Oct 24, 2012 - 11:13 pm
Below is the speech that I gave tonight at my local cancer center. I felt each and everyone of you there with me. I did cry a little, but I made it through!
I apologize in advance for freely stealing thoughts and phrases from all of you. I hope you will forgive, but you were my inspiration. I love you all!
My Personal Journey
My journey with breast cancer began, as many of your journeys have begun: I found a lump, had a mammogram and then a biopsy.
After the results of the biopsy, I felt like a hurricane hit me. There was an explosion of terms thrown at me, followed by scans, tests, more tests, more scans, etc. Some of the words and phrases I still remember vividly: malignant, large, “spider-like” tumor, lumpectomy wouldn’t be cosmetic, 4 nodes, stage 3. Then a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy.
Finally, a nice, long remission and a chance to catch my breath and just live.
Unfortunately, my story doesn’t end there, because, after the remission, I was diagnosed with bone metastasis and I continue to fight breast cancer today.
OK, I know what you are thinking. Where the heck is the inspiration in that tale? Here is what you might find a bit unusual and, I hope, inspiring. I was initially diagnosed at the ripe old age of 33. As of February this year, it has been 25 years since my initial diagnosis.
I no longer think of myself as a breast cancer survivor; I think of myself as a breast cancer thriver. Although I have had a few periods of illness, I have mostly been very healthy and have continued to work for the past 25 years.
I would like to take a minute here to celebrate my canniversary with Cynthia Hingle, our cancer navigator here. Nurses such as Cynthia are the reason that I am here. 25 years ago, believe it or not, Cynthia administered my chemotherapy in New Orleans. When I was deathly ill after my first chemo, Cynthia counseled me and helped me find the right drug regimen so that I was able to get through my chemotherapy successfully. If you are wondering how two women who look so young could have been together 25 years ago, it is because we were babies then.
Besides thanking Cynthia, I would like to stop a minute and thank everyone at the Cancer Center. I mentioned having had treatment in New Orleans years ago. I remember having to travel back and forth every day across the lake, even when I was feeling awful. What a joy it is to now be able to have all of my treatments in this lovely facility with such a thoroughly professional staff.
When I had to have radiation after the recurrence, which was 3 ½ years ago, I was able to have it right here. My family, many of whom are medical, were worried that I wouldn’t have the same excellent radiation oncologists that I had experienced years ago at Baptist Hospital in New Orleans. I had to laugh and tell them not to worry because they were all over here now.
I would also like to share my personal take on why I have thrived and not just survived. First, of course there is some luck involved with having a responsive tumor and the right therapy that came along at the right time.
But second, equally, if not more important, I have been very, very compliant. I know, I know, I know what you are all going through. I know the side effects that you are suffering. I have been there: the nausea, the vomiting, the low blood counts, the baldness, the weight gain, the aches, the pains. But my mantra has always been that the very worst side effect is cancer. As a wise survivor once said, "I do what I have to do so I can do what I want to do."
Hope has been a word that I never understood well until I fought hard for it 25 years ago. Never underestimate its importance. A change in treatment, a new drug, a new procedure: something may happen at any time to improve your prognosis. I am living proof of this.
Finally, one last thought and I will end. Please, please, please when you are feeling better, don’t forget to pay it forward. Find a way to help someone else with cancer. It can be as simple as giving hope to someone suffering or just giving some practical help with someone who wants to know about a swimming prosthesis. Some of you will lead ACS or Komen walks in the future, some will volunteer here and some, I hope, will make warm fuzzy blankets when I retire from that task.
Please comply, comply, comply with your treatment and then come and see me to tell me how you are not surviving but thriving too!