I received an e-mail from a lady, Alicia C. Staley, who is a 3-time cancer survivor and the Ambassador for Cure Forward, a new platform that is helping cancer patients understand their condition and to access precision medicine. She asked if I would put an open-letter on this blog to people who have been diagnosed with cancer recently, and summarize what I have gone through the last two years. Happy to do so.
For those of you who have been following this blog, you have read about my ups and downs, highs and lows, good times and bad times. Gee, that sounds like EVERYONE'S life, because that is basically what existing is all about. But when you are told that you have cancer, there is a moment of disbelief. You honestly cannot believe that this has happened to you. I remember thinking (just for a split-second) that this was it . . . that I wasn't going to make it and I would be dead within a matter of months. That's when my German stubbornness took over and I started to look at the big picture. The thing that was most exhausting to think about was the amount of work there was to do in the months ahead. But the job was laid out for me and I knew I had to get going and take care of business. What was the alternative? I asked an oncologist what would happen if I didn't do a darn thing! She replied, "It gets messy and then you die." Nuff said.
On October 30, 2013, I had a mammogram performed (after being encouraged to go get one by a total stranger who was a breast cancer survivor, after she learned that I had not had an examination for two years).
I remember the tech saying she needed to redo the films on my left breast because . . . get this . . . the drape had fallen down over my body. I wasn't paying any attention and thought that the cloth had obscured the x-ray. Duh. It was simply that she had detected a big lump and wanted more pictures to confirm what she was seeing. The next day I got a letter saying they needed to do further checking. No big deal. Right. That's when it all started.
The day I was officially told that I had Stage 1A invasive ductal breast cancer with her-2-neu rich, ER., I was immediately sent off to several appointments , meeting with a surgeon, an oncologist, and staff that would help me through the emotional difficulties. The most important thing to remember when putting together your "team" that you will be dealing with for months, is to ask someone you trust who has been through the same thing, for references. I interviewed my surgeon and was happy with his ideas for treatment. Then I met with an oncologist but had a gut-feeling that she was not the right fit for me. Do not be embarrassed or afraid to pass on any doctor that you feel is not someone you want to work on your body. I interviewed another oncologist, and struck gold when I hired him.
I am not trying to sound flip when I tell you that your frame of mind is going to be your most powerful weapon fighting your disease. It's a fact. Keep focused and concentrate on the big picture, that there will be an end to your treatment period and things can get much better. I have been there, and honestly, I am not saying it is going to be easy. But it can be done. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family support team that I had. But I hope you are all as blessed as I was. It got to the point, that my daughter and I would cry together and then, we realized what ugly criers we are. We would end up laughing our fannies off when we saw how funny our faces looked. Cry if you want to. Laugh If you are able. This is just part of the cycle of your life. You are probably asking yourself, 'Why me?" The answer is, "Why not me?" We have all seen little kids with bald heads and that is definitely a red flag that they have been going through chemo. It can happen to young people, old people, beautiful, talented people, and the most humble of beings. The plain truth is . . . it can happen to any of us. By the way, do not be too fearful of chemo. It is different for each individual but there have been so many advancements over the years, that it was almost painless for me. Uh, but you might want to have some Immodium handy, 'cause there might be lava-flowing diarrhea occurring a few days after each procedure. The hair loss is very distressing for a lot people, especially us women. But I found that buying some attractive wigs was a blast. Going out? Just slap a wig on and you've saved yourself tons of time fixing your hair. Oddly enough, I never got to be shiny-smooth bald. I maintained a layer of peachfuzz throughout the whole time of treatment. I did fret over the fact that I was bald more than any other part of this experience. Shallow, aren't I?
As you experience this part of your life, perhaps you will begin to see things in a different light. I remember telling my regular MD that 2014 was the very best and also the very worst year of my life. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, my father died, my beloved mother-in-law died, my cousin, my aunt, some friends, heck, it seemed like so many lovely people in my life passed away, yet I saw the amazing love and support from my family and friends. When your husband will strip the fluid from drain tubes sticking out from your breasts, then you've got someone special in your life. (By the way, we affectionately called it "milking Bossy - - - and I guess that made ME Bossy.) When your kids will laugh with you when you report that one of your chemo medicines is made from Chinese hamster ovaries, that is beautiful. (I vowed I would get some of those little Chinese hamsters and start raising them. That medication was so expensive, I thought we could breed them and squirt those little ovaries out and make big bucks!)
I have four more years before I am declared officially cancer free. I have been taking a medication that stops the development of estrogen, because estrogen is like fertilizer for any cancer cells that may still be lurking in my body. Since I do not produce estrogen anymore, it is difficult to lose weight, but what a small price to pay. The result is . . . I AM ALIVE!
So, I guess my message to all of you who have learned that you are unfortunately now a member of "The Club" is to hang in there, take good care of yourselves, try to find humor in things, sob your heart out if it will make you feel better, but please don't wallow too deeply in the sorrow-pool. Lift your head up and hope for the best. True, it's not the kind of club anyone would ever voluntarily join, but, well, we're in it whether we want to be or not. Be strong, depend on your faith, ask for prayers from others, because that is huge - - - really huge. Trust me.
GOD BLESS YOU ALL