On January 27, 2016 I visited my cardiologist for my annual check up. Having exchanged pleasantries, we got down to business and she wanted to know if I had any new challenges or concerns. I told her that I wanted her to specifically examine my left breast as it looked a little different and felt somewhat heavy to me. She assured me she would but went on to say it probably was nothing of any significance. In the wedding business, brides know that when the wedding planner starts to stress it’s time for the bride to stress. Similarly, when the doctor starts to look concerned, then its time for the patient to get concerned. Here began a process that has changed my life - my doctor was concerned!!!
My calm, easy going medical practitioner sent for another doctor in order to get a second opinion. Despite my protests, she immediately ordered a Chest Xray, a mammogram, an ultra sound, blood work then a biopsy all in quick succession. One week later, on Friday, February 5, I got the dreaded call from my doctor telling me to come in immediately. I was walking out of my office, when Kara, my daughter-in-law asked me where I was going. With a shrug of my shoulder I told her. She was about to begin a consultation with a bride but realizing the importance of the telephone call, she re-scheduled the consultation and we drove in silence to the doctor’s office. The results had come back – Invasive Lobular Carcinoma – not a lump but a rare, aggressive, malignant tumor in my left breast. Surgery must be scheduled as soon as possible. I needed time to process this information, it was a shock to my system. My older sister had passed away 26 years ago from breast cancer. Growing up I wanted to be just like her but I really could have skipped this part. I knew for sure that my faith in God, a supportive husband and a loving family would be necessary for the journey ahead. It was then I discovered that experience is what you get when you don’t get the answers that you want
The next two weeks were a blur. Many tests had to be done and several decisions had to be taken. I needed to find a surgeon, an anaesthetist, an oncologist, a hospital and of course the necessary finances. On Election night, February 25, 2016 I was lying in a bed at The Tony Thwaites Wing, trying to figure out how did I get from Point A to Point B in such a short period of time. I was devastated. The grief cycle had started – the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression. I will spare you the details of life immediately following surgery. However, I will tell you that I stopped at my office on leaving the hospital, to meet with a bride about her wedding in April, just to reassure myself that the world had not come to an end, because it sure felt so.
Then the real waiting began and the days turned into weeks and then months, waiting on the results from overseas so as to determine the way forward. Waiting is hard, trusting is essential.
We wont talk about the problems having lymphodema brought, and how much I fought to resist change leading only to frustration at not being able to do what I wanted to, because in addition to my left arm being completely numb it felt almost totally useless. Weekly visits to the physiotherapist were costly and time consuming. One day, I mustered the courage to ask how long it would be before I regained mobility and strength in my arm. She smilingly let me know that she had some patients working with for years. Somehow that did not sit well with me. There had to be another solution, I could not accept this new phase of life.
I wont discuss the depression that set in, when we finally got the results and heard that chemo was inevitable. But you never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only option! May 3, 2016 at 9 o’clock saw me hooked up to the IV that induced a horrible, metallic taste in my mouth, gave me the shivers and within a few days produced every single known and unknown adverse side effect in my body. I was a walking disaster! I will always be grateful to Kurt, my first born who stayed with me during each treatment and showed me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel despite the darkness which was surrounding me.
I wont share in detail how I felt that Wednesday morning, May 18 when I woke up totally bald - being home alone really didn’t help! I knew that it was the end of the world but between my tears came the assurance that however bad or good a situation is, it MUST change. During a telephone call to my husband, he reminded me that the doctor had advised us of this possible side effect; my response was, “Expecting and experiencing are totally different”. No one seemed to understand the pain hair loss brought me. I found it totally unacceptable and I knew that my life would never be the same again.
I wont tell you about the sleepless, cold, winter nights that I faced during the months of July and August when I simply could not find a comfortable position in bed. Pacing my living room became a nightly ritual. Despite a loving husband, a caring family and many concerned friends, I felt lonely. I did not know how to embrace this new norm, how to pick up the pieces and get on with my life. Cancer is not a death sentence, it is simply a diagnosis.
I must tell you however, about the transformation that started when I accepted the challenge to reach out for support. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness it demonstrates how truly strong we are. It was then that I discovered that crying with someone is more healing than crying alone. My 2ndPink Party held on July 29 made me realize that sharing with others during the worst of times is better than being alone during the best of times. No one should have to walk this journey alone. There are too many curves and bends, it is an uphill climb overlooking a precipice and you cannot negotiate the stumbling blocks and deep pot holes without assistance. So be a friend, take hold of an outstretched hand. It is in holding on to someone that you will get more strength than you even planned to give
My breast cancer experience has helped me to focus on the things that are truly important in life, to overlook the daily nuisances that have no significance to ultimate happiness and never turn a needed YES into an unnecessary NO.