At 36 years old, I was feeling confident and very wise. My boys were 12 and 15, in good health and very active. My incredibly supportive husband was hard at work as usual. Then, all at once, during an annual female exam everything changed. Smiles and light hearted jokes from clinic staff turned into tear filled eyes and sober expressions. As I was escorted towards the nurse counselor’s office, I realized that nothing about this exam was standard any longer.
Upon confirmation of the breast cancer diagnosis, things were a big blur. I thank God for my sister Courtney’s note taking and multi-tasking abilities. My official diagnosis was Stage IIB, triple negative breast cancer. And just to complicate things a little more, I tested positive for a BRCA-1 genetic anomaly that increases my chances of ovarian cancer to over 65%. The recommended treatment was 5 months of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy and complete hysterectomy and then 6 weeks of daily radiation. (5 days a week).
Well, that was the serious stuff. But there is good that came from this (yes, there is good). I learned to believe in the power of the human spirit; I got to experience the loving kindness offered by strangers, and the steadfast professionalism of my doctors. I learned to surrender, and to understand that I don’t have control over everything, and to let things unfold as they may. Even when something seems terrible and unbearable, if you are patient and open your heart with understanding, good will come. I am not saying that I never experienced moments of complete fear. Fear of dying or mostly of leaving behind loved ones, fear of pain, etc. But I tried to keep focused on living in the moment, and relying on God to give me the strength to endure.
My advice to all women is to trust your body. Do not go with odds or statistics, know yourself, and do not stop until you feel you have received the correct result. As we all know, outcomes for most cancers is much better with early detection so if you feel any changes upon self exam, follow up with a healthcare provider. Secondly, love and trust your friends and family enough to allow them to be involved in all aspects of your care. Do not isolate yourself. I am a very independent person who feels as if I can solve any situation on my own, so it took me a bit to adjust to having people help me and hug me and attempt to find the right words. But once I did, I found a terrific new world of acceptance and love.
One last thing, it is crucial to integrate fitness and diet into your life. I have always exercised to some degree, but now I consider it essential. My breast health doctor and oncologist have continually enforced how important fitness is to recovery and to prevent recurrence. In fact, my oncologist explained that so far it is the only proven thing to reduce recurrence.
In summation- faith, fitness, family and friends. Those are the ingredients for a good life balance…being a little stubborn never hurt either.
Blog image via MyLifetime Breast Cancer Infographic
10/19/2011 at 2:45 PM