|10 Year Cancer-Versary
Art © Pam Stephan
Today I am a 10-year breast cancer survivor. Ten years ago on March 20, my lump was diagnosed as breast cancer, and one year later - also on March 20 - I was told that all my post-treatment tests showed no evidence of cancer! That year of surgery, chemo, reconstruction, hospitalizations, transfusions, and physical therapy was the biggest health challenge I had ever faced. My husband David and I went through two surgeons, three oncologists, one snarky physician's assistant, four wonderful infusion nurses, two hospitals, two surgical centers, two cancer clinics, and one great rehab facility.
Along our steep learning curve, we had the support of David's sister and her husband - both oncology professionals - who encouraged us at all hours of the day by phone, internet and in person. I took to calling my sister-in-law by the nickname "Doctor Liz" because she helped us understand and take action in several tight situations. David and Liz had lost their mother to breast cancer, so they understood what could happen to me. My coworkers prayed for me, covered for me, and one of them even loaned me her own mother, when I was stuck for several days in the hospital with thrombocytopenia. Sybil read to me, told me stories, listened to me, and stuck with me all the time that my husband had to be at work. David's colleagues sent cards, brought over meals, and kept checking on us - staying positive through the whole year. Nobody ever told us any cancer horror stories. People from church sent meals, called, prayed, emailed, and when I was terribly sick they drove from two hours away to be with us. I had no idea that folks could be so kind and so supportive.
I lost my left breast to invasive breast cancer which was at stage two, with no lymph nodes involved. I begged my medical oncologist to let me skip chemo (and nowadays I probably could skip it) but instead, I lost my waist-length hair to the drugs that were pumped into my bloodstream. It taught me how vain I was, to find out that I mourned my hair more than I did that left breast! On the advice of my general surgeon, I found a plastic surgeon who did immediate reconstruction on me during the mastectomy. My implant is referred to as "replacement parts." My hair was chopped off and given away to make a wig for a child with cancer, and Samantha The Wig came to roost on my head. Each time I was operated on near my breast, I developed a frozen shoulder because I didn't do the arm exercises, as I was too sick from chemo to move around. My amazing physical therapist, Gail, got me going again in six weeks! We fired my first oncologist, found a very good one who was closer to home, and when chemo was finally over - 14 cycles later - I was x-rayed, scanned, tumor-marker tested, and given the all-clear. I whooped and leapt for joy at the news - my life was going to start over!
David was my greatest supporter (and still is!) because he became my patient advocate, chauffeur, home health aide, cook, house-keeper, personal shopper and constant comforter. They broke the mold, when they made him. That man is the best!
For the last six years, I've written about breast cancer in order to help other understand their diagnosis and their options. When I write about these things, I write from the perspective of a patient and a survivor. I really want my cancer experience to be put to work on behalf of others like you and your families and I want it to count for something good. Life isn't always easy, but I do feel that it is a great blessing. I hope to continue passing that along to you, so that many more of us can celebrate our 10-year cancer-versaries!
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