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10 Years as a Breast Cancer Survivor

By March 20, 2012

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10 years
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!

Tell Your Survivor Story here!

How Did You Celebrate Your Cancer Anniversary?

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Comments
March 20, 2012 at 10:32 am
(1) Mary Shomon says:

Congratulations Pam, on your ten years, and thank you for taking your own experience and turning it into an information and advocacy effort for other women! You deserve kudos and great respect for all of your hard work, and hard-won experience!

March 20, 2012 at 11:21 am
(2) Katharina Star says:

Huge congratulations to you Pam on your ten years as a survivor! You have helped so many by providing such excellent information and through sharing your own experiences. Congrats!

March 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm
(3) Trisha Torrey says:

Pam – I am beyond thrilled for you. What a wonderful celebration!

I wonder if you realize the massive ripple effect of your journey, recovery and the work you do today supporting other breast cancer patients has evolved to? In effect, your friends and family who supported you, also helped those you help today, too. Had it not been for their unfailing support, you might not be able to share your knowledge the way you do.

So in addition to your own gratitude to your team of supporters, please let them know that the rest of us are appreciative, too.

Congratulations!

Trisha
About.com Patient Empowerment

March 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm
(4) Stephanie says:

I hope to be in your position in 10 years time Pam, you are an inspiration. keep writing, keep positive. Well done and congrats!! XXX

March 21, 2012 at 2:52 am
(5) Lynne Eldridge says:

Thank you Pam, for being such an inspiration both as a writer and as a survivor. I have followed what you’ve written for years because you have such a wonderful way of translating scary medical stuff into easy-to-understand writing, and have followed you even more closely since my own diagnosis. Congratulations on you cancer-versary. You don’t know how much it means for those of us that have awhile to wait for that landmark to be able to celebrate with you. I agree that you have no idea how far your words reach. I’m lucky to have my own “David” and reading your words reminded me to express my gratitude again. Along with Trisha, please thank your support network for being there for you so that we can have you here for us!

March 21, 2012 at 9:06 am
(6) Mary Anne Smith says:

Congratulations Pam! I have just passed my 4 yr anniversary and am looking to many more.

March 21, 2012 at 9:48 am
(7) Susan says:

Hi Pam,

May God continue to bless you and your family. I am now celebrating my 1 year anniversary free of invasive breast cancer . I was diagnosed on the 17 of March 2011, also at stage 2 and I thank God there were no involvement of my lymph nodes. Together with God being my refuge, I thank you for your informed articles and shared knowledge.

Cheers!!!!

March 21, 2012 at 10:31 am
(8) David Goldsmith says:

Pam,

I’d like to echo Trisha Torrey’s sentiments. I and countless others are grateful to you for sharing all that you’ve learned over the years. Though my own wife is now 7 years out and doing very well, we know this is a journey that never really ends. I continue to learn what it means to live with breast cancer from the caregiver perspective and find your knowledge and insights invaluable.

I frequently forward your posts to friends and colleagues who likewise need support as they navigate this difficult path. As you celebrate this hugely important milestone, I hope you know that this is a path made a little less frightening and a lot more encouraging thanks to your openness, your empathy and your commitment to patient empowerment.

Thank you.

David

March 21, 2012 at 11:49 am
(9) michael says:

As an advocate for rare diseases, as well as having a rare disease myself, I am trying to pass along some helpful information about help for patients and families with rare/orphan diseases that might benefit from genome sequencing. Rare Genomics Institute helps patients with gaining access to genome sequencing services, support, and funding. Washington University School of Medicine’s Genomics and Pathology Services and the Rare Genomics Institute are planning to award grants for the sequencing of 99 exomes to rare disease advocacy groups. The grants will be free of charge to the rare diseases community! Anyone interested, should contact The Rare Genomics Institute right away. Interested applicants should submit letters of interest by April 2. If you are interested, visit the web site for this program at the Rare Genomics Institute site: http://www.raregenomics.org/rare99x
Mike Dayton

March 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm
(10) James says:

When I read through your story, I felt like this is something I am going through right now.My wife too was recently diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 27 and currently recovering.It has been a painful journey so far and we are on the verge of completing first year after treatment. Thank god for the people who have supported. We got help from people we never expected ..That’s life..
Pam..Wishing you a healthy and happy family life.Please prayer for my wife too.
Thanks
James
i

March 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm
(11) Diane says:

Happy Cancerversary! Your experience shared through your great writing is a blessing to so many. Your insider knowledge has been both informative and inspirational. Thanks for what you do!

March 21, 2012 at 11:11 pm
(12) Helen says:

Congratulations to you… and me too! I am so grateful to be thriving. Maybe others can feel that there is hope too.

April 13, 2012 at 9:57 am
(13) Tracy says:

I happened upon your story because this week marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I typed “10 year cancer survivor” into google. Our stories sound very similar. From your photo it looks like you are a young survivor, as am I. Congratulations and Best wishes that we both are celebrating our 50 year survivorship some day!

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