Age 48 at diagnosis (1998)
Age 48 in photo (1998)
I'm a forty-year-old single mother of two, and grandmother of two, who cooks for a college and enjoys it most days.
I went for my mammogram before work because it usually goes quickly. But this time after ten pictures—not the usual four or so—I felt there was a problem. I had a suspicious lump! We set up an appointment with Hershey Medical Center—another week of waiting. Crazy thoughts ran through my mind. If I lose my breast, will I change inwardly as well as outwardly? Will my boyfriend ditch me? Will I wither away like my dad with bone marrow cancer? I just kept telling myself I wasn't sick. Everyone at work assured me with prayers and words of wisdom, but the waiting stinks.
Dr. Glenn took time to diagram all my options. Things seemed overwhelming at first, but they repeat anything you need to know because every individual's cancer and body are different. Until your lumps and cancerous tissues are eliminated from your breast, you can't be sure what your end result will be. So here I am again—just like the mammogram results—wondering if it is cancerous or not.
When the time for my lumpectomy arrived, I have to admit, I was pretty shaky. During the procedure I was very uncomfortable because I was awake, and my lump was small, and the surrounding tissue looked iffy, so the surgery was deeper and longer than planned. Back in recovery I felt pretty stable. A few hours later my breast ached so I took a pain pill and let my family pamper me. Believe me, it's short lived. Next day I was just a little sore. (But just wait until you turn black, blue, green and yellow!)
Eight days went by. In the back of my mind was the big question: if my tests are positive, am I going to go on living a normal life? The phone finally rang. The other end said they'd like me to come to Hershey today because they've found a problem and they needed to discuss my alternatives. I cried a few tears for the first time after hanging up. I wasn't sick and I still couldn't believe the reality of it. Driving that sixty miles seemed like forever. It was the worst day of my life. I wasn't sure how many more days I might have with my family. It was very terrifying.
Well, my lump was cancerous. And so was the tissue surrounding the lump. But it was a slow growing type and the best and easiest cancer to cure. They still wanted to do surgery under my arm on my lymph nodes to see if any traces of cancerous cells had advanced to my nodes. This involves inserting needles in the breast and releasing radioactive materials that travel to the lymph nodes starting with the sentinel node. Then this node is removed and checked for tumor cells.
Fifth day arrived. Phone call—nodes are clear! But they wanted to reopen the incision on the breast to scrape the tissue one more time—precautionary. My insides really churn thinking about another surgery—AWAKE! Please, God pray for me.
The third surgery went well. I was sore again for a short time. Radiation for the next five weeks seemed like an eternity. I drove over 120 miles in a morning for a two-minute zap. But my mind kept telling my body that it was all worth the price, if it saves my life. The worst is behind me now. After going through some painful and exposing conditions, I feel relief and happiness knowing I'm not sick anymore, even though I didn't feel sick through my whole ordeal.
You'll learn you have a choice about what happens to your body and how to be positive by trusting yourself and your medical staff. Your outlook on what was important before may be very different afterwards. Take whatever chance you can to save your breast, but especially your life. You'll have fears and doubts because you're on your own, and no one but you should make decisions that affect your life and well-being. God is always there!
Photos courtesy of Show Me (2nd Edition), A Photo Collection of Breast Cancer Survivors' Lumpectomies, Mastectomies, Breast Reconstructions and Thoughts on Body Image, published by Penn State Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA. This book is now out of print.