I’m a Survivor, Baby! Twelve Years and Counting….

When Jen from Sprite’s Keeper posted this week’s topic, in an instant I knew what I would write about. But then I thought…should I really write about the obvious? How about the time that Emmy threw up all over me at the grocery store…and then threw up two more times? The time I was in a boat on the Mississippi River during a thunderstorm was pretty hair-raising. And then there was that time in college, when I was young and stupid….

Being diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 27 threw my life out of sync. During chemotherapy, I signed up for a workshop designed to help patients with the effects of chemo. It was called “Look Good, Feel Better.” I walked into the room, wearing a baseball cap, and realized…I was the youngest one there. By a lot. I sat down at the table, and looked at the woman seated there. They all had wigs on, and one had a wig that had a headband. We were talking with one another, and she revealed that she had singed the bangs of her wig when she bent down too close to an open oven. The presenter started showing us make-up application tips. I confided in the woman sitting next to me that I didn’t feel glamorous because I never wore lipstick. She said, “Oh, honey, you look plenty glamorous without lipstick!” At the end of the session, we received a bag full of free makeup; not the cheap brands, but very nice, expensive brands. I never used the brilliant turquoise and peacock blue eye shadow, though.

My parents picked me up from the workshop, and my mom had a water bottle and my anti-nausea meds waiting for me. “What did you put in this water?” I complained. It tasted metallic and I could barely drink any. My mom had to tell me several times that it was just plain water; the chemo was affecting how I tasted things. I spent that afternoon on the bathroom floor; the nausea that time around was pretty bad. “Don’t throw up your pill!” my mom kept telling me. She was hoping that the compazine would kick in and reduce my nausea.

Most of my chemo took place over the summer, and I resumed teaching in the fall with only one session left to go. I refused to wear my wig; I hated that darn thing. Here is a picture one of my students drew of me:

When my chemo was over, I took an estrogen-blocking drug called tamoxifen for five years. Whoa…hot flashes, weight gain…what a preview for menopause! I am so not looking forward to going through that again.

A couple of years after my diagnosis, I was out with a group of friends. Somehow the topic of smoking came up, and I snapped rather rudely at my friend. I said something along the lines of “You’d better quit smoking or you’ll get cancer, and believe me, you don’t want it. I should know!” I hurt her feelings rather badly, and thankfully we had a heart-to-heart talk about it. I poured out my feelings of anger and frustration, of my fear of getting cancer again. Fortunately, she forgave me and supported me through some rough times.

Four years after I was diagnosed, I started dating the man I would marry. After chemo and tamoxifen, I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to have a baby. In 2004, I had my first little girl, Lily. To say that we were overjoyed would be an understatement!

When Lily was about 20 months old, I went in for a mammogram. I had just weaned Lily, and was ready to try for baby number 2. As I told the technician my plan, she was hesitant. “But aren’t you worried that your daughters will get breast cancer, too?” That made me angry; shouldn’t I be allowed to have children, just like everyone else? I also thought this: just take one look at my adorable little girl, and you will know why I want another.

By the time my girls are older, maybe there will be a cure. Maybe they won’t inherit the breast cancer gene. I’m not even sure I have it, although genetic testing is another one of my plans.

Being a breast cancer survivor is scary; I worry that I’ll die young and leave my children without their mother; or that they will inherit this disease.

Most of the time? I forget that I ever had cancer. My life feels, for the most part, back in sync. And here’s one of the reasons why:

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