I try to be diligent about monthly self-exams because of family history. Two weeks after my mother died of colon cancer in September, 2004, while in the shower, I found a lump in my breast. I was devastated! I happened to have my annual physical coming up that week, so I immediately pointed it out to my doctor. He did an ultrasound and, as a cancer survivor himself, suggested we be aggressive in our treatment — which was fine with me.
I was referred to an oncological surgeon for my biopsy. He told me that the lump didn’t show up on my two-week-old mammogram! He was very good about getting the results back quickly, which I appreciated. I was presented with several options for my care and I chose chemotherapy, lumpectomy, and radiation as being right for me.
That night, my doctor called to congratulate me because I had found the cancer and we could attack it quickly. His empathy helped me greatly! I had spent the entire day crying, dreading how I was going to tell my children, and his call helped me to see things a little differently. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I made up my mind that I was not going to treat it like a dirty secret, I would be up front about it all.
I started chemo within the next two weeks. When I went to be fitted for a wig (Stella the party girl!), I had them shave my head. After all, hair, eyelashes and eyebrows grow back! (And its curly!!!) My family said I looked like GI Jane, but some days I felt more like a naked mole rat but I had Stella!
At the beginning of the treatments, it seemed like it would all last FOREVER; this long and bumpy road. So my husband suggested dividing the treatments in to different stages: AC chemo; Taxol; surgery; and radiation. That made it easier to deal with. It was also easier to deal with this because of the incredible support and encouragement I have my husband, my rock; my son and daughter, who make sure I do what I have to do and rest; my family and friends, my church; people who tell me they are or have family members who are survivors!
The people in our chemo club (that’s what we called our weekly or bi-weekly gatherings of poison infusion) were very matter-of-fact about what we were enduring. All of us had different cancers and different treatments, were at different stages, and had different levels of healthiness. It was the most encouraging and positive group of people I have ever been around! A nurse came in with a new patient one day and said that except for the IVs snaking out of different areas of our bodies, she’d think we were a healthy group of people at a tea or something.
Every day I can feel my energy returning. Whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing, I tell them better every day. In my purse I keep several pink bracelets I order by the bagfuls from a breast cancer awareness site that I hand out to people who ask me why I wear one. I remind them to be diligent about self-exams my new mantra self-exams, self-exams! I tell them it’s easier in the shower! And to tell their wives, daughters, and sisters and husbands, brothers, and sons, too, since cancer doesn’t really care who you are. And to NEVER put off asking a doctor. What is this lump????