Today, I’m happy to share you with a guest post from my mom. As many of you know, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. I asked her to share a little bit of her story as a part of breast cancer awareness month. I hope you will enjoy her story as much as I do, and see a glimpse of what a wonderful woman she is.
Late last spring my son Michael’s friend Haley emailed that she was seeking donations for her participation in the cancer research fundraiser, “Relay for Life.” I told my husband, Bruce, that I thought we should contribute to this since my mother was a breast cancer survivor. Little did any of us know at the time that Haley would, in a very real sense, be running for me as well.
When my annual mammogram came back positive a few months later, I was momentarily alarmed, scheduled a follow-up mammogram, went to a family reunion and didn’t think about it at all. I really wasn’t worried. Later, however, the results of the second mammogram were also suspicious, and that afternoon I was scheduled to have a biopsy. The radiologist told me that “80 percent of the time, the biopsies are negative,” so not to worry too much. I would get the results within a week.
When Friday afternoon came and I hadn’t heard from the hospital, I decided that the results must have been normal or they would have called by then. However, about quarter to five, the phone rang. The caller ID said it was the hospital so I took the phone into my husband’s empty office and sat down. I will always remember the first words from the nurse, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this but we found cancer cells.” She told me I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), meaning the cancer had not progressed from where it started. In order to confirm this, however, and to know how advanced it was, they would need to do an MRI the following Tuesday.
As I hung up the phone my tears started falling. I was stunned—shocked! I never expected to hear that I had cancer. Although the final diagnosis would confirm that I did indeed have DCIS—the best diagnosis a breast cancer patient can get—during the intervening week I was in shock. I found it difficult to tell people, and rarely did. When others would ask, as we all do so casually, “How are you?” I would answer with the usual, “Oh, I’m good.” But the little voice inside my head would always add “I have breast cancer.” It was never far from my mind as I thought about what this might mean—surely a good prognosis, but what if the cancer came back? Although I’m only 59 I have had too many friends die of cancer that came back somewhere else, and this terrified me.
When the results of the MRI confirmed that I had DCIS—a stage zero breast cancer, one that almost certainly would not recur elsewhere in my body, and was fairly unlikely to return in either breast, I felt indescribable relief. It was as if the fog lifted in my brain and I could finally think clearly again. A lumpectomy was scheduled for the following week, followed by three weeks of daily radiation. Although the chances of recurrence were small, if it did recur, half the time it would be a more dangerous invasive cancer and Bruce (my rock) said we should do whatever we could to prevent that from happening, and I agreed.
I had my last radiation treatment earlier this week and am so grateful that this cancer was caught early—hurray for mammograms!– and that my prognosis is so good. I do not take this for granted and truly count my blessings every day. The week I was diagnosed, a good friend of thirty years was also diagnosed with cancer—pancreatic cancer that had spread throughout her body. As I was recovering from my surgery, my dear friend, Sue, lay dying. She was just as loved as I was—just as needed. Why was I given this second chance at life as hers was ending? I do not know the answer. But I do know that I am grateful beyond words for this gift. A friend posted this tribute to Sue on Facebook, “You were thoughtful and kind and always smiling, and I am going to try harder each day to be more like you.” Me, too.
Coming soon, Part Two—What I Learned