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The Most Important Lessons From Breast Cancer

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Updated March 05, 2013

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Laura: Life Is The Things You Do For Others
Laura Olsen

Laura Olsen

Photo © Matthew S., Good Neighbor

Laura's Lesson: Life isn't one big thing - it's the things you do for others.

Age at diagnosis: 43
Type of breast cancer: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)
Surgery: Lactiferous ductectomy, plus two re-excisions to get clean surgical margins
Treatments: Radiation

The Rescue

Sometimes in life there are fleeting moments that pass you by before you really know what happened, and you later realize that you are lucky to have survived. But surviving cancer is not so mercifully swift. It tests your endurance, faith and acceptance. The moment you receive the call from your doctor telling you that the pathology report shows cancer, that's when the fight begins. Every day that follows, you are a survivor.

I'm one of those people who goes to the doctor and never has anything wrong. I could lose a few pounds, but everything is within safe boundaries. That was until I spent about a month being passed from doctor to doctor to find out why my left nipple was bleeding. It was weird. There were no lumps. Nothing showed up in the mammogram or x-ray, so the specialist recommended surgery to remove the rogue duct that had taken a notion to misbehave. Could be nothing, but better to take it out and be sure. I was sure it was nothing, like usual.

When my doctor explained to me what DCIS meant, I can't remember anything after the word "carcinoma." Everyone takes the news differently. I went numb - not sad, angry, afraid, or in denial. I was completely aware, but felt nothing. I had one job to do. I had to fight my own body to save myself. I put my whole mind, heart and soul on the job. I was on a rescue mission!

Some people see the pink ribbon as a symbol of hope. I was not ready to associate myself with it, and I didn't want it to define me. I set it aside for the time being.

I had to focus on more tangible things; things that gave me a positive lift, like my husband and kids. Another of those things was my motorcycle. I call it my "therapist" for the great attitude adjustment I always get from riding. It's a real experience, and during a time when everything else was so surreal, it helped to ground me. Plus, it was so cool to be the bad-ass biker chick who rode to radiation treatments every day - rain or shine! I stayed positive, surrounded myself with positive people, and focused on the tasks at hand - going through three surgeries and healing, then radiation treatments and healing.

When I finished radiation I got a call from my doctor, but I can't remember anything after "You're cancer free!" Rescue mission complete! In the movies, the credits roll here. In life, you wake up the next day with nothing to fight.

My Life Lesson
How can I not be changed after being rescued? If mine is a life worth saving, then for what purpose? Life isn't one big thing. It's lots of little things. It's the things you do every day. It's the things you do for others. Always do your best, no matter how small the thing is, and enjoy being alive. Hug your family. Help someone. Try karaoke.

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