My name is Erica Lambourg and I am a first generation Mexican-American born and raised in New Orleans and the oldest of three female siblings. On May 16, 2011 just two months shy of my 36th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage II IDC Breast Cancer. My strict Catholic parents molded me into a very strong and independent individual, however, the day I was diagnosed, cancer immediately took over my identity and I struggled to hold on to my strength and independence.
The day I received my diagnosis, I felt side swiped. While the doctor went on telling me about my options and providing me with brochures, all I could take in was the word “cancer” and I was feeling forced to think about my mortality. I was now part of a club that I never wanted to join and a club that I thought I didn’t qualify for. I was in my thirties, had a young son who was turning three later that summer, a good career, a strong marriage of 12 years, and I was feeling like stability was just beginning to take hold of our family life.
It was difficult to accept the journey that I was about to face, but I felt that acceptance was the only way I could handle the fight and feel like I had some control in the process. The first thing I did was cut my hair short. Of all the side effects I was going to suffer from chemotherapy, I knew that losing my hair was going to leave me feeling vulnerable and I thought that getting a head start with a short hair cut would help me cope better when the hair loss came; I was wrong about that one! The next step was surgery for my port. One of my sisters joined me that day and for a couple of hours before surgery, we chatted and joked casually as if we didn’t have a care in the world. But after surgery, once I came to out of anesthesia, I cried intensely and was overwhelmed by the reality of why I just had surgery. There was one nurse in particular that hugged me and talked to me as I cried and her care that day meant a lot to me.
Once I started chemotherapy, my mom was the one who took me to my treatments; she was the only person who could give me a sense of security and comfort during treatments and I am so thankful for that. I received eight chemo treatments over a four-month period and the truth is that chemotherapy is an indescribable misery that is filled with endless side effects on multiple levels. I distinctly remember on the third day after my first chemo treatment, I cried to one of my sisters, telling her that I was already struggling to hang in there and that I didn’t know how I could possibly get through the next four months of treatments. But, later that evening, once I was alone, I made the decision to toughen up mentally and to not waiver on that commitment to myself because the strong mindset that I have always had was going to be the key to get me through this. The result of my chemotherapy in respect to the tumor was excellent. What started off as a 6.6 cm tumor was reduced to a 2.2 mm residual tissue mass; this response was a best case scenario for me before lumpectomy surgery.
My physical struggles from complications after my lumpectomy surgery and from the cumulative effects of chemotherapy are a daily reminder of the road I’ve traveled the past seven months, the road still ahead, and also the anticipation to be able to do so many things that I took for granted before I started chemotherapy. I am blessed to have a strong support system of family and friends that have helped me get through each day of this journey with their generosity, affection, prayers, phone calls, text messages, e-mails, cards, care packages and positive vibes. Cancer changes your outlook on life, it slows you down and forces you to appreciate and enjoy the small treasures in your everyday life. Life is full of challenges, obstacles and hardships, and I believe that it’s how you react and respond to them that truly reflects your strength and faith.
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.