I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 42. I never thought something like this would happen to me. I am divorced and work full-time to support myself and Teryn, my daughter. Teryn and I were pretty much on our own, until I got cancer.
In July 2005, I found a lump while performing a BSE. I immediately called a co-worker whose wife had just been through breast cancer. But the urgency turned into denial, and if my co-worker hadn’t urged me to call a doctor, I would have put it off.
Things went lickety-split from that point, and within 10 days my doctor was telling me I had cancer—invasive ductal carcinoma, probably stage 1. Three doctors recommended a lumpectomy, but I decided that I looked better on this side of the lawn and didn’t want to take any chances. I hate it when people ask, “How is your cancer?” and I answer with, “My cancer is …” I don’t want ownership of this awful disease. It’s not mine and I don’t have it any longer. I felt like my breast was trying to cheat me out of life; it invaded me and I cut it out! I didn’t even say good-bye to the traitor.
A helping hand
I had always been self-sufficient, but now I worried about how I would keep up with my job while dealing with chemotherapy. How would I care for my daughter and keep her life normal while I lost my hair and fought for my life? My cousins, my sister, my parents, co-workers, customers and friends all came to my rescue. My daughter had invitations for play dates. My parents came and took care of us. My cousins and sister flew down—I was never alone for my chemo treatments. I received cards, flowers, food and visitors, and someone took up a collection for me and Teryn. We even received Christmas presents, all wrapped and ready to put under our tree, because my friends knew I didn’t have time to shop.
Before, I thought we were alone and struggling, but after my diagnosis, I realized how many loved ones we had. And I met even more loved ones and came to realize what real love is. Even with my bald head, my daughter would look at me so lovingly as I put on lipstick and tell me I was beautiful. My dad thought I looked “cool” with my bald head and a pair of funky earrings. My neighbor loved my bald head and the scarves I wore. The people who love me, love me for me, not for my looks. I realize that now. I realize what true beauty is.
Finding the greatest source of support
My 5-year-old daughter has been my biggest supporter. She worried when I got sick, and she instructed me to rest even when she was sick. She called me beautiful when I felt ugly. She danced when I cried. She tells her friends about breast cancer and wears her pink pin. When my wig fell off, my daughter picked it up and counseled her little friends not to make fun of me. We are both survivors. It’s who we are now. We survived together. And we walked together. My daughter walked the Komen Race for the Cure® 5K with me. She put forth such precious effort—she was number 1599 out of 1630—but she was first in my heart! Oh, she was tired and cranky and wanted to quit, but she didn’t. She is a tough little girl.
My other big support system has been my online cybersisters from breastcancer.org. Without them every day to cry and laugh with, I would be a basket case. We “Rock-tober” chemo girls have been together a year now and most of us have been doing something to support the breast cancer cause. We have encouraged and comforted one another immensely. We have also supported others through the postings of our deepest fears, joys, nightmares, dreams and hopes on our blog. We came together as a fragmented group from all over the world, but we are knit so tightly together that we can never be ripped apart.
The Komen Race for the Cure® was amazing. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. I went to the Survivors’ Tent with my little group and I couldn’t even cross the threshold without breaking down. Another survivor helped me get coffee and register for the raffle. It was so awful to see THAT many women with this awful disease, and so emotional to see how alone we ARE NOT. Seeing so many women affected by breast cancer was distressing, but seeing 30 strands of beads around one survivor’s neck was very encouraging.
This was the first year we walked. My friend and her 6-year-old daughter walked with me and my Teryn. We will do it again next year and the next and the next—it will be our tradition. We don’t have cancer anymore, but we will continue to support the mission to eradicate breast cancer so our daughters never get this awful disease.