Breast Cancer Awareness
Memories fade, but don’t go away
It was February ~ 2005 ~ I had come home from work, put my comfy clothes on and decided to empty a few of the moving boxes that were stacked up against a bedroom wall.
While I was lifting and moving items, I found that my right breast was bleeding. I didn’t give it much thought as I just figured I had scraped a box against my chest. However, the next morning I was still bleeding lightly, so I headed off to work and called my doctor for an appointment.
After the doctor examined me, he had me go for an ultrasound. Yes, he found a lump, but he downplayed it. No, I hadn’t had a mammogram in 5 years, but I was healthy, I walked my dog and rode a bike for exercise. There wasn’t any history of any type of cancer in my family.
The next step ~ schedule for a biopsy. This was standard procedure, but it was the way to identify if my lump was cancerous or not. After the biopsy, I was scheduled to meet with Doctor Ernie Bodai, the cancer surgeon who helped create the Breast Cancer awareness stamp. I didn’t think much about having Dr. Bodai being my doctor, but I later realized that someone upstairs was looking out for me.
Have you ever just known what an outcome would be? It’s more or less intuitive ~ it comes from deep within you ~ you just know when something isn’t right. You may not be able to pinpoint what exactly isn’t right, but deep down you know. I knew he was going to tell me that I had Breast Cancer. As I was sitting there listening to him explain to me that I had the HER2 Positive Breast Cancer type, my mind would not go past that thought. I have Breast Cancer! Honestly, I was having a hard time getting my head around that entire scenario. I was 54 years old, healthy, active and working, no history of cancer in my family (that anyone knew of) and I have Breast Cancer!
I knew I was in for a fight. When I started listening again, he was telling me that I needed to go home and think things out. He was recommending surgery, chemo, radiation and whatever else would be needed ~ my Breast Cancer was aggressive but I didn’t have to decide that day.
I know I surprised him, because the next thing I asked him was, “how soon can I have the surgery and start treatment?” He told me I didn’t need to decide right then and there, he was sending me home with material to review so I would have a better understanding of what type I had and what it meant. But it was obvious that Dr. Bodai did not know me!
You see, I am a decisive person. I don’t need to take weeks to make a decision ~ I don’t need to ask anyone what they think. For me, that was irrelevant. I knew I needed to start this fight right then ~ what I didn’t realize was how hard the treatments were going to be on me. Looking back, I feel that was a good thing. I did not go into the treatment therapy with any preconceived notions. Dr. Bodai had me agree to not look anything up on the internet. He would give me web addresses of legitimate sites that I could review.
The night before my surgery, my family all came together to boost me up, to encourage, inspire, and to just be there with me. My work team gave me a huge emotional sendoff ~ (I was told later how the entire team stood up, held hands and said a prayer as I was going into surgery). Even now, the emotions are very strong and tears are in my eyes.
Before my hair started falling out I knew I needed to do something with my hair ~ (I have long curly blonde hair) and while I didn’t think I would be upset with losing my hair, I realized that my hair was and is a defining feature of mine ~ and yes, it was bothering me more then I wanted to admit.
A friend suggested I donate my hair to Locks of Love, the organization that makes wigs for children going thru cancer. The more I thought about this the better I liked the idea. There was an entire team of us that went to the hair dresser, it was an older man who specialized in women going thru cancer who cut my hair, and he suggested that we cut my hair really really short ~ this would give me some time to get used to the short hair. His reasoning was this, “when I started loosing my hair, it wouldn’t be as much of a shock.
I donated 13 inches of hair to the Locks of Love. Yes, I lost every bit of hair on my entire body. I couldn’t wear a wig or a hat, the nerve endings were so sensitive on my head that all I could wear was a silk scarf. Every time I looked in the mirror at myself (with no hair) I could smile through my tears. I knew that some beautiful little girl was sporting my blonde curls ~ that in itself was therapeutic for me.
I had to have a port inserted, my veins did not hold up well with all the intravenous treatments. I qualified for the Clinical Trial, but I also found that I couldn’t take all the chemo medications at once ~so instead of being there for 2–3 hours I was there for a good 6 hours. They had to administer the medications one at a time. Because of high anxiety and nausea ~ they would give me something when the treatments started and I would go to sleep. When I woke up there was a new beany baby sitting on my chest looking at me, and sugar babies! Don’t ask me why I craved sugar babies! I couldn’t keep food down, but I sure did keep the sugar babies down (go figure!)
I always knew that I would come out of this, but it was a fight. I was very sick, weak, and had no energy. Every week I was at Kaiser and I got to know others going through cancer ~ it didn’t matter what type of cancer you had — we were all having the same types of issues. I befriended a great gentleman who was battling (2) types of cancers and we would make sure that we were scheduled on the same day and time so we could go through our treatments together.
We joined the support group and that helped immensely — just knowing that others have that metallic taste, or that others are nauseated and can’t eat was definitely a plus! I felt very alone going thru the chemo treatments even when I was surrounded by a friend, or loved one.
Words of wisdom — please do listen to your body, please do get a mammogram — even if you are under 50 and the medical establishment doesn’t say you need one ~ for peace of mind you need to do what you can for you. Don’t be swayed by someone and definitely don’t listen to others, we all experience treatment differently — I knew some women that would come in for their chemo treatment — walk out and go to work! I could not even begin to imagine that.
We are advocates for ourselves. Here is another tip for you — write down questions that come up — have a friend or a loved one take you to your doctor appointment. You see, your brain can only absorb so much. I had a dear friend that took me to my appointments. She had a tablet and pen and would write down the answers the doctor gave for each question she asked.
This was so smart to do. I never remembered his answers later and I was sitting right there! The questions being asked came from me during the week before the next appointment, but my brain was muddled, confused, you have all these chemicals going through your body. Concentration is almost nil. My dear friend, would answer the questions for me after we would get back home. She was patient and kind and I always had that tablet to refer to.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings back the memories full bore. Yes, I am cancer free. I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone going through treatment at the same time as I, made it. This is one of the biggest fights of your life, reducing negativity, adding laughter and positive anecdotes is key for your survival.
Yes, memories fade, but they don’t go away!