By Diane Phillips
The Breast Cancer Survival journey Part One – Breast Cancer Reflection:
Every time I pause to think about this experience I am taken back to the phone call that changed everything. My doctor called to say the biopsy was “positive”, you have breast cancer”. As she continued to describe what I would be doing next, where I will be going, what were the surgery options, all I could think about was “you have cancer, YOU HAVE CANCER”. Those were words I was hoping not to ever hear but I did.
I am not alone in having breast cancer, but I know that my experience is different than anyone else’s because under the overall blanket of breast cancer, we have so many levels of reference. For my part, I chose to just remove the lump and have the usual chemo and radiation. My surgeon was great along with the oncologist doctor, but in order for me to succeed, I felt it was important to use all my resources. I met with a nutritionist who told me how to prepare for chemo and what foods would help me overcome the effects from the treatment. I met with a personal trainer who I had been working with prior to the diagnosis and we continued to work out on a weekly basis. I also had an incredible support group of people who surrounded me with love, prayers, and gave me hope. One special gift that was the most memorable was that Lori Grice gave me a photo session with my family before my hair came out. Those photos are precious to me and the day was not without a few tears. You have to think about that this photo might be the most memorable for years to come.
The chemo wasn’t so hard in the beginning but by the time I had the 4thdose, I was starting to really dread going. I was fortunate that I only had to do 4 rounds of chemo. As I sat in the chemo room having treatments I would look around at the other patients and realize we all have a similar journey. You could tell the new ones because they still had their hair. All the rest of us had various types of head gear on to cover up the lack of hair. I think for me this was one of the hardest things to accept. Not that I was a glamorous person by any means but when I was told my hair would fall out after 14-17 days, I decided to be pro-active and have my medium length hair cut off into a short choppy style. I had been pretty neutral about it and just joked about the process, but when the first cut began I started to cry and could not stop. It wasn’t so much that the cut was bad, it wasn’t, but that I wasn’t choosing to do this because I wanted a new up doo but because I couldn’t stand the thought of picking up gobs of hair when it did start to fall out. Once it did start coming out in full force, I had my daughter shave my head in a Mohawk style. Pretty funny for a while and hey when would I ever consider that in my conservative design style.
And of course after chemo comes the radiation. EVERY DAY of the week, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. Sometimes chemo was easier to take. Both chemo and radiation have left scars that remind me of the experience and are the war wounds I carry daily. The eight months spent concentrating on surviving the ordeal was worth it in order to have the cancer go away. It has not always been easy because I am left with some neurological issues that will take more time to heal. But at the end of the day I survived and I am able to enjoy seeing my daughter grow into a beautiful young woman and I am able to continue to have the joy of being married to my soul mate. Whenever I wanted to quit, I thought about the toil on them and how if I kept going then they would make it too.
I have so many people to be grateful for and too many to list, but a few were my husband, Tony, and my daughter, Madison; my siblings who took care of me, especially Janice and Julie; my inner sisterhood of friends, the yayas, Denise, Marcia, Cissy, Lisa, Laurie, Sandi, Lynn, Sherril, Janice, Rachel, DeeAnne and Kitty, who checked on me constantly and were a source of great enjoyment especially in the down times; my trainer and friend, Julie who made me keep going when I wanted to quit; my nutritionist and friend, Frieda, who made sure I could keep my energy going; my doctors, Dr. Maria Moogerfeld, Dr. Ruldolph, Dr. Robertson and Dr. Weems; my co-workers; all the churches who had me on their prayer lists and prayed for me; and lastly, all the Facebook and texting friends who kept up with my story and encouraged me when I most needed it.
It takes a village to survive cancer and I am part of a great one.
The Breast Cancer Survival journey Part Two – living as a Breast Cancer Survivor:
Three years ago my life changed when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The hard part about all of this experience is that it doesn’t really end with treatments. I am now constantly looking over my shoulder wondering if any little odd feeling could be the cancer coming back because at the end of the day, no one can say you will never have this again, that you are completely cured, have a good life. They use terms like “remission”,” no evidence today”,” at this point”.
This past week, I had another mammogram. I become a nervous wreck when I go to the center because I am so fearful of finding another lump, another source of cancer. I just want to be free of all this anxiety but because I am a cancer survivor, I will also be looking over my shoulder, worrying that the next one is here. The doctors tell you not to worry but come see me every six months “just in case”. It’s the “just in case” that sometimes gets to you.
Lately, I have decided that I cannot continue to live like this. On the way home from the Breast Center, I saw a sign on a billboard “Are you living YOUR life?” All the way home it kept sticking with me. Am I living the life I want or am I just going through the motions. It has been 3 years since my diagnosis and I have been playing catch up ever since. I have come to realize that there is more that I want to do. More experiences with my loved ones that I want to have. I have a birthday during the month of October and it so happens that it is also Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sometimes I will listen to the ads but lots of times I just want to not be reminded of the experience. It has taken me 3 years to decide to even write about this experience.
There are some precious memories I have about my cancer experience. First, I have become much more thankful for all the little things. I have been able to just ask “Will this matter in 6 months? if not just forget about it. I am working on focusing on the important things: family and friends, activities that bring me peace and joy, and exploring a deeper understanding of God. Because you see without this, I would not be here today. They brought me out of the treatments and kept me centered on the right path and I will be forever grateful.