Five years ago, I went in for my annual mammogram as I had been doing for more than a decade. As usual, I thought nothing further about it until I received the telephone call from my doctor advising me that there was “something suspicious” on the x-ray and that I should come in immediately to discuss it because she needed to take a closer look at it. Fear gripped me immediately, as I started to imagine all the worse scenarios I could conjure up in my mind. I kept hearing her voice over and over in my saying, “You have breast cancer.” Still gripped by fear I went to the doctor’s office where she proceeded to explain her suspicions and to tell me that I needed to have a biopsy. Still in the throngs of fear we scheduled to have the procedure performed. Her suspicions were confirmed. I had breast cancer.
My treatment was a lumpectomy and 8 weeks of radiation therapy. I declined the oral chemotherapy, which I understood would have increased my success rate by an additional 10 percent. When I considered my general health and the side effects of the chemotherapy, I knew that I had made the right choice for me at the time. Which brings me to the most important things that I’ve learned as a breast cancer survivor: 1) I had to take responsibility and be involved in my treatment and care; and 2) I couldn’t go back to life and business as usual. I had changed. I felt as if I had faced the enemy called death and lived to tell about it. This may sound melodramatic and/or delusional but it has given me a different perspective on my life and what really matters.
It was impossible for me to go on with life as usual after facing and surviving the “Big C.” Although I felt vulnerable at times, I also felt emboldened to take on another giant that I had managed to avoid for more than 30 years: I was a high school dropout. I decided to go back to school, first for my GED and then for my Associate degree. I immediately registered in a school that would take me from GED to a degree in one fell swoop. I dove into schoolwork as a full time day student while undergoing radiation therapy. My guidance counselor was the only person I confided in at school. She knew that I left class every day and hurried to the hospital for radiation. To everyone else I was just another student trying to get through. I managed to get through my first semester with the honor of making the President’s List. Within less than one year I had completed the required study to earn my GED and within two years I had earned my Associate degree.
Those two years were the first of five years of woe during which time I faced all my greatest fears and giants. My health was on the decline. It seemed as if every time I went to the doctor there was something else wrong. Everything that should be low was high and what should be high was low. I felt wretched. I had no income, no money and then my mother died which totally devastated me. There I was, a breast cancer survivor and feeling bereft of love and life. I was diagnosed and treated for depression. The cancer was long gone from my body, but the fact that I was a cancer survivor was a constant source of subconscious encouragement and empowerment that kept me going even when I succumbed to depression as a means of temporary escape after an old injury flared up and incapacitated me for a time.
I switched to a school that offered an independent study program that allowed me to study at my own pace at home. I completed my four years college and obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management. In the meantime, writing school papers had reawakened the writer in me and I wrote a manuscript, which I then submitted to a publisher. It was accepted and published this year under the title “Dropped! A Condition – Not a Character Flaw. Last, but certainly not lease, I have just celebrated five years as a breast cancer survivor. My life has since taken a new direction. I feel as if I’ve been given a new lease on life. I am a college grad, a breast cancer survivor and an author on the way to a new life and a new beginning.