Admittedly, it feels a little strange telling “my story”. Not because I’m shy or prefer to keep private or because it’s too emotionally painful, but because there are so many women (and a few men) who all have similar stories to tell. And mine is no more special than theirs. It seems after learning of my diagnosis that I can’t throw a stone without hitting someone else who was just diagnosed. The other glaring reason it feels strange to me is because I’m obviously a care-giver, not a patient. And I think most caregivers do have a problem with this concept.
I’ve had four aunts with breast cancer … two from each side. I personally have had breast issues since my 20’s with multiple biopsies & have been under the radar for a long time. Also of note, I thought I had already “taken my turn” at cancer in 2009 with thyroid cancer. Given my family & personal history, I shouldn’t have been surprised with the degree of surveillance & level of aggression my doctors have had regarding any little lump that ever came up, but the truth is that I was always surprised by it & borderline annoyed. We can all think of better ways to spend our time & money. And again I think when we’re in the medical field, we tend to not associate ourselves with being patients. And, because the biopsies were always benign, my level of anxiety about it has always been pretty low, lending to a false sense of security.
But, my post card reminding me it was time for another mammogram came in the mail last February & dutifully I scheduled my appointment. I was being surveilled for something seen on my left side. When I got called back for more “pictures” because of a new density that was seen on the right this time, I was not surprised because this always happened. I was still not surprised or anxious when they told me this too, needed to be biopsied. However, I was more than shocked to learn this time it was not OK.
I was told I had an aggressive, high grade, invasive breast cancer. Initially, I went through all of the classic behaviors of someone in denial & still do on some days. But, I was comforted by the fact that this wasn’t there a year ago. It was a new development & surely that meant we had caught it early! And all signs indicate we did catch it pretty early.
I had a double mastectomy in May, followed by a summer of chemotherapy. I took time off for my surgery of course, but with the exception of a few days around each treatment, I was fortunate enough to be able to work throughout my chemotherapy. I have had an outstanding amount of support at work. I always knew I worked with an amazing group of CRNA’s, but they have gone above and beyond with support! They’ve provided myself & my family with meals, gifts & cards. And, they’ve provided an ear or a shoulder when needed, as well as laughter along the way.
It’s strange, as caregivers we see patients come through diagnosed w/cancer, faced w/options & we think we know what we would do if we found ourselves in the same situation. Once you find yourself in the situation the options can overwhelm you .. if you let them. But, realizing there is strength in numbers & how great it is to have all of these options is so overwhelmingly empowering! These options weren’t available 20 years ago, & they are options we would not be afforded if it weren’t for so many who have already gone through this & all of the research that goes into early detection & finding a cure. I’m eternally grateful for the options, the research, & those who have paved the way.
There has been recent controversy on “over-diagnosis” of breast cancer with the media actually accusing the medical profession of “fear mongering” tactics. The fact is that 1 out of 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Sharing that statistic is not practicing “fear mongering,” it’s being proactive. Another fact is that early detection is the key to the 5+ year survival rates.
It may indeed be true that not all breast cancers are aggressive & many when caught early enough don’t require chemotherapy. Both of these things are GOOD, so why would we not want to detect it early?
The truth is, it can all overwhelm you. The trick is to just “have cancer” & not let it “have you.” It’s easier said than done and easier to do if it’s caught early & you have a good prognosis. If mine had not been caught as early as it was, I would have a much different prognosis right now.
Every day, I try to view this as an opportunity to live better & to celebrate the fact that this was a life-changing event and not a life-ending one. I have a 21 year old step-daughter & a 9 year old daughter who need to see that breast cancer doesn’t have to be devastating for a woman. Instead of being afraid of getting it, I want them to be proactive so they too can be afforded the benefits of early detection … maybe even stop it in its tracks … and to have treatment options available to them. Of course, it’s my wish that no one ever has to face this in their lifetime. But if they do, I hope they will be as fortunate as I have been.