I am currently five years out from my breast cancer treatment. I was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer in December 1998. January of 1999 I began my treatment, which included mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. September of 1999 was a wonderful time when I started taking tamoxifen and “went on with my life” after treatment.
My husband was a great source of strength to me during my ordeal. I think we didn’t know how strong we both could be until we were tested. When I was weak, he was strong and vice versa. I don’t recall a time when we were both falling apart at the same time – thankfully! Today, now that life has returned to normal, there is an underlying quiet gratitude between us for the fact that I am healthy and happy and that the quality of our life is once again so good. We have much to be grateful for.
My children (3 boys) were 17, 15 and 11 years old when I was diagnosed. To say the least they were scared to death. They were very quiet and internalized their worry that their mother was going to die. I remember sitting on the bed with my family one night telling them that I was not going anywhere! As they watched me go through the treatment the fear eased up and they realized that this cancer was something we were all going to have to live with. Interestingly, we don’t talk much about it any more. For them the ordeal is over and I don’t think they worry much.
I have been a stay-at-home mom since having children. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, I was even more grateful for the time that I had spent with my family. I was always involved in their school activities, volunteered for all kinds of jobs that moms do that you could not pay me to do otherwise! I remember thinking how grateful that I had these experiences just in case I didn’t have many opportunities with them in the future.
My friends and family rallied around me and offered their support. My family was in this for the long haul. I received cards and flowers from people I had no idea cared so much. My old dear friends became even dearer to me. I have made many new friends with women who are also breast cancer survivors and we share a greater appreciation for life. Having been through breast cancer brings blessings in addition to the trials. One blessing is a greater appreciation for the simplest things in life, such as a walk at the beach or walking through snow with the sun on my back. It doesn’t take much these days for me to be happy and content. I’m grateful to be at a place in my life where I truly know what is important and worthwhile to me and the peace that this brings me.
I am grateful also for Dr Link and his expertise. I came to Dr Link for a second opinion on which chemotherapy protocol would be best for me. I previously had the mastectomy and had been through a barrage of doctor appointments and second opinions. I was emotionally drained! Dr Link put everything into perspective for me and I knew he would offer me the best care. From that time forward I began to feel more at ease and the fear began to subside somewhat. I would not change anything about my treatment at all. I think the process of going through the different doctor’s opinions helped me to make a sound decision and recognize where I would receive the best care. I remember being at peace with my decision.
I have always been a religious person, but with the diagnosis of breast cancer this became critical in my ability to handle this challenge. I do not know how people get through tough times without having faith in God. I did my part to ensure that I had the best medical treatment and that I followed doctor’s orders, but from there I had the faith that if I was supposed to get through this and remain healthy, I would. Each day I thank God for my health and the blessings that I receive and take it one day at a time.
Now when I think back during my early diagnosis and treatment when it was so hard the emotions come back to me, but I realized we are all going to have bumps down the road of life and that this was just one of mine. This experience has made me a stronger, better woman. I probably have more compassion and empathy for people going through tough times, but at the same time I have less tolerance for people who are negative and complain about insignificant things. Life is too precious to waste our time and energy on things that don’t really matter.
The worst part of the entire breast cancer ordeal for me was the fear of the unknown. I relate being diagnosed with breast cancer to being thrown into a dark, deep hole and you have to find your way out. You dig and dig and little by little you begin to see the light, but it takes a long time. So my advice to anyone having to face this disease is to put your combat boots on and trudge through it all, because you can do it!
Life can be good again and this breast cancer experience will be behind you someday, and you never know, your life could be enriched because of this experience.
Posted: June 2004
Update – July 2005
I am writing this update in July 2005, six years out from my breast cancer treatment. I have had time to reflect over the past few years and have come to some conclusions regarding my breast cancer journey.
I remember thinking through treatment that I was strong and had family and friends who were a tremendous support to me for which I am very grateful. I didn’t want or need to be part of a support group and attend meetings. However, I wish I had taken advantage of other women who had gone through breast cancer treatment. Only a woman who has traveled down this road first hand can relate and understand the fears and apprehension that you go through. I am a mentor through the Breast Friends program and am referred to newly diagnosed women to help talk her through her journey. Sometimes it’s one phone call and other times it’s a long term relationship. I can hear a little relief in a woman’s voice when she learns I am five or six years out of treatment and doing well.
My breast cancer diagnosis was lobular breast carcinoma, estrogen receptor positive, with five positive lymph nodes. As far as a breast cancer diagnosis goes, this was not the best one to receive, but it certainly could have been worse. I remember hoping before I got the pathology report back that I would not have any lymph node involvement. So this became my worst fear that the breast cancer had spread to other parts of my body, however, to date this has not been the case. The mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy has all worked so far, and I fully intend to remain healthy. I took tamoxifen for five years and have been on Femara for almost one year. I also believe if God wants me to be here I will be. I believe that we all have a purpose in life and I know what mine is. Not many people look forward to getting older. Two years ago I turned 50 and I was actually looking forward to it. I am grateful for each year that I have and look forward to each coming year. If I exercise, try to eat right and maintain my weight in the normal range, I find I don’t mind the growing older part of life now so much.
I remember being very fatigued after treatment, having some pretty intense hot flashes and my legs ached a lot of the time. Exercise helps the fatigue, but it takes a while. You become physically tired from the exercise, but not the constant fatigue you have been carrying around. The hot flashes slowly diminished and I let my body adjust naturally to the changes it was going through. I think the leg aches were due to the tamoxifen because after about two years I didn’t notice it any more. I walk outdoors a lot and do some weight work at the gym, and I probably am stronger and my endurance is better now than it has been since treatment.
There have been several times when I would get a pain or ache and worry that my breast cancer had returned. But, I would always remember what I was told, that if the pain continued day and night and didn’t go away then it was something to be concerned about. Each time I would start keeping track and then one day I just forgot about it and it wasn’t an issue any more. This is a difficult thing to become comfortable with and I am always on guard, but it has become less of an issue through the years.
I have check ups at Breastlink every six months. This is quite a change from when I went through treatment. I was very dependent on Dr. Link and my oncology nurses, Susan and Marilynn. I had confidence in them that they would get me through the treatments and I looked forward to seeing Lisa and Kami’s smiling faces when I came into the office. I had treatments every two weeks, with hydration and bloodwork in between . I spent a lot of time in that office and then one day my oncology nurse said that’s it, you have just finished your last treatment and sent me off. I was happy and at the same time lost without them for a while. I slowly gained confidence that my life would return to somewhat normal after the ordeal.
Now when I return for checkups, the office staff changes from time to time, I still look for Lisa and Kami’s smiling faces, see Dr. Waisman for my surveillance checkups, but now I recognize and empathize with the women I see actively going through treatment. I encourage them that one day they too will be five or six years out of treatment.