Don’t Give Up
I remember the hot summer day I went in for my annual mammogram. I was touched by a young woman I saw in the waiting room, huddled under a blanket, shaking in fear of her upcoming test. I said to myself, a little cocky, “Thank God I’m not scared like her because I’m not worried about this. No one in my family has ever had cancer so I’ll be fine.” Twenty minutes later, I was ushered from the mammogram room to the nurse’s office to talk about next steps because they saw something unusual during my test. So much for being cocky! I was surprised to be diagnosed with breast cancer since we have no family history but I quickly learned that other things could trigger it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that this was the first day of a lifelong journey.
Of course, surgery was the next step. My surgeon was a wise man. He told me to bring family and friends to my second appointment with him because he wanted to answer all their questions before operating, not afterwards. This helped me form the habit of inviting someone along to every appointment and treatment. That way I never felt alone, which was important to keep my spirits up. Throughout this process, I learned that positive thoughts are essential to healing. For that important appointment before surgery, I invited my two children and a friend who is a retired nurse and knew all the right questions to ask. My children are both adults and have their distinct personalities. My son had no experience expressing his concern for my health and chose humor as his tool. One memorable conversation began, “So are you gonna die on me, Ma?” My daughter, on the other hand, is a doctor, trained to always maintain a clinical distance. She focused her questions on my treatment plan, not expressing her worries or fears for my health until months later.
The surgery went smoothly, soon followed by chemotherapy. I cleared my usually-packed calendar and waited to feel nauseous or something. It never happened. Some days I was tired and left work early to take a nap. After sitting home nights and weekends for the first month, I decided to resume my normal after-work activities. I squeezed in a nap when necessary but most days I felt fine. I was surprised and the oncologist was pleased. She attributed my energy to my strong faith and positive attitude. I also think those sweet friends who accompanied me to those four- or five-hour long chemo treatments were key. I chose them carefully for the positive thoughts they exude—and their ability to keep a conversation going that long!
After my final chemo treatment, I took a weekend trip to visit friends in St. Louis. This was a big mistake! Not allowing my body time to recuperate after that last blow caused me to develop swelling in my legs. This made it hard for me to walk, and I got very depressed. My coworkers were worried and decided to throw a surprise party for me. I noticed the preparations but I assumed the lavish party was for someone who was leaving the organization. You could have knocked me over with a feather when they said it was all for me! I was so moved by their kindness and encouragement. It took several weeks of intensive treatment to get the swelling down and, to this day, I need to be careful.
Radiation was the third step in the process. Radiation treatment took a few minutes a day, five days a week for a month. Doctor K. was as warm and kind as my surgeon and oncologist. And she was a great listener. I pushed her to finish treatment before my new grandchild was born. That way I would be able to go to Florida to visit my daughter and the new baby as soon as they got out of the hospital.
My last radiation treatment was on a cool spring morning. Doctor K. brought tears to my eyes when she congratulated me on my graduation and pinned a navy and white polka dot ribbon on my denim jacket. She reminded me to return for my next mammogram in six months. I still wear that polka dot ribbon on my jacket as a reminder of this long journey. I am grateful for my family and all the beautiful people who made breast cancer a positive experience of growth and encouraged me to never give up!
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