Warning: Graphic head images in this blogpost!
As we enter into a new stage of life we sometimes tend, or at least I do, to reflect upon the past, its accomplishments, the challenges that have formed us, and the future. In light of recently turning 60, I have been thinking about the fact that I am truly a blessed woman to be alive. It could've turned out so differently. Some of you have heard the story of my battle with breast cancer but, for those who have not, I would like to share it with you.
For all of you who have missed a mammogram, may I plead with you? Please don't do it again! I had only missed one and I didn't think that one little ol' mammogram would make that much difference, but I have learned the hard way that it certainly can. The summer of 2006 I felt what I thought was a lump in my right breast. No biggie. Lots of women have what is considered lumpy or dense breast tissue, so I wasn't alarmed. But to the insistence of my girlfriends (one of whom had been going through breast cancer herself) and much to my aggravation, I went for the mammogram I should've had the summer before. Of course, they immediately sent me for an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy. You know the scoop; it's all standard procedure. Many women have been through this very agenda only to find the lump is benign, but we live in a day where early treatment is crucial to surviving any kind of cancer and we are very blessed indeed to have this protocol. The testing found a 3cm cancerous tumor in my right breast with one almost as large in one of my lymph nodes. In just that short length of time, it had spread! Of course, many other tests followed and, much to my relief, it was found it had not spread any further than the lymph node and a regimen of care was planned by my very capable oncologists. Because of my faith and because I tend to be a positive person and also because my doctors were very encouraging in their prognosis for me, I had a tremendous peace. But I had no idea what the next year would hold or that it would soon become some of the hardest, darkest days of my life.
Because my tumors were of significant size, my doctor opted for chemo first to try to shrink them, planning for surgery shortly after the chemo was complete. He ordered six rounds of TAC therapy, at the time the most aggressive formula available for breast cancer. As the effects of the chemo began to take their toll on me, I will admit to you that it is very difficult to describe how it affected my body. I can only say this: I would not wish chemotherapy on my worst enemy. It positively drained me of every last ounce of energy I had, leaving me feeling very vulnerable and in many ways less than human. This story cannot be told without including the huge part my husband played in my care. He stood by me every step of the way, preparing any and every kind of food I thought I might be able to eat, and even taking me for long drives at 2:00 a.m. when sleep eluded me. He ferried me to chemo treatments and doctor's appointments. He was my knight in shining armor. He was the greatest example of what the vow in sickness and in health means. When my hair started to fall out, he even offered to shave my head. But here's the thing. He got one row of hair shaved when the electric razor died, leaving me with what I call a "reverse mohawk" and I had to wait till the razor recharged to finish the haircut I never would've chosen in a million years. We laughed and laughed about this mishap but I've technically never forgiven him for that one!
One of my saddest moments during treatment was missing my annual girls' trip to Blue Ridge that I have been taking every fall since I can't remember when. The weather was absolutely beautiful and, as I lay in my bed, I had quite the pity party that weekend. I was weak as a kitten with the windows thrown open staring at the gold and ruby trees outside my window and feeling the cool October breeze as it blew in, but feeling more sorrow for myself than anything. My gals reluctantly told me later that it was the prettiest fall they had ever seen in the history of our trips, and we haven't had one that beautiful since! But to include me, they stopped by on their way home from the 'Ridge, brought me treats and all climbed onto the bed with me. We had a good visit with lots of laughs as the cool breeze blew in a peace that was unforgettable. Christmas that year was the saddest one I can remember ever in my life. I was incapacitated as to much planning for the holidays and my poor hubby did the best he could, but I am a total Christmas freak and not being able to plan for the holidays left me quite depressed. I'll never forget the day after Christmas I was so distraught and irritable that I ran my entire family out of the house and sat in my chair alone with my cat all day. It was not a pretty sight. As days droned into weeks, the regimen of chemo continued to affect me physically and emotionally. I was nauseated, extremely weak, and very depressed. After I completed the fourth round, I took my health into my own hands and chose to forego the last two treatments. I will never know if I did the right thing, but I know I did the right thing for me. I made the decision to finish my chemo with the four rounds instead of six because I felt as though my overall health was declining and to continue was something I simply could not do. Within weeks of finishing my chemo, I was scheduled to have surgery. After much thought and prayer, I decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. This was one of the hardest decisions of my life. To decide to willingly have a part of your body removed, the part that had nourished all my babies and had been an intimate part of my womanhood for forty years was a hard choice to say the least. I was scheduled for surgery the early part of February 2007. In the same procedure I would begin reconstructive surgery, with plans to complete it within the next six months.
The breast surgery was everything I dreamed it would be, and worse! I think one of the ickiest things about having this kind of surgery was the nasty little drains they sent me home with. There were four little suction drains coming out of small open incisions and they drained fluid from my body. It was totally disgusting but, once again, my sweet hubby stepped up and helped with this unbelievably raunchy job. When you get married, you never think about having to empty drainage of yucky who-knows-what from your wife's body. Now you know why I love this man so much! I called these little drains my "possums" because they reminded me of baby opossums who attach to their mother's nipples and hang on for the ride. It's true, look it up! When I did have to go out for my doctor's appointments, I plopped them into a fanny pack and they went with me. I brought the fanny pack back into style that year (ha!)! I was in a good deal of pain when I got home so, when I found a position of comfort, I would sometimes stay there for hours. Soon enough, I learned that was not a very smart thing to do....I ended up back in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism, something in and of itself that could've taken me right out of this world, but God in his great mercy had other plans. After a week in the hospital and an allergic reaction to the blood thinner Coumadin, I finally came home for good (but with daily blood-thinning injections) and finally began the healing process. It was slow, but I started feeling well enough to help Hollie complete her plans for the wedding, and by her wedding day in April I was almost (and I used that word very loosely) feeling normal again. Lesson learned here: NEVER, EVER sit still after surgery...move that body one way or another!
Why do I share this with you? Because I know that far and wide there are women who have been through the same thing and you will find camaraderie in my story. Those who have been through breast cancer or any cancer for that matter enter into a family of sorts, not one in which you want membership but you have it nonetheless. Also, I choose to share my story because there are those of you out there who have just been or will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and I want to encourage you. You CAN do this. It will not be easy. Some days you will want to give up, but you simply cannot give up. Others need you; others are counting on you; others love you deeply and would be devastated without you. It will be one of the hardest things you have ever endured but, if I can do it, so can you. I guess more than anything, however, I am just extremely thankful to have been given a second chance. Because of great healthcare and wonderful doctors in a country where we can receive treatment no matter who we are or how much money we have, but mostly because of the sheer and utter grace of God, I have lived to tell this story. And for that, I will be eternally grateful. I was there for my daughter's wedding and the birth of two more grandchildren, and I look forward to many more wonderful life experiences. May I never, ever forget where I was, all those who helped me through the hardest time of my life (and they are too many to count), and the hope that having another chance at life brings.
Life, I would say, is good. It's very, very good.
(Editor's Note: It was during my breast cancer experience that I discovered my love for blogging. I would write down my thoughts, good and bad, and email updates to family and close friends. Oh, and BTW, I promise not to mention turning 60 anymore!)
Posted by CC
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