EXACTLY 5 years ago today and almost to the time of this post, I received a call from my GYN who gave me the results of the biopsy I’d had done two days prior, which confirmed breast cancer. Oddly, I was not shocked by the results as the night before an odd; yet serene calm came over me and I resigned myself to the news; though untold yet, of the diagnosis.
I was at work when I received the call, which came with precise and detailed information as to what I needed to do once I “got over the shock of the call and to call me if I needed anything or had any questions”. I hung up, took a deep breath, and did a quick google search on the type and stage of the cancer and then went in search of a friend and former coworker who’d been diagnosed with colon cancer the year prior. I said nothing to her other than “let’s go to a more private cube so we can talk”, she obliged with a curious expression. While at the more private workstation, I typed in my diagnosis and sat her in the seat so she could read the words on the screen. Her facial expression went from 0-60 and she turned to me with tear-filled eyes and said, “no. That can’t be true. You’re one of the healthiest people I know”. I said nothing and simply nodded the confirmation. She got up and hugged me so tight and upon releasing me said, “we’re gonna get through this!” Those were the MOST comforting thing she could have said to me….”we’re”. She included herself and at that moment I knew I’d made the right decision in telling her before anyone else. She dragged her then fiancee from his desk and we all went outside to share the news with him. We all hugged! We all cried! And then we all vowed to see me through the process. The necessary calls were made to schedule appointments. The call from the Imaging office came shortly after the call from the GYN, but they would not provide the full results over the phone. I knew that was there protocol and was happy for the my GYN not abiding to that practice as it spared me the additional wait and worry.
From that point on, Marlene was a part of my initial appointments, she sat with me as I researched every option available at the time and assured me that I was going to come through it all “just fine”…Five years, a right breast mastectomy, a series of tissue expansions, and five reconstructive procedures laters, I AM , “just fine”. The medicine wreaked havoc on me mentally, physically, and emotionally, but with support of Marlene, trusted friends/family, and Gilda’s Club of South Jersey; of which I’m featured in their ad campaign. Gilda’s Club of South Jersey TV ad I’ve come through the crazy journey. I’ve always had a pretty decent outlook on life and tend not to take it for granted, but after having my mortality put on the line for a second time, I live it a bit more aggressively now. I avoid the bullshit and drama as much as possible. I’ve removed toxic people from my life. I’ve grown that much closer to God as He’s been the epicenter of my strength. I’ve become a better person, mother, friend, mentor, role model, or whatever title I wear. I’m even more of a health advocate than before and take nothing for granted. I’ve seen many people suffer and lose their lives to cancer and pray that one day cures will be available for not just Breast Cancer, but ALL cancers. While some may be more aggressive than others, it’s all still cancer and that’s something no one should take lightly.
In closing, I’ll ask you all for one thing…PLEASE get yourselves checked, screened, and ask family members to share medical history. Prior to my diagnosis, I had NO idea cancer was in my bloodline. I underwent genetic testing to find out if I was a gene carrier. Fortunately, I am not, but it was a scary wait to find out. Lil Lady was 15 at the time of my diagnosis, so there was a great need to know if not only was I a carrier, but to get a full medical history of both sides of my family. Cancer runs on my father’s side and it was sad that I had to go through the process in order to find out. Since then, I’ve shared my history, and dad’s with my siblings and other paternal family members. One member has compiled a health registry so we have data available to share with each other. Nothing, not matter how presumably healthy we might think we are is promised. If you have health insurance, use it. The time off work, the copay and a negative test result far outweighs the laziness of not seeing a doctor or the denial by thinking there’s nothing wrong.
I hope my story inspires someone to get checked or makes you take someone who may need to get a health screening to the doctor. There’s no coming back from death, but there’s living and treatment if necessary in knowing what your health status is.
Of all the 14 tattoos I have, my pink ribbon is the most visible. I wear to show that I’m proud of overcoming breast cancer and also to let others know there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m going to add some verbiage to it very soon now that I’ve hit the 5-year mark. Any suggestions other than “Survivor” as to what I should say? Whomever gives me the best idea, will be publically thanked and rewarded in some way. And if by chance I don’t use a suggestion, just knowing you all were a part of it, will make me very happy.
That is all!