1999 was going to be a wonderful year for our family. On January 1st my husband, mother and I moved into our new home. By June I was expected to give birth to our first child. That alone was an amazing feat. Getting pregnant was a year long process. So we entered the New Year with such excitement and anticipation for all of the new experiences on our foreseeable path.
By early spring, the pregnancy was in jeopardy. I wasn’t producing enough umbilical fluid so my baby was in distress. But, after a month of bed rest, I delivered a healthy baby girl, who the doctor called, “fully cooked” at 6lbs. 3 oz., even though she was a month early. And again, our family was overflowing with feelings of tremendous blessings……until I was unable to breastfeed my brand new bundle of joy.
Since I was an “old bird,” having my first baby at 35 years old, we assumed that my age was a factor in my inability to produce sufficient milk to feed my baby. The “La Leche” women almost convinced me that failure at this function would have resounding health implications for my daughter. I was devastated and felt as if my breasts were failing me and my daughter. The decision to forfeit my breastfeeding attempts and surrender to “formula” made me feel somewhat ashamed and inadequate.
The breastfeeding debacle resurfaced at my six week checkup. Instead of any drop of milk, I had a pale pink drop of fluid. My doctor was concerned about the pinkish discharge. A cytology screening followed with a benign result. A mammogram followed with another “normal” report. Thankfully my doctor insisted on further evaluation. She urged me to consult with a surgeon to have the breast duct removed due to a potential blockage.
As summer emerged, a series of unbelievable events began to unfold. First we found some lumps on our family cat’s belly. A trip to the vet revealed that our family cat had breast cancer. The vet herself had just completed her own breast cancer treatment. Then, my mother’s annual routine mammogram revealed breast cancer. I juggled an ongoing medical appointment schedule starting with the cat’s surgery and then my mother’s surgery and radiation treatments. Finally I carved out time to have my breast duct removal surgery. My surgeon assured me that the likelihood of there being anything to worry about (such as cancer) was minimal.
I remember my heart racing a bit when the doctor called with the biopsy results. What I will never forget is the overwhelming feeling of nausea as she said, “You have breast cancer.” My first thoughts were, “How could God bless me with this awesome little girl….just to rip me out of her life?” So I started collecting survivor stories. I needed to be able to visualize that someone with breast cancer could survive for a certain amount of time. As I heard of others who were still alive after surviving 5, 7, 10 years , etc. ….I would psychologically add those years to my daughter’s age to imagine that I could survive just as long…and see her grow up. I then discovered that the mother of a family friend had breast cancer 20 years prior and she was doing just fine. That was all I needed to get down to business and get on with living. I added my surgeries to the mommy “To do” list.
I remember one of my best friends expressing concern about my “business as usual” attitude as I progressed through my recovery. She asked me if I fully comprehended the seriousness of my diagnosis. For me, the reality was that, “I can’t have cancer…I have diapers to change!” So, I needed to “fix” this asap. And that was how our whole family made it through the year that I, my mom, and the cat all had breast cancer. My mother and I were blessed with continued breast health. Our cat, Twiggy was with us for about a year after her surgery. And my daughter is now my beautiful survival marker. Her birthdays are also my survival year benchmarks.
Cancer has a way of shocking your system and forever altering your priorities. You have a profound new sense of what in life is really important. You have greater appreciation for all of your blessings. And you are passionately grateful for everyone who helped you to become a cancer survivor. It is at this stage that you celebrate your blessings by finding, what I call “The Give Back.”
I believe that cancer survivors are nourished by finding some way to help others, as they were helped. Some survivors walk to raise funds, some volunteer, and some write books to help others navigate through their cancer journey. For me, it was important to know about other survivors. So that became my “give back.” I created Cancer Free Radio so that at any time of the day or night, anyone who needed to be inspired, comforted or encouraged, could listen to someone who has been in “their shoes” and made it through. I imagine a young mother, just like I was, who needs to imagine she will live long enough to see her children grow. I remember when I needed to “collect” survivor stories. For me, Cancer Free Radio is a big collection of survivor stories that I hope is found by anyone who needs help in imagining that they can and will make it through this journey.
Cancer Free Radio provides 24/7 support for cancer survivors.