 months?

One hundred and one thoughts and fears came into my mind.  On one hand those of us going through all this treatment want it to be over with, on the other hand now that it was, I was dumbfounded.

I actually had to board an airplane and go back to my real office in 3 days too.  My life over the past 4 months had been a series of surgeries, treatment options, actual treatment, and many doctor appointments as well as support group meetings.  Now I had to go home and prepare to leave my comfort zone and return to work wherever my services were needed somewhere in country.

It was a huge shock and in my discussions with many other women, I found everyone felt that way when their treatment came to a screeching halt.

I remember so well when I had first been diagnosed having a talk with an Episcopal priest about why anyone gets cancer.  In my long discussion with this man I told him I had prayed and prayed and that I had made a promise to God that if He got me through all this, and I could survive it, I would always help others through the same diagnosis.  Little did I know how soon that promise would come back to me.

My life though was ever changing, and by May of 1994 I had decided to move to Florida.  I could live anywhere with the career I had chosen, and I felt it was time to move away from the memories I had of RIchmond, Virginia and move on to new exciting things.

I had chosen to live on St. George Island in the panhandle of Florida because island living is different.  Many residents live there in an escape from many different things and I have a really wonderful story written about living there that I will be posting under the title “Never Judge a Book by It’s Cover” here on my blog in the future.

Everyone who knows me also knows I know no strangers.  Say that 5 times fast, whew.  I was only on the island a week and I was already meeting wonderful people.  I had attended church services and I had admitted to some people in the congregation that I had moved to the island to move past having had breast cancer.

I got a phone call one day asking me to join a couple for dinner at their lovely home.  After dinner the wife took me on a tour of their home and when we got into the master suite, she asked me if she could show me something.  The something she showed me was this huge growth coming out of the side of her breast and my stomach sank to the floor.  I was truly in shock.  In my career in nursing I had never seen anything like this.  I looked at her and asked her how long it had been like that, and like many people I have heard say, I got that same answer “It just showed up.”

No it didn’t – we all know better, but I certainly was not going to argue with her, my main concern was getting her to agree to see a surgeon NOW.  I had already chosen a doctor to follow me in Tallahassee, and she did make an immediate appointment with Dr. Glenn.

When I met with Glenn he told me he had never seen a tumor like that in his career either.  I still get chill bumps when I think about that moment. 

That was the first time I had to keep my promise and while emotionally I thought I was not prepared to have this thrown at me then, now I know it was a great way for me to heal.  Helping others is always a wonderful healer of wounds both emotionally and physically,

When this friend was into her 8 rounds of chemotherapy she wanted to chuck it all after 6 treatments.  We were sitting at the annual fish fry at our church when she told me she was not going back for her last two treatments.  I looked at her and I clearly remember I said “Dammit, you did not show me your tumor which shocked the hell out of me to chuck it all when you are almost done.  If I have to drag you their by your hair (which she did not lose) I will but you will finish your last two treatments.”  Tough statement, but please understand this friend is also in the medical field and by then she knew she could not fool me any longer.  I never told you what I saw that night.  Her tumor was two inches in size and protruded from her breast by about 2 inches also. 

Mastectomy was the only choice and chemo but you know what?  Amazingly she made it.  She is also almost a 15 year survivor/thriver thank goodness.

After that I did get more deeply involved in breast cancer in the area.  I started a support group, there were 4 of us that regularly attended, and while I went there to get away, I was back into it almost immediately. 

Every year that went by eased my fears of losing my life.  I moved from St. George Island to San Jose, Costa Rica.  While I lived in Costa Rica I taught Tica women how to do breast self-exams and worked with a group that got any woman who discovered a lump into the hospital for surgery and treatment.  Still keeping the promise, world.

When I left Costa Rica, it was with a heavy heart but I moved back to the greatest city I have ever lived in, Chicago Illinois.  I was 4 years out of having had breast cancer and the first job I was offered, I accepted.  I worked in fitting women with prosthesis’, arm sleeves to prevent lymphedema which can occur after axillary lymph node surgery, and mastectomy bras.  Promise kept again world.

Right after hitting my 5 year mark and greatly relieved of course to be there, I met Larry.  I told him on our first date that I was a 5 year breast cancer survivor.  Our conversation never missed a beat and from that point on almost every time I have had to fulfill my promise, Larry has been there at my side.  This beautiful man cried that he was not in my life when I faced breast cancer.

He walked with my every fall in the Race for the Cure.  When I am asked to talk about the importance of early detection, he sits in the audience and cries.  He was my number one cheerleader in the 2006 3-Day Breast Cancer walk here in Tampa Bay.  He cried then too.  He is a great crier.

My whole life changed for the better over these past 15 years.  I am still keeping my promise.  I volunteer on a breast cancer peer to peer telephone hotline once a week for the Breast Cancer Network of Strength.  I do not like the color pink.  I have fire red hair, and a skin tone that doesn’t go with pink, but I wear it proudly, I carry a pink ribbon water bottle every where I go.  I have a pink ribbon umbrella, pink ribbon running gear, pink shoe laces in my running shoes, and so much more pink.

In making that promise to God though I find that what it did for me was to remind me to live a more healthy life.  I keep my weight in check, I work out, I eat healthy, and I try to get stress out of my life.  I see two doctor’s regularly and I get my mammogram every year on time.

Most of all I am so grateful for the extra time I have been given.  I faced my mortality and I moved past that heart crushing day of diagnosis and on to all these beautiful days in which I have been able to keep my promise.

I am always talking about my experience, in fact I am always talking period.  All that talking, net working and exposure have brought me a new and exciting opportunity to add to my resume’ of life, I have been asked to emcee a huge fundraising fashion show for a two county hospice organization, and this is only one more positive experience that has come to me after hearing the words “You have a malignancy in your breast.”

There IS life after breast cancer, and it is up to each individual man or woman to decide how to make the most out of their lives when they do have heard the same words.

Always keep your promises and thank you for allowing me to share mine with you.
Hope is the companion of power and the mother of success, for those of us who hope strongest have within us the gift of miracles—–Sydney Bremer

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