Thursday, April 28, 2011

Someone to Walk for - Part 2

One of the people I am waking for in the Weekend to End Women's Cancers is my cousin Pam. Here is Part 2 of Pam's story in her own words, which details her treatment and support network.

The Mammogram Experience
I finally got my appointment for my first of many mammograms, and it truly was not as bad as what I was told. Here in my hometown we have a breast cancer screening clinic with digital mammography machines and they are amazing. To quote Erma Bombeck (sort of), it was NOT a case of open door, insert boob and slam shut! I will admit it was not comfortable but I didn't find it painful.

TIP: Don't look down! Do you really need to see how flat your boob will go? and what you don't see, won't hurt as bad. But regardless, it was a necessary 'evil' in my journey. After the initial mammogram, I was scheduled for an ultrasound, and then a core biopsy of the actual lump (not pleasant).

My Advocate
While all this was going on, my poor mother was dragged into almost every appointment with me to act as my eyes, ears, and brain at times, to listen and question the medical professionals. Being a retired registered nurse made her invaluable to me both as a professional herself, and my mom. I don't care how old one gets....I still needed my mommy through this! I knew myself that I had what I call "trigger words' that would just set my brain off spinning, and by the time I got myself pulled together mentally, I'd missed the next three sentences out of the doctors mouth, so my mom took over for me at those points.

I also had my medical vocabulary vastly expanded which is a must if you are to understand what is happening and going to happen to your own body. Cancer has a language all its own and my mom lovingly translated it for me even though I know she was truly worried from her core for me. But being a professional, she kept the facts clinical, straightforward and to the point for both of us.

I finally got into see the surgeon/cancer specialist and yes there was an anomaly in a couple of cells. I was told that I had DCIS - ductal carcinoma in situ (cancer in the milk duct) and that although what they found was very small (less then 1 cm) it should be removed. I had to make the decision: how much was to go? At 43, I had to decide if I wanted just the lump removed or to have the whole breast taken.

I opted for just the lump and a small section of tissue in the surrounding area removed. Later they would find that there was a microscopic hole in the tumor, indicating that even one single cell could have traveled beyond the breast, so I was scheduled to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy done. Luckily the results came back that all the nodes they had removed were clear of any cancer. Oh Happy Birthday to me. Yes, I managed to have another birthday during all this.

By the time my second surgery was done with the lymph nodes, over six months had gone by. I still had to have 20 radiation treatments just as a precaution to make sure they got all the cancer cells. I was scheduled for my treatments over 5 weeks. Every day I went to the regional cancer centre here in Kitchener, ON, and every day I met with my team of radiation specialists. Somehow with their help and compassion, I managed to keep my sense of humour and my ‘fight’. After my last treatment, I think I ran out of the hospital to the car with a "Get me the hell out of here!" Right after that, I went home and collapsed from emotional exhaustion.

Sweet Freedom
My last appointment with my oncologist was the news that anyone in my position wants to hear. "We got it all! You are cancer-free." And then I was told that because the lymph biopsy was clear, they felt confident that my 'cancer-free' date was May 2009.

During all this, I had tremendous support from my family and my co-workers and a magnificent group of girlfriends. The "Wine Club" girls were my lifeline and they kept me laughing, even during the tough surgical recovery times. My partner at the time was also one of my biggest supporters right up there with my mom.

My Advice
My advice to all women is to be diligent in your own health. Get to know your own body, as early detection is key to your health. The earlier you find anything the better your chances are of a full recovery. And if you do find something, do not procrastinate. Get your butt into your doctor and get it taken care of. Fear could kill you!

I was also loaned a book from the wife of the pastor of my church, Denise Elliott and she herself is a breast cancer survivor. In this book was a single sentence that changed how I was to view myself and my new body image.

"I love my scars. They saved my life."

I do not view them as disfigurement. They are my badge of honour/survival. Without them, I very well might be dead.

In honour of my own journey, I had a tattoo done for myself that is of a wonderful childhood memory: a monarch butterfly. In place of a regular black body is a pink ribbon. On my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, I am going to have the word "survivor" written alongside my butterfly.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of Pam's story if you missed it. Thanks again for donations to this worthy cause.

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