"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

5 Years

This week marks five years since my breast cancer diagnosis.  I can still run through the exact events that happened the day of my diagnosis.  I can still see the doctor coming in the room, looking down at the ground because she could not look me in the eyes.  I can still remember the thoughts that ran through my mind when she told me.  I remember asking myself "have I lived a life I am proud of?" and "how are we going to tell Jayden (my 4 year old son)?"  I remember my husband hugging me as we both cried.  Everything changed in that moment.  Nothing would ever be the same.

Five years later so much has happened.  Sometimes I still can't believe that I went through all I did but in other moments I feel like I relive it every day.  It's still surreal.  I don't think about having breast cancer every minute of every day like I did at the beginning, but it is a very real part of me in all I do.  I have finally gotten to a place where I "own it".  I no longer feel the shame I felt when I first got diagnosed.  I don't care if people know I had breast cancer.  It's part of who I am now. 

Breast cancer has changed my life in so many ways.  I still feel like it's effects evolve me a little more and more as time goes on.  I feel different about life, people and things going on around me.  I have a greater spiritual sense and connection to God.  My empathy and understanding for others is stronger in my heart.  I want the simple life.  I don't waste time on trivial things or superficial people.  I want to live each day like it's my last and find the joy, happiness, peace and possibilities that each day brings.

No one is ever prepared to hear the words "I am sorry there are cancer cells".  You can't even believe it is really happening when they say it to you, but some good can come out of it.  It took time for me to realize that my life could be better because of breast cancer.  I have changed in so many ways since getting cancer.  I like to think I have changed in ways that make me a better person.  I feel so much more authentic than my old self.  Life has a different meaning now. 

As I look forward to another year, I embrace all that 2016 can bring - both good and bad.  I know that I will move forward with strength and hope for a great future filled with all the joy I can find and create in my life.  I am grateful for the changes I see in myself and knowing I am a better person because of breast cancer. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

It's Here Again - Pinktober....

It is officially October again which us breast cancer survivors refer to as "pinktober".  I was quickly reminded a few weeks ago when I was driving home that it was coming when I saw this truck on a road near my home.  Really?  I am not sure how pink ribbons on a dump truck are really helping with anything about breast cancer!  The pink keeps coming......
I know this whole month will be full of pink items.  Some of my personal favorites are the cement mixer truck I saw a few years ago, pink ribbons on eggs (yes, I opened eggs and found pink ribbons stamped on them!), bras (kind of rubbed me wrong since I had a bilateral mastectomy), scissors and the daily minder which was a daily calendar with pink ribbons on each day of the year so I can savor pinktober 365 days!  NOT!  Needless to say I have not purchased anything with a pink ribbon on it since I was diagnosed.

I fight the urge to pink because I just don't feel that awareness is doing anything to actually help fight breast cancer.  Awareness is such an ambiguous word.  I consider myself a fairly educated women.  A bachelor's degree and master's degree.  I have worked in the health field for years too.  When I was told I had breast cancer, I was in shock like it was some kind of anomaly.   How could I get breast cancer?  I have no family history or genetic mutation.  I was only 45.  I had a clear mammogram a few months before I found the lump myself.  How is this really possible???? 

After being diagnosed, I was shocked to learn that less than 15% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease and only 5-10% of those diagnosed have the gene mutation.  As educated and "aware" as I thought I was, I thought I was not at great risk because I had no family history.  I found it hard to believe that vast majority (85%) of women with breast cancer had no family history.  The other thing that really troubled me was that I thought I was OK because I had a clear mammogram.  No one ever mentioned that if you have dense breasts that doesn't mean anything.   So I realized that the 1 centimeter tumor was there when I had a mammogram a few months earlier and the mammogram didn't catch it at all.  This was so hard to digest.  The last thing hard to comprehend that there is NO CURE for breast cancer.  Yes, there are treatments, but there is no cure for this horrible disease.
After being diagnosed I felt like an idiot.  How could I be so "unaware"?   Am I the only one I wondered?  In talking to more and more breast cancer survivors over the past few years, I have learned that a majority of us were completely "unaware" before hearing the dreaded words "I am sorry.  You have breast cancer."  Most of us are younger - between ages 30-50 years old.  Most of us were healthy - eat right, non-smoker and regular exercisers.  The more I talked to other survivors the more dumbfounded I became. 

So another  year goes by and there is more pink stuff all over this month.  It's hard to see it everywhere and think that it is really doing anything other than making money for those that sell these pink decorated items.  Most of these companies selling this stuff only donate a very small portion of the money they generate to breast cancer.  They pocket the rest of the money and make a profit off of a deadly disease that kills over 40,000 women in the US every year.  Based on this, I am asking anyone reading this to THINK BEFORE YOU PINK this October.  If you really want to do something to help with breast cancer, donate to an organization that will help put money towards research to find a cure, not make money off of us survivors and their marketing campaigns to look like they care about us. 

Breast cancer survivors are people with lives and families.  We want to live and watch our kids grow up.  We want to grow old with our spouses.  We want to make a difference in the world and reach our goals.  We want the same things everyone else wants out of life, to be healthy and happy.  We need people to support research for finding a cure for breast cancer, not people buying pretty pink stuff.  So this month when you are out and see the pink extravaganza, stop and think.  Ask yourself where you want the money to go.  Think of the many faces of breast cancer survivors and those still in active treatment.  Help be part of finding a cure instead of the ineffective pink awareness campaigns.  Help us continue to live the lives we want to live.  I pray every single day for a cure for this horrific disease.  I fear there won't be a cure in my lifetime and I will miss out on watching my son learn to drive a car, graduate from high school, go to college, get married and have a family of his own.  I use to be afraid of growing old, and now I am so afraid I won't live long enough to grow old because of breast cancer.  This is my reality and the reality of the other 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US.
Every year I post about the whole pink thing.  So I guess I am stepping off my soapbox now and putting it away until next October.  Make a real difference and THINK BEFORE YOU PINK! :)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Different Perspective

It has been six months since I have written anything.  Sorry for the long delay but the good news is that life does return to normal after breast cancer and I am just busy with everyday life stuff!  It's good to not be consumed with cancer talk and crazy thoughts all the time.  I won't say that cancer talk and crazy thoughts aren't there at all, but as time goes on, the amount of time spent on this stuff in my daily life gets smaller and smaller.  I know it will never go away completely, but I feel like I have come to a place and have accepted the "new normal" and it's OK.

Now when I talk of cancer, it is usually because someone else I know is going through it or going through another type of tragedy in their life.  I notice that the things I learned by going through breast cancer have offered me incredible insight, understanding and compassion for others no matter what type of tragedy or bad thing in their life they are experiencing.  I feel I can speak from a place of understanding that I never knew before breast cancer.  There is a sincere empathy and place in my heart that reaches out to someone as if I can actually feel their fear and pain.  I just feel a different connection to those around me when they are in a time of need and for that, I am thankful.

Before breast cancer, I always thought of myself as being empathetic, caring and the type of person to help someone in need.  I guess I did the best I could, but now I realize that it my ability to feel these things and act on them is at a whole new level.  Instead of saying nothing to someone because I don't know what to say or saying something like "it will all be OK", I find different words that are more comforting.  I can say "I know you don't know what the future holds and I won't tell you it will all be OK but I will tell you I am praying for you and here for you to talk or help".  I can not just slough off the pain, fear and sadness they are feeling and move on with my day..it really touches me and I have this deep sense of empathy that breast cancer taught me. 

As I go through day to day life, I am continually touched by family and friends that are in a bad place. One good friend lost her husband 6 months ago and she is left with two small children.  I watch her struggle and "feel" her sadness and uncertainty about the future.  I hate when people on Facebook post "you are so strong" to her....she's not strong, she's scared and worried.  She is doing all she can to just keep it together just as anyone would in her situation. I never say "you are strong".  I tell her she is everything to her kids and her best will be enough for them.  They will feel her love and it will be more than the love of two parents that are here.  I remind her nothing is perfect but I grew up with only one parent and while I always missed my father growing up, I see what an incredible job my mom did of raising three kids and am so amazed now that I am a parent of what she accomplished by herself. 

Life is hard and I guess that going through breast cancer has taught me so many things that I do think about every day.  I have learned that life is short and before something tragic happens in your life, you take things for granted.  I have learned that the little things people stress out over are not worth it.  They hold no place in "the big picture".  I have learned to "let it go" when people are unkind or bitter about petty things.  I also have learned to pray for them in hopes that they will "figure it all out" without a horrific tragic event in their life to put it all in perspective.  I know I move forward in a place of greater empathy, kindness and concern for others.  I have learned to try to see the good in the world and people.  I have learned to reach out to others in a time of need instead of staying away because I don't know what to do or say.   I am not perfect....never will be, but I have grown in so many ways since my breast cancer experience.  Those of us that have breast cancer always say "breast cancer is the gift that just keeps on giving".  I guess it does just keep on giving, but in so many ways and not all of them are bad.   Some are powerful in a good way.  :)