This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. So, I thought it would be a good time to share this part of my journey. I am a breast cancer survivor. I am nothing less than a miracle. I’m not lucky -no one who faces cancer feels lucky. Sometimes, I still cry and feel a little guilty. That may seem strange but I don’t take my recovery for granted. I know that many wonderful women fight a battle for life against breast cancer and loose. That fact alone causes my throat to constrict and my eyes fill with tears.
As a young woman, I had recurring cysts and fibrous lumps that required attention. There was a history of breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family but I really was pretty relaxed in my approach to the whole process. I understood that having a “family history” of breast cancer increased my chances of having the disease but honestly, I thought I had nothing to worry about. I never imagined that it would to happen to me. Cancer and Dee were not synonymous.
In 2002, I went for my usual two yearly mammogram. I knew the drill quite well by then. Put on the beautiful hospital gown. Wait for my turn to have my chest compressed in the vice grip type machine. Get dressed and wait the next two weeks for the results. Usually, I would receive a simple phone call with negative results. Easy peasy. True to form, when the results came back from the lab, my doctor’s office called with the “all clear”. I apathetically responded, “That’s good to know.” That was it. Another one (mammogram) bites the dust.
However, a week later, near the end of my work day, my cell phone rang and it was my doctor. Not the nurse. But the doctor himself. “Could you come in and see me?” Sure. No problem. I offered to schedule something with the receptionist for the next week. “No, I need you to come now. Today.” Today? It was nearly after hours. Shouldn’t he be heading home soon? My plan was to get home…I had had a long day. He insisted that I come right away but he offered no further information.
The conversation made me uneasy. I called my BFF and asked if she would go with me…and she did.
When we arrived at the office, I climbed up onto the exam table and my friend and I chatted away, as we do.
When the doctor entered the room, he informed me that he had revisited my mammogram films and had found some suspicious spots. “It looks like cancer and we need to run some more tests”.
I had heard the stories my mother told about what my grandmother faced in her battle with cancer. Grandma Levin lost her battle to breast cancer long before I was born and when my mother was just a teenager. Suddenly, those stories began to flash before my mind’s eye as if they were my impending future.
Fear gripped my heart. I didn’t want to have cancer. I didn’t want to die. Suddenly, I was faced with immortality. I wasn’t invincible. Cancer was no longer a story about someone I’d never met. This was real and there was nothing I could do about it. In fact, it was one more negative life issue that reinforced the lie I had come to believe about my life, “Nothing good in my life lasts. I’m not meant to be happy.” If you have ever faced loss, tragedy, or life altering circumstances, you understand the whirlwind of thoughts that your mind can whip at you.
My children were young and I wanted to be here. I wanted watch them grow up, marry and have children. I didn’t want to miss one moment. And selfishly, I didn’t want to be forgotten or a distant memory. I had much to live for and I saw it all flash through my thoughts in a manner of seconds. The mental picture panicked me. I felted stunned and breathless.
My friends, family and church all swung into action to offer support, prayers and encouragement. I am forever grateful. Love seemed to flow toward me from every direction.
All the support around me was comforting.
Yet, this part of my journey was a journey I had to make on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I leaned on my family and friends. However, this fight was mine. I know that there are many people who do not acknowledge that there is a God but for me, when I was faced with the possibility of the end of my life, I reached for faith and I cried out to God.
I had no plan. I didn’t know what to do. And I was terrified.
I relied on my doctor for practical steps. He wanted to run tests. We ran the tests. He wanted me to change my diet. We changed my diet. Step by step, I walked the treatment path.
My pastors encouraged my spirit. They encouraged me to not give in to the fear. I gathered as much courage as I could find in my heart (sometimes it was small). They encouraged me to hold onto my faith. I clung to it. They agreed to pray with me. We prayed. Often.
My family and friends encouraged me not to give up. I didn’t give up. They encouraged me to think positively. I worked to keep my thoughts away from tragic ends and fear.
I am grateful that, in the end, healing was my story. I survived.
Thank you to all of you that were my rocks of support. I love you dearly.
I know there are many women who have fought this battle and won. As well, I am sensitive to the fact that many have lost their battle but fought a brave fight.
The fact that I can share my story is a miracle to me. A miracle for which I am forever grateful. Twelve years later, I am cancer free. I am thankful to have watched my children grow into beautiful adults. I am enjoying two young grand children. I plan to hang around and secretly muse as they cause their mother to want to pull her hair. I’ll plan to celebrate tender moments, well earned successes and enduring memories. My life is a gift.
Today, I celebrate in the company of other survivors and I honour those who have bravely fought but are no longer here. My thoughts and prayers go out to their families.
Also, I encourage you to look after your body, to look for the signs, to see your medical specialists. I can not stress strongly enough the importance of being informed, knowing your own breasts and recognising the breast cancer signs. Early detection for any disease is vital. We live in a face paced world. Putting off check-ups, mammograms or doing self breast exams is far too easy. But DON’T put it off. Without strong healthy bodies, accomplishing all of the other things we have to accomplish becomes impossible. Please do it now, if you haven’t already.
For those of you who may be bravely in the midst of this fight…keep fighting, keep believing, and keep leaning. We know you are being as brave as you possibly can. Remember, you are not alone. You are loved.
The photo above is my son. This was a football game the team dedicated to the women in their lives who had been through the breast cancer fight. Needless to say this photo is a precious treasure to my heart.