Ten years ago, at this very moment, my life was forever changed. Changed by a little lump. It wasn’t more than the size of a pebble. I remember the moment I found it. As I was adjusting my bra (I had been feeding my four month old baby), my fingers grazed over it. My stomach lurched. For most breastfeeding moms, the first thought would have most likely been a clogged milk duct. I, however, had a reason to be concerned. My mother had breast cancer when I was in college.

Al was outside, working on putting up a new fence with his brother and a friend. The next day was Father’s day. I debated saying anything to him. Until they were finished and Al came inside and showered, I had felt it at least a hundred more times. Trying not to get frantic, I gave Michael, who was only three at the time, a bath and put him to bed. The baby was down for the night. When Al got out of the shower, I showed him. Made him feel it. I could see in his face that look that I would come to know so well. Desperate to make me feel comforted, he would smile and tell me he thought it was fine. But, the smile was tight. It did not reach his eyes. I could tell he was scared. And, so was I.

Of course, it was a Saturday so, I could do nothing until Monday morning. I did my best to keep a positive attitude the next day. I spent Father’s Day at my mother’s with my grandfather, my father and Al.  I let my mother and my sisters feel the lump and said reassuring things that I didn’t really believe. Things like “I’m sure it’s nothing.” “It’s probably a clogged milk duct”. “It feels like it moves around so, I bet it’s a cyst.” The truth is, that day seemed to move at a snail’s pace. All I could think about was calling my doctor in the morning and all I could do was pray that he would tell me that it was, indeed, nothing to worry about. That it WAS one of those benign things that I tried to convince everyone else it was. Honestly, though, I never had a good feeling about it. Not when I found the lump. Not the next day when I tried to put on a happy face for Father’s Day and not Monday morning when I called the doctor and made the appointment to come in later that day.

When I went to the appointment, I tried and summon up some hope. I smiled and chatted and talked about how the kids were doing. I thought to myself that it was doubly sad to have to be here for something like this when I had just been here four months earlier for my last check up before Jack was born.

After examining me,  I was told that although it was most likely a cyst, I should follow up with a sonogram.  My heart sank. This was not the “It’s nothing – just a clogged milk duct” kind of response I was hoping for.

The rest is history. In a flurry of doctor visits, tests, anesthesia, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and medication, I went through the BIG C experience.

I recently found an old item I submitted for the Young Survivor’s Coalition and it made me so sad. I was so naïve. In denial, really.  Here is an excerpt.

So, here I am – my surgeries have healed beautifully. I have already finished with the A/C chemo with no real side effects to speak of except the loss of my hair, which will grow back. I’ve made it through 2 of the 4 taxotere chemos. Then, six weeks of radiation (ten minutes a day – Monday through Friday) and then the good old Tamoxifen and Lupron.

I’m winning!!! All diagnostic tests are showing that the cancer has not spread anywhere else – I feel good that I am doing all of this treatment to prevent it from ever getting me again!!!!

My children are fine, my husband is doing really well, and honestly, I feel great!!! Oh, sure, I have my moments but, all in all, I feel like I will beat this thing and I never before looked at life as openly and felt it as beautifully, as I feel it now!!

Docs even tell me that studies are saying great things about getting pregnant after breast cancer so, hopefully when this treatment is over, I can even go down that road (you know the old story – 2 boys- I have to try one more time for the girl!!!)

This excerpt brings back all of the memories of trying so hard to stay positive. It was devastating for me to lose my hair. The taxoteres were extremely difficult for me and caused me a lot of pain. The radiation was exhausting and caused burns on my chest and neck. The “good old” tamoxafin caused me to gain fifteen pounds in three months and the lupron put me into immediate menopause. As far as the pregnancy thing goes, that was probably the hardest. I had planned on having three children and so, to be told by my doctor that it would be dangerous for me, when we finally did talk, was especially hard.

And, at this time, I had not even had the reconstructive surgery that almost killed me, or any of the twelve or so surgeries (I’ve lost count) that were required to heal me from that disaster.

So, as this day approached, I thought that it would be a day that was celebratory. The painful truth is, though, that like anything else having to do with this disease, what you expect is not always what you get.

Instead of feeling that way, I am feeling uneasy, sad, and melancholy. And, that makes me feel guilty. That makes me feel ungrateful. I know that the further away I am from the initial diagnosis, the less the chances are that I will have a recurrence. I know that everything I wished for with regard to being here to see the kids hit their milestones has come true. I know that I could be dead, let’s face it, and I am still here.

I also know that my entire thirties was spent dealing with disease, and surgeries, and loss. I know that I will never, ever, no matter how far from the diagnosis I am, feel completely at ease again. I will never lie down at night completely at peace. There will always be a small part of me that worries that there is something going on in my body that I am unaware of. That could take me out. That could take a mother away from my kids, a wife away from my husband, a sister away from her sisters, a daughter away from her parents.

My physical pain is also a daily reminder of what I have gone through. No matter how I try, I always mourn a little for the physical parts of me that were lost, or changed, forever.

And so, here I sit on the very day ten years ago that my life was changed. And, while it is true that I have not been feeling celebratory, as I expected, I am glad I made this entry.

I did it because I thought it was serve the very purpose that it is serving. By sharing this all with you, I am starting to feel lighter. And, I am remembering some very important things.

I also grew a successful business in my thirties. I am partially responsible for employing twenty or so employees, supplying them with health benefits and a nice place to go and make a living every day.

I watched my children go from babies to little people in my thirties. Wonderful people who surprise and delight me every single day.  At least, when they are not driving me crazy. I don’t take them for granted.

I have gone on vacations, thrown parties, opened my house to family and friends. I have an awesome Mustang and a beautiful new pool. I believe in spending the money I earn and in not putting off experiences because it’s “not the right time”.

I have been there for other people going through cancer and have tried to counsel them the best I could. I have tried to give them hope and support and just be a shoulder to cry on. I did this despite it bringing up painful memories for me. I did it with my full heart.

I am tougher than I ever knew I was and my heart is bigger than I ever knew it was.

I have laughed more than I have cried, I have gained more than I have lost. I have loved more than I have hated and I have appreciated more than I have resented. I have learned that life is hard but, I have continued in my belief that it is worth it.

And so, my friends, I am now feeling a little more like celebrating. Who knows? Maybe in ten years from now I will read this and think that I was naïve and in denial But, bottom line is, I truly believe that my ability to turn my negative thoughts into positive ones is what got me this far – along with the love of my family and friends (a big thank you to you all) and a huge dose of faith.

I am wishing myself a Happy Survivor Birthday. Ten Years. I bet you know what my Birthday wish is!

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