Going back to life as it was before breast cancer is not an option. Finding that new beginning is critical to getting on with life as a survivor.
I owe my survival, not once, but twice, to mammograms that found my breast cancers before they could be felt in comprehensive breast exams, before they required chemo, and before they spread beyond my breasts.
In December 1998, my annual mammography showed something suspicious. My path report confirmed a Stage 1, estrogen-positive, early cancer. In addition to the lumpectomy, I had 36 radiation treatments and took Tamoxifen daily for five years to prevent a recurrence.
The hardest part of my first breast cancer was managing my fears and not allowing them to rob me of getting on with my life. I joined a support group. I came to realize that besides the love of friends and family, the only commodity that matters to me is time; not money, not recognition, or how I look, just time and how I use it. I began building on this awareness to identify how I wanted to spend my time both personally and professionally.
I gave myself permission to leave my full-time position as director of a nonprofit health care organization. I took a part-time position as a grant writer, which gave me the time to try my hand at something I always wanted to do- write for publication. With every rejection notice, I had to, once again, give myself permission to stick with my new beginning. My first published article led to many more.
The longer I was breast cancer free, the better I thought my chances were that my breast cancer experience was behind me forever. Then, in September of 2009, ten years after the cancer in my right breast, another routine mammography discovered a lump in my left.
The cancer in my left breast was a Stage 1, early cancer. I didn’t have a recurrence; I had a brand new cancer, unrelated to my first.
I wanted my breasts off. I didn’t want another lumpectomy, radiation and annual mammograms that had to be followed up with needle aspirations and surgical biopsies to check out something suspicious.
So I did it. In 2009 I got a double mastectomy. There were more new beginnings, but it seemed to be easier the second time around.
After my second cancer, I started the blog site, No Boobs About It, to provide programs that focus on patients in treatment and the successful transitioning from active treatment to survivorship.
Life is good. Breast cancer’s gift was, and continues to be, permission to do life my way.
Have you, or someone you know survived breast cancer? Tell us your story.