A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar.
"Pain nourishes courage. You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you."
-Mary Tyler Moore
It was November 2008, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only 38 years old and it came as a complete shock. When I first heard the news from my doctor, I just fell to my knees and started crying.
Could this really be true? Perhaps the lab results were a false positive? I really didn't know anything about cancer and specifically breast cancer. I knew I needed to gather more facts and to get a second opinion, so I put together a list of all the expert physicians I knew to get recommendations for breast cancer specialists. I searched the Internet for everything I could find on breast cancer.
Armed with a notebook with all of my questions, I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss my options. Unfortunately my tumor had tested positive for invasive cancer. My doctor could not confirm if the cancer had spread elsewhere in my body until they removed some of my lymph nodes in surgery.
I really couldn't believe what I was hearing. I didn't feel sick-other than the instant pain in my stomach from the news of testing positive for cancer. I was healthy and very active-someone who loved to hike, bike, do yoga and Pilates. I ate healthy foods the majority of the time and was not overweight. While I had my fair share of stress in my life, overall I was a healthy person. Why was this happening to me?
There was cancer on both sides of my family, but only later in years: when my grandfather and aunt were in their 60s and my grandmother was in her 50s. Cancer had never crossed my mind as something I would have to worry about in my 30s. I had not even lived my life yet.
The "C" word has such a negative stigma-one that connotes confusion and fear- and immediately brings to mind anxiety and sadness. People around you are not prepared to handle this kind of news. I could barely tell people that I was diagnosed. And when I did, many of my friends would break down in tears. There were so many unanswered questions. How was I going to face this battle? How was I going to run my business and my life? I still wanted to have children, and I started to regret waiting to have a family.
I gathered all the information I had researched and would then meditate by myself or with my friend, Trina, on what decision would be best for me. I really believe God was listening. There are no perfect answers for dealing with cancer; you have to do what feels comfortable and right to you. I finally decided that I was going to have a lumpectomy and removal of my lymph nodes. Then we would decide what to do next. One decision at a time- it was extremely overwhelming.
Since I knew that I may not have a chance to get pregnant if I had to go through chemotherapy, I went to a fertility doctor and told him that I wanted to freeze my eggs. We didn't have much time-it was only one month before my surgery. There is some risk, but my doctors agreed that if I harvested the eggs quickly before surgery, the cancer cells would not spread since my cancer tested positive to estrogen and progesterone. While I was fully aware of the consequences, it was a risk I was willing to take and thankfully the procedure was successful.
I had my lumpectomy right before Christmas. It took an hour longer than expected and my surgeon was careful and meticulous not to remove too much tissue. Unfortunately, after my lab results came back, the doctor informed me that they had not cleared the margins enough and needed to do another surgery. I couldn't believe my ears!
Luckily, my five lymph nodes had come back negative for cancer and my MRI did not show that it had spread to any other areas of my body. I opted to have another lumpectomy and this time, they got all the cancer. I then started eight weeks of radiation treatments.
Those eight weeks were very painful and tiring, both mentally and physically. Lying on a hard surface in a cold room, I watched the huge "bank-vault" silver door slowly close. You are all alone in this room and you remain separated from others because of the harmful radiation. You can't help but think, "Is this really going to make me healthy?" It seemed more like a daily torture chamber at the time, and it was exhausting. But, somehow with the help of my caring doctors and my friends, I made it through and luckily didn't have to go through chemotherapy.
A few weeks later, my mammogram was negative for breast cancer and I was on my way to recovery.
I have met so many wonderful cancer survivors, with whom I share a bond and level of empathy that I can't explain. While I certainly wouldn't have chosen it, cancer has brought me many new inspirational friends who have all taught me different lessons. One of the most important is to not become a victim to this disease ... to persevere and move forward positively with my life. Each day is precious and I am reminded to be present with my family and friends, appreciating all the goodness that surrounds me.
I was recently very moved by a quote from Andrea Ivory, a breast cancer survivor and CNN 2009 Hero, who said, "I asked not why, but what for." That is a terrific philosophy to follow: to wonder what I am supposed to do with this knowledge and experience and how I can positively impact others. Andrea has already done something with her experience; she has started a mobile mammography service in Florida offering free screenings for women.
I have had many challenges in my life so far, but I am a stronger person for having them. With new opportunities and friendships, I have a clearer vision of what is truly important in my life and future. God has given me a new lease and I am going to do some great things with this one!
Without the challenges I've faced, I believe I would have never had this opportunity to write this book. When I met Mac Anderson, I was going through my battle with breast cancer and I shared my story with him one night, discovering he was a cancer survivor himself.