I was diagnosed at the age of 54 with breast cancer.
It was the fall of 2004. We were on vacation and it was pouring down rain. I reached back into the car to get the umbrella. I not only felt something crack but heard it also. I had a difficult time breathing at first. When we returned home I went to the doctor. After I told him what had happened he said, “It sounds like you broke a rib.” This was September of 2004. He said it could take a few months to heal.
In March of 2005 it was hurting more not getting better. I went back to the doctor and he felt the area. He asked me, “When was your last mammogram?” I told him it was last June (2004). The next thing he said seemed to be all in one breath. “Okay, we need to send you for a mammogram with a diagnostic ultrasound. If it is cancer we will send you to The Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary’s.”
When he said that, I knew it was cancer. I just knew some how. The Lord told me, “It will be hard but you will make it.” I held onto that. On March 31, I was back to the doctor with my husband and was told what I already knew. IT WAS CANCER. This was on a Thursday. By the next Tuesday I met with Dr. Laura Kelsey who was my surgeon. On Thursday I met with Dr. Ford about reconstruction and that same night (just one week after my diagnosis) met with the cancer team. Things were put into full swing. My surgery was scheduled.
I still struggle at times trying to find that new normal in my life. There are many things I can not do any more because of the pain and swelling I still experience in my back. I go to a Lymphedema specialist. Her name is Eileen Kishman. She has worked with me since the removal of both of my breasts.
My outlook on life is different. I appreciate the sounds of birds, children, the newness of spring - for no one knows when they will breathe their last breath.
My care at Saint Mary’s was absolutely wonderful. From admitting to surgery to the outstanding nursing care I received while I was there. Eileen Kishman came up to see me in the hospital and taught me about lymphedema. She showed me exercises to do right away so my shoulders would not get stiff and get cords in my arms. I was the first patient she had visited in the hospital. That was thanks to Dr. Kelsey, who was very much on top of things.
I had chemotherapy from May 4 through August 31of 2005 then had a two week break. So my husband and I went on vacation to relax and get away from the weekly doctor and hospital visits. When I came back I started the radiation treatments - 33 in all. During that time my results for the testing of the BRCA1 gene came back and I was positive – meaning I carried the mutated gene. So when radiation was done in November I had to have my ovaries removed. More surgery.
I had to wait more than a year to have reconstruction. With the time I had, I did get other opinions about the breast reconstruction. I made my decision to go with the Latissimis Dorsi Flap breast reconstruction. The Latissimus Dorsi is a tissue flap procedure that uses muscle and skin from your upper back to create a new breast mound after a mastectomy. Now I look back and wish I would have gone a different route. If only you could turn the clock back. I have my ups and downs with pain. I try to keep busy.
I keep fighting to keep my body healthy by eating the right foods and maintaining a healthy weight. Yes, I have struggled the last few years, not only physically but emotionally also. With the help of friends, family, and especially my husband, that is how I made it through it all.
One way I give back is to be a Survivor Partner at the Comprehensive Breast Center at Saint Mary’s. I decided to become a Survivor Partner to walk with those who are just starting on their cancer journey. I would have loved to have someone to talk with right away. Someone who understood the fears and many questions I had to start with. I wondered, what would it feel like to lose my hair? What about the chemo? What can I expect? How do I handle the many side effects?
With the Partner program I can answer those questions. I know the fear they are facing and want to come along side them with a helping hand and a smile. Someone who has been through it more closely understands what they are going through, the many ups and downs they will face. It’s very valuable to have a hand to hold, a hug for comfort, a laugh or two, and tears for healing. Just letting them know they too can make it.
Working at the CBC has given me chances to talk with those who are fearful of the results they will get that day. I have hugged a few who found out they have cancer, talked to others about lymphedema because they struggle with it. I share with them my knowledge about the care they need for lymphedema. It is so nice to be on this side holding them with a hug and remembering them in prayer.
I want to encourage them to talk with their oncology doctor and nurse about questions and side effects. Encouraging them to ASK QUESTIONS! I can share with them what I did for side effects. However what worked for me may not work for them. We are each so different. I can share cancer cookbooks that help with fatigue, mouth sores, diarrhea, constipation, and much more. They have the cookbooks in the Warren Reynolds Library at the cancer center. I have so much to give back and know I will be blessed by them.
My hope for those of you on or entering this journey is no matter how down and weak you are, keep pushing ahead. Think positive, be positive and you will make it. That is not to say you won't have bad days and want to give up, when you are so sick you don't care anymore. YOU WILL MAKE IT. Just search for what we call the NEW NORMAL.
Remember crying is good for you so don't be afraid to cry - it is healing. If you get depressed as I did, reach out for someone to talk with. You will be on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Let yourself feel them and heal from there. It won't be overnight. I am still working on the healing physically. When it comes time for check-ups don't be surprised if you get uptight or scared. That is a normal fear – fear of a re-occurrence of cancer. We hope it will never return. However, with every ache and pain we wonder, “Is the cancer back?” Rely on your faith and family to help you through.