As most everyone knows, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, as well as 6 years ago, breast cancer has become all too personal for me and my family. My mom was diagnosed 6 years ago with breast cancer in her left breast. Luckily it was caught very early and she made it through with a lumpectomy and radiation. At that point, we crossed our fingers and hoped it was done with her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. This past January it reared its ugly head again. This time it was Stage II in the right breast.
After having had countless mammograms over the past 6 years and several scares along the way, my mom had decided that if the cancer ever returned, she would opt for a double mastectomy. Her surgeon completely agreed. She underwent surgery at the end of January. Unfortunately, the left side did not heal well due to her previous radiation. She ended up with a large hematoma and had to undergo a second surgery to clean the surgery site. After this grueling process, she had chemotherapy to look forward to.
With the cancer being Stage II and outside the milk duct, mom had to undergo 6 chemo treatments. Due to her weakened immune system, she ended up catching a horrible stomach virus right after her first treatment. This almost put her back in the hospital, but she recovered just in time to get her second treatment. Numbers 2, 3 & 4 went fairly well, but she started having allergic reactions at the injection sites. Number 5 resulted in a blown out vein, but they were able to complete the treatment. Number 6 really took it out of her, but she made it through. She lost her hair – She felt like crap – She struggled everyday.
So is this the reality of breast cancer? NO, not even close! That was just a checklist of what happened. A run down of the cold, hard facts of the case. It doesn’t even begin to touch the emotional side of what cancer does to a person or family. I don’t think there are enough harsh, horrible and gut-wrenching words for what cancer feels like. Does “Getting the wind knocked out of you” or “Getting the rug pulled out from under you” even approach what it feels like? Not hardly. Cancer is an utter shock and shut down of your system. You are completely bereft, floating in the middle of an ocean of hurt, fear and anger. You are so scared it is impossible to even know how you feel. One minute you’re numb and the next you’re ready to slam someone against a wall. Of course even if you really decided to slam someone against a wall, the poison you’ve had pumped into your veins in the name of healing has made you so weak you couldn’t. It was 7 straight months of praying in between each crisis. It was bad news on top of more bad news until all of a sudden it was over.
My mom handled it much better than I think I would’ve. When she first battled cancer 6 years ago, she tried to put on a brave face and not show anyone how bad it really was. This time around she decided to just feel how she felt from day-to-day and minute-to-minute. It was raw emotion and it was ugly sometimes. She often wondered if she would make it through the process. I am glad to report she did. She is currently cancer free as far as the doctors can tell. She had her last chemo treatment is July and her strength is improving, her stamina is up and her hair is growing back. Of course none of these are happening fast enough to suit her.
I always knew my mom was a fighter. I know it even more now. As she walked this road, she would usually fall apart with every piece of bad news, but after a day or two, she would get her head wrapped around it and would dig in her heels for the fight. I have always loved my mom, but I can say it now with much more awe and admiration.
So what have I learned through this whole process? I don’t know exactly. I’m still picking up bits of truth and wisdom, but I can impart these jewels…Love your loved ones now, don’t wait until later because there might not be a later, enjoy every second of the life you’ve been given, stop and smell the roses more often than not and GET A FREAKIN’ MAMMOGRAM.
Ladies, if you have been putting off a mammogram because it’s not a comfortable process or you don’t have insurance, or this, or that…STOP MAKING EXCUSES! Get it done! Mammograms might not be 100% accurate, but they are a hell of a lot more reliable than nothing!
I’ll leave you a saying that has come from all this…
When life gets tough, put on your boobs and get on with it.