My suvivor story isn't a gee whiz, wow, poor you story. It's
kind of average. I was diagnosed at age 62 with Stage II Invasive
Ductal Carcinoma, ER+, Her-2 negative. I was a confirmed
workaholic who routinely rescheduled, or forgot to schedule,
mammograms. I got called when I was 6 months overdue, and slunk
in guilty as charged to get up to date.
Yup. I fit
the statistics. In that whirlwind of time, still in a state
of denial, I met my 'team', found that I had a good prognosis, and
after many questions - and answers, I'd have a lumpectomy,
followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy, and another 17 rounds of
Herceptin infusions, and 6 1/2 weeks of radiation. By my own
brilliant reckoning, I'd start in May and be done with everything
by October. And, I figured I could take a couple of weeks to
recuperate from surgery and return to a busy work schedule during
the rest of treatment. Type A's think we are
So here is some of what I learned, since
EVERY DAY'S A SCHOOL DAY. First, the schedule isn't dictated
by your wishes. Your body determines it. So many
variables can and do upset the timing, right? Ihad
'variables' ... enough to make me rethink my decision to try to
balance working with getting through treatment. Some of us
CAN and DO work through. I was urged to work at getting well
and was so fortunate to have both short and long term disability.
Others aren't as fortunate. I learned LUCK plays a role in
Secondly, treatment is as individual as we are
with myriad diagnoses. It ain't a one size fits all, right?
Some breeze through surgery, through chemo, and radiation.
Others struggle mightily with one of more or ALL phases of
Again, I was in that middle. A speed bump
here and there, an infection, a reaction ... and the schedule got
longer and I was counseled to go with the ever-lovin' flow.
Tough for a Type A.
Looking back, it wasn't the worst of
times, but it wasn't the best of times either. I had a very
cautious surgeon. She removed 20 lymph nodes, and since I
was sort of sedentary and doughy, I developed Lymphedema toward
the end of chemo. That delayed the schedule even MORE, with
a month of Complete Decongestive Therapy and compression
bandaging. Watch for this, my friends. It is insidious
and you may not notice, but DO SOMETHING if, or when, you notice
it. I have become a disciple and a compliant patient, and
that condition is under control. While it IS lifelong, it
can be managed. If YOU have it, wear those sleeves and be
very careful with your limbs!
One time, during that
therapy, I ventured out - cmpletely mummified in compression
bandages and bald as a baby, and a store clerk asked me what
happened. I looked in his eyes and said slowly .... knife
fight. He turned pale. Humor helps! Keep your
sense of humor!
I learned that the THOUGHT of chemo is
often worse than the REALITY. Sure, I had days when I
thought I'd been gang tackled by Patriot's linebackers. I
was pooped, but learned that the BEST remedy for that tiredness
was exercise. I walked 4 miles a day - and I got more fit.
I learned a big lesson that most of us experience: it is
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN. If we don't know what's going to
happen, we can spin that into insanity. Ask what you should
call your team about! And when! We've all had those
incidents where we ask ourselves "WHAT IF it's back' ... and we
think, after treatment ends, NOW WHAT? And some of us, me
included, have many more ultrasounds and scans and palpations.
And abject panic. Most importantly, DO NOT CONSULT DOCTOR GOOGLE.
It'll make you CRAZY. Absolutely all of us are unique - our
diagnoses, our treatment plans, our abilities to get through
treatment. ASK YOU TEAM. They are the ones who can help you.
The first time this hit me - I had a weekend of fear, by the
way ... I realized I already KNEW what to expect. I had been
through it. I had complete confidence in my medical team.
I could approach the panic intellectually and not emotionally.
I still feel this way. This took me a little time, but I
learned how to be a good patient - and a functioning member
of my care team. We all know how EPICALLY busy our doctors
and nurses are. When you show up, come prepared. Make
notes in advance. Go back and prioritize your biggest
concerns in those notes. Hand them over at your
appointments. Your team will appreciate that thoughtfulness.
And the efficient use of time.
A favorite nugget of
learning comes from a bumper sticker. Really. DON'T
POSTPONE JOY. When your life is seemingly in shambles, I
have learned that you need to look for the good, the lovely, the
peaceful. Look for the JOY in your life. Find
something to laugh about every day. Find something to smile
about. While I was under chemo-induced house arrest, I found
joy in how fast the hosta grew! How many kinds of
dragonflies there are. How intent a spider can be when
spinning a web. I actually had the TIME now to notice the
wonder of nature and the inherent goodness of people. Had I
not had cancer, I might have postponed joy. Not anymore.
I returned to work - reduced schedule, and OFF the hamster
wheel, about 10 months after diagnosis. I was a changed
woman. I had completely different priorities. I worked
another two years and retired. Happily. Joyfully.
I am now a Type A minus. I've learned to say 'no', but
don't very often. I'm just as busy as ever, but now it's
doing things I want to do ... and my great joy comes from
helping other people. How? I volunteer. I give
back with time (and some money). I have learned that the
very best thing you can do for yourself, is to do something for
others. Bring JOY.
I have learned that we should
NEVER STOP learning, and so I learn every day, even though I'm
pushing 70. And mostly I've learned to be thankful.
I'm reminded that we often think we can NEVER repay the help and
support we receive when we are faced with going through cancer.
But I have learned that I, in fact, CAN repay that. By
paying it FORWARD. So can YOU.