I am a two time cancer survivor. It’s hard to think back to the beginning. It started with a sore neck. I didn’t think too much of it at first, it just felt like a stiff neck. But I never had one that lasted so long and was so sore. After a few days, it was hard to raise my head off of my pillow or turn my head to back out of the driveway. I’d had stiff necks before, but never like this. And it wasn’t going away. I recalled a time a friend of mine had been over and talked about her neck and how much it had hurt. She ended up being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, cancer of the lymph nodes. As I thought about that, I began to wonder if I looked in the mirror, would I notice anything. So I looked in the mirror and I noticed a big lump on the left, front, lower side of my neck. I went on into work, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything. It did hurt, and my mind seemed to focus on the worst scenario. What if I had Hodgkin’s disease? What if I had to go through chemo like my friend did. So I left work and went to the prompt care. This was in the early fall of 1998. Well I was referred to an ear nose & throat specialist. It ended up being my thyroid, but after a biopsy I was told it was not malignant. Later I had one half of my thyroid removed. They do other tests during and after surgery to check the tumor. A week after surgery, when I was feeling pretty good, my husband came home and told me he had talked with my doctor. She told him I thyroid cancer. I would have to go back into surgery and have the rest of my thyroid removed. After the surgery, I had to have some sort of nuclear radiation, put on Synthroid medicine for the rest of my life, and eventually life got back to normal. I felt guilty being called a cancer survivor. I just felt I hadn’t really suffered. I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation. Somehow I figured I had survived cancer and naively thought I was immune to getting it again.
I had always been a blood donor. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, they won’t take your blood for 5 years after you’re cleared. Well I had gone in for my mammogram in April 2003, and had been called back again. Then I was referred to Dr. Mammolito. I hadn’t had a biopsy yet, but Dr. Mammolito didn’t make it sound very hopeful for me. She thought I had breast cancer. I had to go in to see my endoconologist. It was 5 years ago I had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had hoped to give blood again. He checked me and said I was cancer free. I didn’t tell him I already was suspicious of having breast cancer.
2003 marks many events that make it a hard year to forget. My husband had been in Kuwait with the military and had just gotten home the end of 2002. My mom passed away very abruptly in February 2003. My older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer right after that. My other sister’s house was struck by lightening in April. Then I was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer on May 9th. May 10th, we had a tornado go through Morton. I’m sure a lot of you Mortonites remember that. We didn’t have electricity at our house for 3 days. After biopsies, a CT scan, PET scan, mega scan, surgery, having a port put in, seeing surgeons, oncologists, etc., I started the chemo in September of 2003. As long as everything stayed on schedule, I would be finished with chemo and radiation before Christmas of 2003. I was keeping my eyes focused on the end of it all, although as you’re going through the treatment, you can only manage to get through one day at a time.
I remember my first chemo. I had to be there at 8:45 for them to draw blood from my port. After a while, they start the chemo. It’s very scary sitting there letting that “poison” into your body. You sit there and wait for bad feelings to come over you. You are told to eat ice during one of the chemo drugs to help with the bad taste. I used to like ice, but not anymore. I didn’t get sick till late afternoon, and remained that way for six hours. I never got sick like that again, but remained nauseous till chemo was over.
Having breast cancer taught me several things. I don’t know that I can honestly say I’m glad I had it, but it certainly opened my eyes to many things. I really have empathy for other people going through chemotherapy and other major health issues. I thought I had empathy before, but I really couldn’t understand the depression and the feeling of not being in control of the situation. I know now how it feels to have to choose a course of action when there are no favorable choices. I’ve also learned that as bad as it was going through all the treatment for my cancer, there are other things that can be so much worse. Right now I am leading a fairly normal life. Others are not so fortunate. I am thankful that I am able to enjoy life and my first grandson. There are so many things to be thankful for, and having gone through the ordeal of cancer, I appreciate it all so much more.
Friends, family, & co-workers were certainly generous bringing meals over and helping in so many ways. My neighbor would mow the yard & clean the gutters. I felt blessed. This was also a time I really leaned on the Lord for strength.
Before the tornado went through Morton, all the trees looked by outward appearances, to be quite solid and sturdy. But the tornado quickly proved that the trees were not able to withstand the storm. The soundness of our faith is tested by “the storms of life.” We all face storms in our life and we don’t always respond with solid faith. We have gone through times in our lives when we question God on why this had to happen. These storms or trials can be an excuse to separate yourself from God, or they can be used to bring you in a closer relationship with Him, which is of course what He desires. We won’t always get the answers we want, some things remain a mystery. One day, God will reveal everything to us, and we will understand the storms in our lives. Until then, I hope to remain strong in my faith and able to withstand the storms. I hope I can help others as they go through the storms in their lives just as others helped me when I needed them.
One more thing I’ve learned, I’m not immune to getting cancer again. As a matter of fact, I’m probably more likely to get it again. Whatever it is that causes you to get cancer – I have. Therefore it’s so important to do the check-ups. If you’ve not had cancer, don’t procrastinate on tests and exams to check for cancer. Early detection will keep the treatment down to a minimum & help you to survive it. I always had considered myself healthy, still do, but I am a two time cancer survivor.