I was 37 years old when I found a lump in my breast during a self-exam. I wasn’t someone who checked regularly, so it had been about three months since my last self-exam. I went through the usual process of having the OB-GYN check it out, then the surgeon. I ended up with a lumpectomy, a lymphectomy (many positive nodes), eight rounds of chemotherapy, and twelve weeks of radiation. The whole treatment lasted from March 2010 – January 2011. After treatment I was put on Tamoxifen because my tumor was hormone sensitive. Tamoxifen did not agree with me. After eight months of constant ovarian cysts and bleeding, the doctors determined that it was time for a full hysterectomy. It was March 2012. I had complications with the surgery and had to have a second surgery to stop internal bleeding. After my recovery I was switched from to Tamoxifen to Arimidex. While I still have side effects, I am finally on the right track.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I had been separated from my then- husband for about one year. My youngest son was 4 , my daughter 6, and my oldest son, 8. I do not have family close by. At the time of my diagnosis I had belonged to my book club for two years. I didn’t know the women well. What I knew is that I liked and admired all of them. I was the youngest in the group. That month I tearfully told the members what was happening. I found out then that two of the members were survivors and one member’s daughter in law was currently battling breast cancer. I felt such raw fear, but could feel the love and hope surrounding me. They said that they would take care of me, but I had no idea to what extent.
The secretary of the book club (who had created the list) accompanied me to my first chemo. I sat there terrified, so much so that I felt dizzy. She stroked my hand, looked in my eyes, and soothed me with her voice. Medication was administered and I didn’t die, didn’t go into shock or have an allergic reaction. She led me through the fear and out the other side.
The next 16 weeks are a blur to me. I remember bits of conversation, the look on someone’s face, the way their hand felt touching me. They shared stories with me about their lives and families. I can’t tell you which women sat with me, how long they stayed, or who drove me home. The specific memories may not be there, but the calmness that my book club friends brought to me remains. They were there, next to me. I was not alone.
Other people surprised me as well. The mother of my daughter’s best friend was not there for me. I thought she would be. My neighbor who I hardly knew, let my daughter, who had turned 7, “babysit” her two young girls. Another friend showed up during a snowstorm with a shovel, dug my car out so I could go to radiation, and then took my kids with her so that I could have a break. Even my ex, who was never good with me when I was sick, helped out. He took the kids the weekend after each chemo so that they never had to see me feeling really miserable.
My children showed such strength of character. They beamed with pride as they took out the garbage or helped with the laundry. They laughed at my bald head and said I should wear green makeup and dress up as an alien for Halloween. I have learned through this experience to let people help me. To ask for help before I find myself in a bind. I kept saying to myself, “You would do it for them without hesitation. Let them do it for you.”
Today, I am closer with my book club “moms” than ever. They stand by me no matter what I am going through, especially as my health drama turned into divorce drama. Because of this breast cancer support experience I have learned that I am important to so many people. This experience, having breast cancer, has given me that gift.