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Breast Cancer: She Did Not Let It Define Her

Updated on September 03, 2014

September 4th is her anniversary. It is not the anniversary of her marriage or the day she became a State Trooper. It is the anniversary of her death. This is her story of living with breast cancer.

She was 43 years old when the breast cancer showed up just a few weeks after having a normal mammogram. She found it in the shower, a tiny lump in the upper outer quadrant of her breast. It didn’t worry her much. She had just had a mammogram so it couldn't be anything. But it was something; something bad.

The day of the core biopsy would be no ordinary day. No one knows how scared she was because she kept her little secret until – she got the news. That tiny little lump was bad. Technically, they called it “infiltrating ductal carcinoma, poorly differentiated”. We called it – "the cancer". Her doctor said - “you have an aggressive tumor and might want to consider double mastectomy”. And that’s exactly what she did.

Who She Was

She never did anything the easy way, not her. They laughed when as a young woman she said she wanted to become a State Trooper. But she did it. When she asked to be assigned to the county where she lived, they laughed and said it would never happen. No woman had ever worked that county. But she did. When they told her she would never rise in the ranks, as a woman State Trooper, she proved them wrong and through hard work and careful study, she worked her way up to the rank of 1st Sergeant.

She served as a mentor to many other young women with aspirations of becoming a Trooper. She trained young officers, both men and women. They adored her because she was tough, but fair. She served on the Honor Guard and on the Crash Reconstruction Team. She got her Bachelor’s degree in business administration and graduated from the Criminal Justice Command College. It was never enough just to be a Trooper. She wanted to be the best. And just maybe, she was.

And so it was with the cancer. It wasn’t enough to just survive. She wanted her experience to help someone else. Nothing was going to stop her from making this challenge an opportunity to help others. Nothing!

The Cancer, The Treatment, The Journey

Both breasts were removed and a lot of lymph nodes too. The pathology report was shocking. The tumor was large and had spread to many of the lymph nodes. The final diagnosis – stage IIIc breast cancer. An MRI, bone scan, CAT scan, Liver Profile followed. And then, she waited. It was like waiting for an axe to fall, and it did. Those additional tests showed something in the liver. The cancer had spread to the liver. The diagnosis changed again - Stage IV breast cancer, with metastasis to the liver.

She was so brave. Round after round of chemo beat her down but she wouldn’t stay down. When the first few strands of her hair fell out, she shaved her head and never wore a wig. She was in charge, not the cancer. She scheduled the chemo on Friday and the radiation in the early morning so that she wouldn’t miss work. The pain in her legs and feet was worse than the nausea and hair loss. Some days it seemed almost unbearable but she pushed through it somehow. I’m sure none of us knew how bad it really was.

Not having breasts was never a consideration for her. She wanted reconstruction and she got it. Some of her medical team advised against it, but, they weren’t living with a flat chest. It was personal for her and she wanted breasts. She got them. She also got MRSA, the antibiotic resistant Staph infection that is easy to get and hard to get rid of. If there was a complication to be had, she had it. And then, the headaches started.

More scans revealed that the cancer had invaded the left frontal lobe of her brain. Stereotactic radio surgery was recommended. It wasn’t an option. It was do it or - die, she had to have it. There were risks but she stared them down and dared them to get in her way. They didn’t. Well maybe they did, but it took a while, about a year, I think. The headaches returned and the final option for the tumor growing in her brain was whole brain radiation. The risks were memory loss, blindness, loss of speech and balance. She had them all, except the blindness. Her vision was affected but she never lost it completely.

How She Lived

I won’t give the cancer any more attention here. I want you to know about the person who fought and lived with the cancer for the next five years. I promised her I would tell her story and somehow, I will. It was important to her that others facing the same challenge have something positive to hold on to. For those of us she left behind, that’s easier said than done sometimes; to find the positive in it all.

She was as brave as anyone I’ve ever known. She was honest about her situation and knew the cancer would win. We talked about dying and how it felt to know how you would die but not when. We talked about the importance of her maintaining control, deciding for herself what she would endure. That was important to her as such an independent woman who had charted her own course through life. It was important to her to make it to her 25th anniversary with the State Troopers. She wanted to retire properly, not be put out to pasture on disability. She made it.

On January 1, 2011, she retired. On her 25th anniversary, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Mid-Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement. The award is given to women who have served a minimum of fifteen years in law enforcement and distinguished themselves through outstanding accomplishments and contributions spanning their career. What a fitting description of this woman who in all areas of her life demonstrated integrity, compassion, veracity, character, and professionalism. She wore the uniform proudly and we were so proud and happy for her. She deserved this award and it came at just the right time.

In the Spring of 2011, it was clear the cancer was raging out of control. After starting another round of chemo that left her exhausted and unable to eat, she made the decision. Enough was enough. The benefit no longer outweighed the side effects. In those quiet hours of early dawn, unable to sleep – again, she faced the inevitable. She was dying and wasn’t going to fight it anymore. She would make the best of the time she had left. She called me that night, to see how I felt about her choice. She wasn’t asking me to decide for her. She simply wanted some assurance that her decision did not mean she was weak. I repeated the words I had said to her all along – “This is your journey, your decision, and unless someone has stood in your shoes, they cannot know how you feel or judge you for the decisions you make.”

There would be no more chemo, no more radiation, no more scans. It was time to look at life from a different view. Realizing that they had lived for their careers, she and her husband knew they had precious little time to make memories. They made a bucket list and in just a few weeks, were off on a cruise to Alaska with friends. It was not an easy trip in a wheelchair but they made memories in spite of it. They also traveled with a group of friends to the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. Unable to ride on the bike for any length of time, she rode in the support truck for most of the trip but they still made memories.

Towards the end of July in 2011, she was referred to hospice. She wanted to be at home; to die at home and friends and family stepped up to make sure she did. By the middle of August, the tumor in her brain had robbed her of her balance. Walking became difficult and she had a series of falls. On the 29th of August, she went to bed and never got up again.

In the days between August 29th and September 4th, she showed us who she was. Friends and family sat with her and one by one, she made her peace with them. Each visitor had stories of how she encouraged them, challenged them, or, was just there when they needed someone. There was a lot of laughter and plenty of tears but those days were precious, to her and to those who came. In her own way, she was writing the script of her final days and making sure that nothing was left undone or unsaid. Even as she was dying, her priority was to make sure that each one of us, those who loved her, would be okay. It was important to her that we knew she was ready to go. We knew.

She wrote her own obituary and planned her funeral. She wrote a contract for her husband, making him promise to work less and play more after she was gone. And she made him sign it and show it to me. Someone would need to remind him and she knew that I would. She was in charge, to the very end. It was her way and the cancer would not change that.

At 1:45 p.m. on September 4th, she took one last breath and was gone. All had been said. All had been done. She died as she lived, showing the rest of us how it should be done.

Her name was Lisa. She was married to my favorite cousin but she was more than my relative through marriage. She was my spirit sister and she was a gift. She allowed me to take this journey with her; shared her thoughts and feelings about this disease with me with absolute honesty. She always knew it would take her from us but she would not let it define her. Lisa was never a victim of breast cancer. She was a woman living WITH breast cancer.

I miss her. I miss our conversations and laughing with her. She made me a better person. Through her, I met and made friends I would never have known without her. We share something special; a bond that can never be broken. Lisa loved us and we loved her. She taught each of us that life is what you make of it. She taught us that challenges are only opportunities. She taught us that your character is your greatest asset and that strength comes from believing not only in yourself but in a higher power. She taught us about courage in the face of adversity and that nothing is healthier than a good laugh.

Your Legacy

Lisa, you did it your way and you did it with class. I wonder if you knew just how loved you were. In the days after you left us, in every circle of friends you left behind, it was said repeatedly that you were a Trooper, in every sense of the word. And you were.

Were you aware of the bridges you built across such a diverse group of people? Do you know that because you loved us, friendships were made that will last a lifetime? We are bound together through the love. the laughter, and the special moments you shared with each of us.

In your wildest dreams you could never have imagined the many ways you would touch us or the lessons you would teach. You made us better for having known you though. You left this world a better place.

You didn't sit back and let breast cancer define you. You became the face of breast cancer in our area. Even on a bad day, you were there cheering on the teams at the annual Relay for Life. You gave all your friends a pink ribbon awareness bracelet and dared them not to wear them. You encouraged and supported others who were living with breast cancer and promised them they would never be alone.

Lisa, my precious spirit sister, you taught us to live and you taught us how to die.

You are, and will always remain, my hero!


© 2012 Linda Crist

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  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Tears....this is as beautiful a tribute as I have ever read on HubPages. You were a wonderful friend to her and I would have been proud to have known this woman. Great story.....sharing on Facebook. Thank you for this!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    I adore you Billy. You are such a good human being. There is no higher compliment. She would have been proud to know you too!

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

    Thank you Bill, for bringing this most inspirational story and phenominal writer to our attention!

    Irc, you have paid a most blessed, heart-felt tribute to Lisa. You have given inspiration and hope to those who may be confronted with this killer of body and spirit. Yet, Lisa's spirit wouldn't succumb! In fact her spirit is with me as I write this comment.

    You have done a tremendous service to her spirit and to those who are confronted with cancer, or any atrocity for that matter!

    Kudos to you, lady. I can't say enough. Thank you for this powerful piece written from the heart!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello bravewarrior! You have idea how much your note means to me. I promised I would tell Lisa's story yet I felt unworthy of doing so. I felt her with me today so strongly, urging me to fulfill my promise to her. She was a special person who wanted only to be of service to others. I hope that I have honored her as she deserved. Most of only have to look next door to find someone who is struggling. I do hope that my tribute to Lisa helps someone.

  • profile image

    kelleyward 4 years ago

    Wow what a brave story. My mother had breast cancer two years ago and had a double mastectomy. Thanks for sharing Lisa's story here. Voted up and beautiful. Kelley

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

    Sweetie, your tribute hits home. I have a condition called Atypical Hyperplasia, meaning I have dense breast tissue and my cells are constantly moving/changing. I have an ultrasound each year, in addition to my mammo. Every other year I undergo a breast MRI. I don't have breast cancer in my family, but am at risk due to my condition. I've had one biopsy and two aspirations - all in the same breast since 1997. I kid my cancer doctor that if she keeps aspirating cysts, I won't have any tits left! ha ha.

    Anyway, Lisa's story is heard by someone who needs to hear it. I hope I'm not the only one who hears, but if I am, your efforts and her life has not been in vain!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    kelleyward - thank you so much. Breast cancer is a beast. So many factors decide the treatment and outcomes. I do hope that your mother is doing well and that the mastectomies were her last encounter. Thank you for the vote up and rating. More importantly, thank you for reading and reaching out. Prayers for continued wellness in your family.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    bravewarrior, I am familiar with atypical hyperplasia. I worked as a cancer registrar for many years and specifically with the breast cancer program. Those yearly checkups are important and you appear to recognize that. I deeply appreciate your comments and pray you never have to worry beyond what already exists.

  • shruti sheshadri profile image

    shruti sheshadri 4 years ago from Bangalore, India

    Really beautiful, an inspiring tribute, and I admire your writing. It surely has power in it!

    glad to meet you, voted up :)

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thank you so much shruti. She deserved a tribute and more. I hope I did her justice. I appreciate your reading and voting up too. I welcome you to my circle!

  • Sharyn's Slant profile image

    Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

    Linda,

    This is such a beautiful tribute to your beloved Lisa. Thank you for sharing her life with us that included her struggles and triumphs too. And thank you for linking to my article about the dying process. Very much appreciated.

    Sharyn

  • DeborahNeyens profile image

    Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

    What a wonderful tribute. Lisa sounds like a remarkable woman. I lost two good friends to breast cancer and now my mother is fighting it for the second time.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    Deborah, thank you. Sadly, if we are alive, we know someone who has been diagnosed with this disease. I am sorry that your mother is going another round. I keep reminding myself that there are scientists in labs all over the world working for a cure and coming up with new treatments. I hope your mother will benefit from that research and do well. Blessings to you and your family.

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