That’s what people said when they found out that I had cancer. You see, they’ve known me for years and know the struggles I’ve had with having MS (Multiple Sclerosis), and so they knew that I was a fighter and wouldn’t give in to this diagnosis either.
So instead of feeling sorry for myself I decided to ask for support from everyone I knew and created a blog on Facebook called “One Tough Cookie, Debbie’s Journey Through Breast Cancer.” I have shared my entire journey, the good, the bad and the ugly. When I’m down people are there to lift me up and when I am feeling good, they are there to cheer me on. It started out as a support system for me but has become a resource and inspiration for others as well.
My story begins at the end of 2016. I was due for my annual breast exam and mammogram. I almost put it off because it was close to the holiday and it was just easier to think about doing it “next year”–thank God I did not.
My doctor found a lump in my left breast while he was doing the exam. He added an order for a sonogram to be done immediately following the mammogram. When the radiologist looked at the sonogram, he ordered an immediate biopsy of the breast. Because I’ve always gone to the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown, everything was able to be done right there, the same day. It was right before Christmas so there was a delay in getting the biopsy results, but 2 days before the New Year I received the call that it was cancer.
I don’t think anyone is ever really ready to hear those words, but it was especially painful because ironically, they came just as I was paying for a 4-hour long hair appointment. At the time all I could think of was, “Oh my God I’m going to lose my hair!”–not realizing that would be the last thing that would concern me as the months wore on. I had finally gotten my hair to be long and blond and straight and gorgeous… and it was all going away, and that’s all I could think about because I was in denial about what was going to happen to me.
It seemed like a flurry of activity as appointments were made with all these different doctors and all of the different tests that I needed. Through it all I think I was still in denial as I listened to what they told me, sometimes letting out a tear or two but mostly just listening quietly. It wasn’t an easy journey, nor a very pleasant one. I suffered terribly with the side effects of chemotherapy and ended up being hospitalized for 5 days halfway through my treatment. After that, it was determined that I needed to be given IV hydration every other day, so I became quite a frequent visitor at the infusion lab.
It was very easy to want to give up hope, but tests results showed that the cancer was shrinking significantly, and that news gave me the push I needed to get through the rest of the rounds of chemo. When I rang that bell, surrounded by my family and the nurses that were there helping me every other day, it was one of the greatest feelings in the world.
I realize now how lucky I truly am in that my cancer was the most common kind, 80% of the women who get breast cancer have this type. Because of this, there is a targeted treatment plan of 6 rounds of very potent chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the lump and then followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation. As I’ve listened to stories from the women I’ve met in the treatment room I realize that it could go either way with this deadly disease and I am very, very lucky to say that I am now CANCER FREE!!!
It is thanks to the absolutely wonderful staff at Saint Elizabeth Hospital (Mercy Health) and the amazing Joni Abdu Cancer Center. Every single thing that I have needed has been able to be done within the one block radius of the hospital. The doctors, nurses, and everyone involved have been so great to me and have coordinated their care so that everyone knows everything that is going on at all times.
I have been honored with a Relay For Life® team in my honor. Our “Team Tough Cookie” won 1st place for our fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society. I have also been honored by having my team donate money to Tri-County Making Strides Against Breast Cancer at their annual Breast Cancer Walk in October.
So many of my family and friends and even strangers have rallied around me, supported me, comforted me and been there for me every step of the way. My cousin made me a bright pink cape, dubbing me “Super Tough Cookie!” I wear it to events like the Panerathon and the breast cancer walks.
I’ve learned a lot during this journey, suffering from lows and rejoicing with highs, as I call it the roller coaster of life. A new reality sets in as you adjust to your “new” life. The thing I would say to anyone is that you can overcome whatever obstacle you have in your life. If I can beat breast cancer with a smile on my face, then you have the strength to overcome your obstacles too.
One day, one hour, one minute at a time…until you get through it.
This story 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.