CANCER. Even the word is ugly. Short. Harsh. Scary. But strong enough to evoke paralyzing fear in everyone. Cancer is not selective either: wreaking havoc on newborns to 105 year olds. Nearly everyone knows someone who has had some form of cancer. Billions of dollars have been spent on cancer research over the span of many years, yet there is no 100% effective cure. Remission is possible if caught early. Long term survival is common. But a vaccine or permanent solution has not been found yet.
If you’ve faced a cancer diagnosis, you know the drill. This test, then that test, then endless waiting. Then consults with various doctors and more testing and eventually: treatment. This can take months (as it did in my case). The stress while going through this process is incredible. Cancer in my body, really? Get it out, NOW. The waiting and wondering and sleepless nights truly suck all joy out of your life. Cancer takes on a life of its own: a miserable, frightening and, confusing at times, monster preying on your mortality, ready to gobble it up. Some people will not want to talk to you about it; others have a weird desire to know all details. I encountered both and not always in a good way. My journey through the system began with a routine (or so I thought) mammogram in March, 2015. Suspicious spots on my left breast didn’t concern me that much. I’d been through it before. But a closer examination, followed by a biopsy and MRI confirmed the worst: I had 2 different types of cancer in one breast. I was in shock and yes I cried. I had few risk factors, no family history and had always been diligent in my care of “The Girls”. Yet I sat there alone in my bedroom, phone thrown carelessly on the bed and cried like a spoiled child at the doctor’s words: ” I’m sorry, Mrs. White, but you do have cancer.” Then I called my husband and my best friend, a 15 year breast cancer survivor. My brain was in chaos: I had no idea what to do next. I was in disbelief: I’m only 64 years young. Logically, I knew that breast cancer can and does affect women of all ages. I guess I thought my charmed life made me immune. I had a lot to learn and no idea where to start. I just knew that I wanted this monster out of me. Thus began a 5 month journey dotted with doctors, radiologists, needles, blood draws, more tests and finally, on June 22, surgery. Everything went on hold. Housework, school, my writing, my social life. NOTHING mattered more than getting this behind me.
I had struggled with fibromyalgia for years and knew that stress made it worse. A cancer diagnosis definitely added to my stress. I had a choice: let it take every smile and joyful moment from my life or fight it with all my Italian/Irish chutzpah. I chose the latter. I went out to a comedy show the same night, shot pool with my hubby and had my first alcoholic cocktail in more than 30 years (I’m a wine aficionado). I went fishing with hubby that weekend. I spent time with my grandkids who invoke smiles and giggles every time I’m with them. I made my future treatment part of my life, but refused to allow it to take over my life. I visited my primary care doctor and made some adjustments to my meds and cheerfully told him: see you in 6 months. Cancer: you’re powerful but prayer and determination partnered with a great medical team are going to banish you back to the Hell you came from. Take that cancer!