Three words you never want to hear – You have cancer.
Three words my family members and friends have heard all too often. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I’d share my mom’s journey with breast cancer. Her first diagnosis was 26 years ago. My mom didn’t have her first mammogram until the age of 58. Her doctors kept telling her she didn’t need to have a mammogram. My sisters and I (there are four of us) kept telling her that she needed to have a mammogram. It wasn’t the doctors’ lives that were on the line. It was her body and she needed to have a mammogram. My mom is of the generation that does whatever the doctor tells them to do (I realize it was the age factor but I’m stubborn and would not go for that). Eventually, we talked her into having a mammogram. Thank God she did. They found something on her film, called her back and scheduled a biopsy. She went in for the biopsy and the doctor said he would call her back with the results. He never called, but the nurse did – to schedule her for a modified radical mastectomy the following Monday, which was Christmas Eve! My mom said, “What?” The nurse said, “Oh, the doctor hasn’t called you to let you know the results yet?” “No.” Imagine my mom’s panic and ours.
The next few days of tests and doctor appointments for pre-surgery workup, etc. were a blur. Mom had her surgery and all things considered was actually very lucky. The cancer had not spread to any of the lymph nodes; therefore, she didn’t need to have radiation or chemotherapy except for tamoxifen. Still, the ever-lingering fear of the return of cancer stays with you for some time and depression sets in, but our family humor eventually came through. My sister and I went with mom to have her prosthesis fit; somehow my sister and mom ended up naming it “Bitsy.” We went with mom to some breast cancer survivor support groups and life continued. Each day/month was a little better. The fear started to subside little by little. The next year, four days after my son was born, my dad found out he had prostate cancer. A year after that, his cancer had metastasized to his bones. Oh, this disease; how I hate it.
Life went on, my mom’s fifth anniversary came and five years means you’re cured! Wow, what a blessing; a miracle. We knew my dad would never be cured because once cancer has metastasized to your bones it’s just a matter time depending on how fast the cancer decides it wants to eat away at your body. At that time, mom and dad were both doing well. At mom’s seven-year mark, she had her annual mammogram and her remaining breast showed something. Are you kidding me? Not again. Okay, same drill. Testing, biopsy, and the doctor came out of the biopsy and said, “Everything looks great. It doesn’t look like cancer. It’s just a cyst.” Thank God. We were ecstatic. Three days later, mom received a phone call from the doctor’s office saying that the biopsy showed cancer. A completely different type of cancer than the first time. We were in shock. Again? But the doctor told us it wasn’t. Why would he do that? It was like moving around in a haze. Was this really happening?
Okay, what’s the plan. She opted for another mastectomy; again, she was lucky there were no lymph nodes infected with cancer so she didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy except for Raloxifene (the new “tamoxifen”). We were all grateful and she is one of the most spiritual people I have ever met and her faith kept her going. My dad lost his battle with cancer a year later (2010). He’s been gone for 16 years now, but my mom, is a survivor! It’s been 26 years! She turned 84 this summer and she is a true miracle. She took her health into her own hands; thank goodness she didn’t wait for her doctors to tell her to have a mammogram or who knows what would have happened.
I took my mom to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure a few years ago and each survivor receives a hat and they put a pink ribbon on the hat for each year you are a survivor and at that time my mom’s hat had 22 ribbons. There were ladies who came up to her who were one or two years out from diagnosis and said to her, “Can we take a picture with you with your hat because you’re our inspiration. We hope we’ll be a survivor for that long too.” Does anyone have a Kleenex?
I started having mammograms when I was 32; I wasn’t going to wait until someone told me I could have a mammogram. I’ll be 56 next month and in the last four years I’ve had two scares and my heart falls to my stomach when the phone rings and the doctor’s office calls and says, “Your mammogram showed something and we need you to come in for more films…” I can only look at it this way… I have not control over it (I am a control freak so this is huge for me to “let go”), I know this disease runs in my family, I have my yearly mammograms, I do my monthly checks, and I have my yearly doctor visits so I am proactive about my health. If something shows up and is that horrible “C” word, I know I did everything to the best of my ability and it will hopefully be cured. I ask anyone reading this to do the same (man or woman). Early detection does matter.
Take care of you!
Until next time,