I consider myself a Sansei, wife, mother, sister and aunt; I never thought I’d have to include the word Survivor. I am a breast cancer survivor of 980 days and so grateful to be here to tell you my story.
I was diagnosed in October of 2008 with Stage 2 Ductal Carcinoma. I never assumed I would fall victim to this disease, but I have breast cancer and I AM A SURVIVOR. For years I had my annual mammogram, but I was not disciplined about doing self-exams. While watching TV on a Saturday afternoon, I had an itch on my left breast and that is how I discovered the lump. I pacified myself by saying it was a bug bite, but in my heart I knew it was something more.
On Monday morning, I called my doctor who saw me immediately. Here is where the whirlwind of events occurred. Within two days, I was seen by Dr. John West of the Breast Care and Imaging Center of Orange. That day I was told, “I’m sorry to tell you, the tissue came back positive.” No one should have to hear those words, but the months that followed and the team of doctors that were assembled make it easier to say, I AM A SURVIVOR.
The days and weeks to come were filled with shock and disbelief. It is imperative that at this time you find an advocate. A friend, a spouse, a sibling, anyone who will question, research, and help you to understand the changes that will occur. My advocate is my daughter, Rosie, the most amazing person I know. Part of being a survivor is focusing on keeping yourself positive. The endless tests, exams, appointments, and treatments need to be the concern of your advocate. You need a person who is not willing to accept just one answer, one test result, and one medical opinion. Having someone who will digest what the doctors are saying, read the latest treatments on the internet, and find books, articles, and blogs about treatments is crucial. Knowledge is power. Do not go into battle with cancer without having the full armament of knowledge.
It’s crucial because you must ask questions no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time. Never accept complacency from your doctor. Assemble a medical team who is focused on giving you individualized care, treatment and available at all times to answer the questions. It was at this time I found Dr. John Link, oncologist, at Breastlink. Knowing I had found a surgeon, Dr. West, who was positive, strong and compassionate; and an oncologist, Dr. Link, who was calm, confident and assertive, I was prepared for the challenges ahead.
Within weeks, my medical team decided my protocol (course of care) was chemotherapy, a radical mastectomy, and reconstruction. This journey took approximately 18 months. In that time I learned the value of support groups, family, friends, and strangers who showed me unconditional love.
During chemotherapy, I built relationships with the nurses attending to me. Chemo is something you never look forward to, but having caring nurses calmed my fears of losing my independence and understanding my limitations. I joined a support group, Survivor Buddies. They guided me through every step of my treatments. We could converse openly, cry freely and laugh whole heartedly. We created a bond, a sisterhood, and cancer was the tie that binds. Some would say it’s unfortunate to create friendships through tragedy, but in the weeks to come this friendship and pool of knowledge would strengthen me immeasurably. I have always been the caregiver, nurturer, but during chemo I had to rely on others to ensure my family was fed, my needs were attended to, and my life continued as “usual.” I felt guilt over the burden I put my family and friends through, but grew to daily count my blessings that I had been surrounded by love.
The next phase of my protocol was a radical mastectomy. You may assume that this would be the most challenging part; in retrospect this was the easiest. I looked forward to the day my cancer would be removed, and was overjoyed to hear Dr. West say, “Don’t worry, we got it.” I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I had come through the surgery and blessed that the cancer was removed. From here the emotional roller coaster began… [to be continued on Tuesday, June 7th]
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