I have always been a trusting soul with the physicians whose care I am under and up until December of 1997, had never really questioned the advice I received from them. But, this situation was different. I had a deep knowing of something that wasn’t right. Questioning my highly qualified physicians may have saved my life.
It began in my shower, when I noticed a lump in my right breast. I wasn’t searching for anything, but felt the lump in just normal bathing. It’s as if time stood still. My heart began to beat faster as my mind began to race. I thought of my sweet friend Linda who was, at that moment, losing her battle with metastatic breast cancer. I though of my 3 precious little boys who were at our neighborhood elementary school. I thought of my husband sitting in his office at work tapping his fingers in that wonderfully irritating way of his, as he worked. But most of all, I thought of a beautiful baby girl sleeping peacefully in her crib on the other side of the wall. This baby girl had traveled far to join our family. She had been longed for and prayed for, for many years before she joined us. We had endured fingerprinting, probing into our financial and health records, and a study of our home life. She had endured the loss of her birth family, the first 5 months of her life with no forever family, and a long plane ride from Seoul, South Korea, to Atlanta, Georgia. My thought was, Dear Lord, this baby had lost one mother….please don’t let her lose another. What was this lump going to mean in the finalizing of our adoption and what was it going to do to the picture perfect life that we were living?
I consulted my GYN and had a mammogram. The mammogram showed no abnormalities. My doctors tried to reassure me that most breast lumps are benign and that my lump had no characteristics of cancer. It felt small and was moveable. Her words were, “lets watch it for a couple of months”. My normal reaction would have been to smile and say “great” and go about getting ready for my favorite time of the year, the Christmas season. Instead I heard my voice telling her “NO, I want it out now!” She made an appointment with a surgeon and he was not suspicious of this lump, but said he’d remove it so I would not be worried.
My mother and one of my sisters traveled to Atlanta to care for our 4 children for the surgery to remove the lump. I will never forget the moment we heard that the lump was indeed cancerous. I remember looking at my husband’s face and he started to weep. I felt numb…..no tears, just numb. Then came fear, unbelief, anger and a flood of emotions I had never felt before.
I endured another surgery to check the margins and lymph nodes, chemo and radiation in the days and months that followed. These were hard times for our young family. I was in the prime of my life at 38 years old, and felt like this was all just a bad dream and that I would wake soon, to my wonderful, normal life. However, I did not wake up…..I had to walk through it…..and, strangely, my bad dream turned into a good dream for which I am very thankful.
Through this experience, I became a better person. I began to see life for the wonderful gift that it is, even when things are not working out as planned. My faith in God became stronger, my love for my family and fellow man grew. I began keeping a journal. Every evening I made myself write whether I felt like it or not. This journal is so precious to me now! I began to do random acts of kindness for strangers. It is impossible to despair, when you are doing good unto others! One of my favorite things I did was during radiation. Each night I would make little index cards with a Bible verse or a positive, uplifting, healing thought. I would tape a Hershey’s Kiss to each one. At the Radiation center, each person undergoing treatment had their own little cubby hole with our designer gowns awaiting us! When I changed into my gown I would hurriedly put a card in each persons cubby hole so as not to be “caught!” After a few days of this, I would hear people in the waiting room talking about their cards and trying to figure out who their mysterious “angel” could be! If nothing else, it gave them something else to think about while they were there instead of their reason for being there. It was finally figured out that I was the “angel” after a few weeks and after some exceptional detective work on the part of my peers! They thought that I had been an encouragement to them, but I believe THEY were the encouragement to me!
My advice to those just beginning their breast cancer journey is first and foremost…..TRUST your instincts when it comes to your own body! If your physician is not taking your concerns seriously, find another one. Second, after diagnosis, give yourself time to grieve, be angry, yell, be sad, cry….etc. Thirdly……don’t let yourself wallow too long. Start that journal, practice random acts of kindness to complete strangers, surround yourself with positive people and activities, memorize the smiles of those you love, start a beautiful garden of flowers to share or learn a foreign language…..and never lose your laughter!
It will be 14 years this December since my diagnosis. Our adoption was finalized, despite breast cancer and all my worry. My family is stronger than ever before…..and so am I! I learned that I am tougher than I ever thought I was. I learned the tremendous value of a simple smile, a kind gesture and a warm hug.
I hope that my story will encourage those who read it and give courage to someone just beginning their journey. I don’t know of anyone that would choose to have breast cancer, but I would not take anything for the wonderful changes cancer brought to my life. Live each day to the fullest and make it a masterpiece! And NEVER forget to……FIGHT LIKE A GIRL!
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.