Irene Fisher



Co-survivors: Her husband, physician, and many more

In September 2003, I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. In October 2003, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Chemotherapy and reconstruction followed. That is the simple summary of my journey through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Happily, it was not a journey that I navigated alone. Those people who love me, care about me, or, in some cases, just cross my path on a regular basis shared this journey with me. I think my story will sound familiar to other women who have traveled this same road.

My two biggest supporters were my husband and my physician. Each of them gave so much more that I ever could have imagined. My husband consistently cared for me physically and emotionally, encouraged me and kept his chin up. He operated outside his emotional comfort zone for long periods of time without complaining. I always thought that I had a good marriage to a good man, but the experience of sharing my breast cancer journey deepened and expanded our marriage.

The extraordinary care that I received from my internist is beyond description. From the moment she told me the lumps were malignant, she also assured me she would be with me throughout the whole experience, and she was. This is a woman who is not only a great doctor but also a great human being. She answered each of my questions honestly and patiently, explained that the worst part was waiting to get started, listened to me cry in frustration when I thought the drains would never get removed from my armpits and regularly called just to see how I was doing. There are not words or deeds that can fully thank her for all that she gave me throughout those months.

I am sure that lots of women acknowledge their husbands and physicians as inspirations and as people with whom they have a special bond as co-survivors. I would also like to celebrate as co-survivors those people on the periphery of my life who spontaneously offered their support, time and good wishes, even though many of them didn’t know me very well. Their support was fundamental to my recovery. My friends at the pool where I swim called and sent gifts and cards from the day I was diagnosed until my return after chemo. The man who has cut my hair for 30 years gave up a day to help me to select a wig. The woman who sells me tea every morning in the local bagel shop volunteered to come clean my house since I looked under the weather. A trainer at the YMCA taught me tai chi and chi gong and worked with me sitting down when I was too tired to stand up – we never missed a week. This paragraph would be even longer if I tried to mention all of those who gave so thoughtfully throughout. They all made a difference. Do I have a special bond with each of them? You bet. Now, after my hair has grown back and my energy has returned, our greetings are just a little warmer and more knowing. In our way, we have shared something very important. Some have said to me that I have been an inspiration to them in the way I have handled having breast cancer. In fact, the reverse is true. They were and continue to be an inspiration to me.

When I started this journey through breast cancer I thought it was a trip I would basically travel on my own. I was very wrong. There have been lots of supporters, expected and unexpected, cheering me on along the route. In a strange way, it has been a journey well worth taking.