Life in Perspective: A Decade After Cancer
Ten Years Since My Diagnosis
In late fall of 2002, when I was just 42 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had no family history. No risk factors. The news came out of the blue, and hit like a bolt of lightning. My cancer was highly aggressive, and potentially spreading quickly.
At that point, I decided that, if possible, I was choosing to live without cancer - rather than with it.
I was lucky.
Research and Decisions
When a diagnosis like that hits, there is really no time to think about it. My mission was to gather information, and to come up with a plan of attack.
With that said, I'm a firm believer that the right course of action, is very specific to each individual. What was right for me, wouldn't necessarily be right for someone else in the same situation.
To complicate the decision-making process, there were many conflicting viewpoints; even my own doctors, disagreed on the best treatment for me. I actually found it beneficial to debate treatments with my doctors. Having to weigh different opinions/alternatives, and the necessity to ultimately defend my treatment decision (to doctors and family members who disagreed), helped me to become confident that I had arrived at the best plan for me.
Everyone knows someone with breast cancer. I had a couple of friends who "lived with cancer". Their lives were so dominated by cancer on a daily basis, that, in my opinion, they had allowed the disease to win - and the illness to completely rule their lives.
I also knew people who opted for conservative treatment -- and then were faced with a recurrence several months or years later. Especially at my younger age, this was a real concern for me. I did not want to deal with it lightly, only to have the cancer come back to haunt me later.
If at all possible, I was determined to rid my body completely of cancer cells - and to move forward with life.
That was the best course for me. And, in my case, I was lucky to be able to follow that path.
My priority was to get rid of the disease - and to hopefully move forward with a long and healthy life. Sparing body parts, for cosmetics, was not an option.
During the next 14 months of my life, due to the cancer and resulting complications, I had three major surgeries, including a mastectomy and a hysterectomy.
I was determined to get rid of anything that might come back to haunt me - and to move forward.
I am not a support-group type person. In fact, I was annoyed when one of my nurses, kept insisting that I go to meetings of cancer survivors.
My goal was to become a person who survived cancer - not a "cancer survivor". I wanted the cancer gone - and behind me.
To this day, most of the people who now know me, don't know that I ever dealt with this. I do not volunteer this information as part of my life history. My history has influenced the person I am, but cancer is no longer a part of WHO I am.
With that said, it is important to acknowledge that I did not go through this alone. Although my home situation was strained, at the time of my diagnosis, I had a very dear friend who reached out to be my "rock" and confidante throughout the maze of hospitals, doctors, surgeries, and recoveries.
That dear friend, is now my husband.
Each Person Has Their Own Path
As stated above, I fully believe that there is a uniquely right path for each individual. And, I recognize that some individuals are truly not able to completely rid their bodies of cancer.
The important thing, is to recognize that this is a personal decision - to become as informed as possible - but to make choices that you can live with. I also believe it's crucial to remember that your life will always have meaning beyond a disease.
Positive thinking, and finding whatever support might, or might not, be needed - are crucial.
Find the silver lining in the experience, and take the positive lessons, to best move forward.
A Different Person
It's been ten years now, since I willed, and cut, the cancer from my body. I have achieved my goal, i.e. to face each day without the shadow of cancer looming over me.
I was lucky. I AM lucky.
My priorities have changed. Although I get caught up in the bustle of life, I'm much better at recognizing that my husband and children come first. They are the most important parts of my life - and they are a part of each day for me - a disease is not.
Ironically, however, the rendezvous with cancer, helped me to realize just how fortunate I am.