Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift

One year ago today marked the start of my fight against breast cancer. On this "anniversary," I'd like to thank the many friends and family members who supported me through the year. One person in particular helped me get through the challenging times with relative grace. The following is the (very much abridged) story of my last year and the gift I was given to help me through it.

My Journey

I went for my annual mammogram, fully expecting the usual, "all clear." The call came later that day asking me to come back to take more images of a suspicious spot. They couldn't get me in until after Christmas, and I spent the next week with a niggling worry in the back of my mind but did my best not to dwell on it.

On December 26, the doctor sounded optimistic as he reviewed the more detailed images of the suspect spot. However, just to be safe he wanted to do a sonogram. I observed the monitor as he honed in on the site...then watched as his entire demeanor changed. He took several pictures as he adjusted the view to various angles.

I knew before he said the words. I needed a biopsy.

The biopsy was done on the morning of January 2. I was leaving two days later to go on vacation to San Francisco and Hawaii. I would get the results while away.

San Francisco was lovely, but when I landed in Kauai I had a message on my phone. It was from my gynecologist. Not from her nurse. And she gave me her personal number to call back. I knew the news wasn't good. Welcome to paradise.

On February 3, I had a lumpectomy. The mass was small. It hadn't spread. The margins came back clear, so my surgeon felt that they got all of it.

On April Fools Day, I started radiation treatments. One every weekday through May 19. The first was frightening. The thought of radiation aimed at my breast scared me. I was shocked at how they sapped my energy and made me ache. And yet I felt powerful and determined to win the battle against breast cancer.

On August 13, I had my first follow-up mammogram. I don't know why, but I wasn't scared. Turns out there was no need for fear. The mammogram came back all clear. Mission accomplished.

The Gift

As I look back over the last year, I'm amazed at how well I handled this journey. Had it happened earlier in my life, I'm not so sure it would have gone as smoothly. Cancer was always my biggest fear because it took my mother's life when she was quite young.

What I've come to realize is that I was given a gift. A heartbreaking gift, but one that got me through one of the more difficult periods of my life. You see, I lost my niece to cancer in February of 2013. She battled it for several years, but it just kept coming back. Through her struggles, she showed amazing courage...but even more love.

Even as her body failed her, she fought to give her family and two young sons a normal life. No matter how tired, ill, or in pain she felt, she took them on walks, to the park, to fun classes, or on play dates with her circle of friends and their children. Every single day, until she couldn't do it any longer.

She took many vacations with extended family and made a point to travel often to see the people she loved. She never made a big deal of her cancer or the treatments she had to endure. She squeezed every single drop out of life that she could get as cancer did its work to rob her of it.

Watching what she went through helped me to realize just how lucky I was to have found the mass so early. I had every reason to be optimistic. And I had a shining example of how to face cancer and tell it to go to hell.

Thank you for that, Eva. You are an inspiration. We all love and miss you.