I have lost my mother, both my brothers and my sister to cancer. My mom and both my brothers were to Pancreatic Cancer and I lost my sister to Breast Cancer. So, far, I have lived longer than 2 of them at the age of 54. I lost my mom when I was 24 years old, and that was my first interaction with the devastation caused by cancer. She died within 4 weeks of being diagnosed. I wasn’t ready. I still needed her.
Then it was my turn. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47. I was also the youngest in my family at the time of diagnosis. My sister and I both had similar initial diagnoses, but very different outcomes. I tested negative for the BRCA gene, so although it may be genetic, it wasn’t through BRCA.
I decided when I was diagnosed that it was going to be different for our family this time. We had lost too much as a result of cancer. My son was just 9 years old and I had, only months before, adopted Skylar, who was 16. She had lost her father recently, which is why she came to be a part of our family. You can imagine that my diagnosis absolutely terrified her.
Telling the two of them was probably the hardest part of this journey.
The first thing I did was assured AJ and Skylar that I was going to be okay and that I was going to fight to be healthy. Out loud, I told Glenn, now my husband, that this would just be a blip on our radar. And, quietly, I chose to be my most powerful self in this fight. I chose to take control, where I could take control: in my treatment, in my personal health choices, and in my mindset – my thoughts.
I understood that I needed to change the legacy of devastation and loss to this family. And I needed, no, was required, to shift from the fear associated with that awful word, cancer, to a mindset of choice and power.
You see, when I told others of my diagnosis, there was immediate fear, tears, and unconscious words of “you’ll be okay”. Those words, “you’ll be okay” oftentimes, were intended to make them feel better. It was difficult not to buy-in to their fears. The fear for others was so great, that some even walked away from our relationship so they would not have to face the fears: fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing what to say, fear of not knowing what to do, fear of it happening to them.
And, yet I KNEW that I had a gift being given to me. The gift of learning, growth, and healing. The gift of choice. Once diagnosed, I chose to accept what was: the diagnosis of breast cancer. I understood that in acceptance of what is, we can make powerful choices. In resistance we have no power. So, once I understood the truth of my diagnosis, I knew that I had a say in this fight. I knew that I had a choice…choice in my medical team, choice in what I did with the information, choice in my thoughts, choice in my words, and choice in my actions and behaviors.
I started with research. I wanted to KNOW everything about my diagnosis, so there was less fear of the unknown. My disease became my knowing. Once I understood my diagnosis and treatment options, I was less fearful and much more empowered. I had robust conversations with my medical team, and as a team, WE decided on my treatment. WE decided on being aggressive. WE decided that it would end here.
And, I decided, to fight intentionally, from my power, and in a conscious mindset of positive energy and healing. I decided to give cancer NO power over me, my health or my outlook. I was blessed in my treatment and was able to continue to work through chemo. I had a supportive work environment and a loving family. So much gratitude.
I lost my hair, and, in the beginning wore wigs. Then, I realized those wigs were for everyone else – so that “everyone” would feel comfortable around me. Well, the wigs were uncomfortable for me. So, I switched to scarves at work…and, in my daily life, I walked around bald…with mascara on my 3 eyelashes and beautiful pink lipstick. I felt like I was on top of the world. Even my medical team was surprised by my lack of side effects from the chemo. I kept on fighting…mind, body, and soul.
It wasn’t an easy path. It’s not an easy path. I had multiple surgeries, chemo one day a week, scans, doctors, blood work, more surgeries . I kept living, kept moving forward. In that year of treatment, I finished my Master’s Degree, got married, and fought the good fight. I was blessed to have an army of friends and family supporting me on this journey. I lived consciously, daily, literally taking it all in.
So, here we are, 6 years later. Just had my annual checkup with my amazing doctor and team at UM Sylvester Cancer. It has been a true journey…and, yet, it does feel, when I look backwards, it has been a blip on my radar.
I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s over, but I’m powerful enough to believe that I am healthy, for today, for now. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, the fear is that it will come back. Ask anyone who is a survivor, or anyone still in the fight. The truth is that no one ever died from breast cancer that remained in the breast. Warriors die from metastatic disease, cancer that has spread. So, cancer returning is always the fear.
I remain in the power of choice. Choosing my lifestyle of less stress, choosing to respect myself and my passions, choosing to be healthy, and to live in my power. I can’t possibly know what lies ahead, but I know that I have choice in today.
The reason I continue the fight for earlier diagnosis, more research, and advanced treatments is because I’ve experience what research can do. My sister and I had similar initial diagnoses. I chose more aggressive treatment. And, I had a drug available to me, Herceptin, that was not available to her. It came out a year or two later, and has been very powerful in survival rates of Her2 positive cancers.
The reason I continue to fight for us to understand how much power we possess and the power in our choices is this: My sister lived in fear and really left her treatment up to everyone else. Although she put up a good front, she was scared. A cancer diagnosis is scary. She trusted. She didn’t ask questions, she did not speak up, and she did not get involved in her own treatment. After the breast cancer had spread to her bones, and the doctors were telling her it was just a cyst, I fought for her to get a second opinion, at a reputable facility. She was afraid of the truth (understandable) and did not seek answers until she was past the potential for treatment. Eventually it spread to her lungs. We lost her at 61 years young.
So…to change the legacy of cancer, we must continue the fight for treatment, for research, for cures, for ensuring treatment is accessible to all, regardless of their ability to pay for it. We must fight for awareness of ALL cancers, to ensure funding and research at the same level as breast cancer. We must do more to understand metastatic cancer and how cancers spread. We must continue the fight to change cancer’s legacy for all.
And, we must find our way to living with less fear, in choice, in knowledge, in understanding, so we can choose powerfully, and live intentionally, for today.
As for me, I will continue to live my life…in my power, on purpose, for today. And will continue to fight for those who are still fighting.