My Personal Thoughts About Breast Cancer 12/25/08

It is Christmas morning, early Christmas morning, and I am sitting at my computer hooked up to my phone which may or may not ring this morning.  If it does ring it will be a call from someone who is having difficulty handling a breast cancer diagnosis.  I am not bragging about what I do or that I am doing it on Christmas.  I am just happy I can be there for someone.

I signed up for Thursdays and this year the holidays fall on Thursdays.  I worked many holidays in my nursing career.  I usually chose second shift because by 3PM I needed a break from my children, the mess, and the over stuffed feeling from too much food.

People still get sick on holidays, women get a breast cancer diagnosis at the holidays, and we lose people on the holidays.  I always wondered why God did not take a break during this time because it is normal for anyone of us who have been sick, or who received a devastating diagnosis, or lost a family member to always connect that event with the time it happened. 

15 years later I still know I got my breast cancer diagnosis for my 47th birthday.  A gift I was not appreciative of then, but now I realize that it was truly a gift.  This gift came in many layers of gift wrap.  In fact I am still unwrapping the layers. 

The gift wrap this gift came in is beautiful.  I have been given time, that is an incredible gift for sure.  I have been given a wonderful husband and marriage for the past 8 1/2 years.  I have been given opportunity after opportunity to share my story with others.  I have been given the gift of saving lives by encouraging women to get their mammograms – early detection being the only protection! 

Almost every day another layer gets peeled away from this gift.  Every time I see anything with the pink ribbon logo, every time I look at the jar candle on my desk that says “Hope for a Cure”, every time I look at m collection of Breast Cancer Charity ornaments from Christopher Radko – and more. 

Now that 2009 is approaching I have to take a look at my schedule and figure out how to set aside time to begin training for the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk here in Tampa Bay that falls on Halloween into the first weekend of November. 

Many of you who read my breast cancer posts know I have walked in this event before.  I did it for my 60th birthday promising to walk a mile for every year I have been blessed with life as well as promising to raise $100 a mile.  I did both.  This time in these circumstances I will be excited to raise the required $2300!  However I am very excited that it will be my 16th year of survival. 

I thought long and hard about that – which in my life means I had an idea in less than 3 minutes – and came up with the idea to make this a Sweet Sixteen party this time.  Hopefully I will be able to gather friends and family here to celebrate being 16 all over again.  I do not get to see my friends and family as much as I would like to, in fact we are alone this Christmas, which is fine, but if I can gather people together this time it will be one more gift breast cancer gave me.

I understand that there are many people who are not at this level in life-I talk to newly diagnosed women weekly, and they all seem to make the same statement – they all want their life back to the way it was before breast cancer.  I did too 15 years ago.  The thing is your life does not go back to the way it was, and I tell them that, but I also tell them it can be a much better life built on gratefulness.  A life built on gratefulness is a beautiful life.

I don’t even see my scar these days.  I don’t notice the numbness that often that goes from my underarm into my back from the lymph node dissection.  The physical changes are no longer really apparent to me.  The emotional changes though still amaze me.  I wish I could tell women who ask me when they will feel good again the exact day this will happen.  It takes time, and it happens individually and when it does happen most of us do not realize it (then). 

We don’t suddenly wake up and scream I am back-no it happens gradually sometimes with the assistance of pharmaceuticals and therapy which I heartily encourage utilizing if your life is too much to deal with at the time.

For me, I realized one day that the entire day had passed without being pulled into the depths of my scary diagnosis.  I realized I was functioning again.  I was going out, I was working, I was laughing, I was feeling a sense of relief that only comes with time.  Time is a healer, it doesn’t heal all wounds, that is not how it works.  It does lessen the pain though. 

When I look back I realize it probably took me about 2 years to get to that place in my life.  As women we have always been the nurturers to our families.  When the nurturer goes down our families are scared, angry, and their world is upset and upside down too.  They bounce back much quicker than we do and sometimes we hear them say those words that sound like this:  “Are you ever,” or “when will you,” or “I am tired of,” or “I want my.” and we sit there paralyzed by the guilt that a diagnosis has become our life.

Fear is normal – if it progresses to a 24/7 way of life, then it is time to seek outside help.  We all deserve to be nurtured too, and while our families will do this for a while without complaint there is no shame in looking at yourself one day and saying “I want to get past this”.  That is when I believe the feeling of a new normalcy begins.

Change is inevitable in life, and what I hope for all of you who have been through the change that a breast cancer diagnosis brings that you will be able to embrace the new you that can emerge triumphantly – blessings on all of you!

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