That quote sums up the absurdity of life when I heard on April 20, 2011, that I had breast cancer. And the news was only going to get worse.
One in eight women will get breast cancer, but I’m here to tell you that it is no longer a death sentence. It changed my life, and I can look on the whole experience now as a blessing in disguise.
I had no family history of any kind of cancer. I got regular mammograms, the most recent before my diagnosis being December, 2010. FOUR MONTHS! My doctors were confident that we had caught this early. Two different doctors couldn’t feel any lumps; we found the tumor by ultrasound. I opted for lumpectomy to be followed by radiation. After the first surgery, we found that the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes, so that automatically meant chemo as well. I had to undergo a second surgery when my surgeon was not happy with the margins, and also a chemo port was inserted. She called it “housecleaning”, but I called it a nightmare of more recovery and pain.
Next I met with my oncologist and we determined a treatment plan. He was very confident that all would be well. I had to have a PET scan prior to beginning chemo, and I found out the results when I went in for my first chemo treatment. That’s when things really took a dive. The cancer was already in my bones. Stage 4. Just a month before, I was training for my first marathon, and now I had stage 4 breast cancer. I think I remember telling my doctor to just get on with the treatment. How much more absurd was this going to get?
Every cancer patient who goes through chemo knows what it’s like, so there’s no need to explain it. Those who haven’t gone through it couldn’t possibly understand. Here’s how I handled it all. Before my hair started coming out, I had a head shaving party with my friends. While they toasted me with premium tequila, I was getting shaved. We had a great time! I was not going to let the Big C get the upper hand! I was in charge! I wore a wig only one day during the whole time, and it was a bright blue one that I wore on the 4th of July!
I also decided that I needed to stay positive. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way, but I felt that I could control how I responded to the events in my life. I tried to laugh every day. I watched every episode of “Frasier” I could get my hands on, as well as anything else that would make me laugh. At my worst, my fingertips were peeling (I’m a professional violinist) and I could barely walk. One very bad night I finally had a meltdown and I thought that if this is what it was like to die from cancer, then I didn’t want to live. That scared the hell out of me, and I caught myself as soon as I thought it. I quickly realized that whatever pain I was feeling had NOTHING to do with the cancer – it was gone as far as I was concerned – but it had everything to do with the treatment that was going to make me well.
I learned to ask for help. Normally a very independent person, I called a friend one night to make toast for me. Toast. I was upstairs; the toast was downstairs. The picture here is from the half marathon I walked just one month after finishing chemo. I was still very weak, but I had to do it to prove to myself that I had beaten cancer.
As of this writing, I am cancer-free. I feel great! Cancer changed me as it changes everybody. My cancer experience spurred my personal growth and development, and I’m here to help you in your journey. There is surviving after cancer, and there is thriving after cancer. Let’s thrive together!