I realized as I caught tears in my husband’s eyes, how far my journey had brought us. He had just watched as I participated in the Survivor parade at Susan G. Komen’s Race for a Cure in Des Moines, Iowa. I was one of many survivors who were recognized. Survivors who all had one thing in common, we survived breast cancer. We were a group of strangers, but yet we had a bond big enough to allow us to hug, laugh and even cry with each other as the crowd applauded when we walked by. We all understood where the other had been and what strength it had taken to get where we were today. Something we could never explain to someone who hasn’t taken the journey of their life.
I had originally planned to attend the Race for the Cure with my friend. She became sick so I recruited my husband. It wasn’t long before I realized fate had intervened and I had chosen the perfect person. He had been my caregiver during my journey. It was only right he was with me as a survivor.
We started my journey in April of 2011 when I went for my annual exams. Everything was wonderful. My first book was coming out. Life was good. Then I received a call back a few days later requesting me to return for another mammogram and ultrasound. I returned the next week, worried and hesitant but sure everything would be all right. The Doctor who read my screens explained he found a mass and wanted to refer me to a surgeon. The mass he found was too close to the chest wall for a needle biopsy so I needed to have a surgical biopsy. In less than a week I was meeting with my surgeon as he explained how we were going to proceed. That Friday, the 13th of May, I was to show up for surgery, they would take what tissue was necessary and send it off to pathology. I would know the results by the next Tuesday. I tried to rest and not think about the results, but after Tuesday came and went with no word, I was worried. Wednesday I called my surgeons office. The Doctor returned my call Wednesday, May 18th around 4:30 pm. When I heard his voice on the phone, my heart sunk. I knew the news wasn’t good. He proceeded to tell me he had received the test results back and I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). The only word I understood was carcinoma. Cancer, I had cancer. My journey had begun.
As the words mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy were tossed around I had a discussion with my body during a morning shower. I was doing everything I could to maintain the ‘girls’. They were given to me as a pair and I wanted to keep them a pair. My mother and my aunt had been through this so they were my long distance supports. My brother was information and support since he worked in the field. After many tests to determine if there where anymore hot spots and a second surgery to gain a clear margin of tissue and take lymph nodes to find out if the cancer had spread, radiation was the course of treatment. I was referred to an Oncologist and Radiologists. These were two doctors I never thought I would be a patients of.
During my recovery time my husband was my caretaker. My mother and aunt continued to call to check in almost every day, but my husband was there to drive me to surgeries. He was there to fix me breakfast, lunch and dinner until I was back on my feet and we both returned to work. I made it through my first book launch and a wonderful, relaxing week at the lake house with my writing friends. I was scheduled to start radiation July 18th, two months after I was diagnosed. The fun was just beginning.
My husband’s boss made it possible for him to work from home during my treatments. For the next six and a half weeks he would be available, available to take me to treatments and take care of some of the responsibilities around the house since I continued to work full-time. The people in my department had also surprisingly taken on the responsibility of getting me through this time. Two of my bosses had already been through their journey and knew the fight I was up against. The numbers thirty-three through zero were written on the white board on the wall so I could cross each treatment off as they were completed. Also the number of people who had seen my breasts was updated. I was expecting to collect beads for each one when all this was done. I was given a grade at the end of each week showing how well I was doing along with treats being brought in to celebrate. The goal was to go out to dinner to celebrate when my treatments were completed.
After six and a half weeks of exhausting treatments, burnt skin, daily trips to the cancer center and Doctor appointments I had made it through. At my last treatment I received a certificate of completion. I was never so happy to be done with something in my life. After many hugs, I said my goodbye’s and returned to work. As I walked on the trading floor, the first person I ran into was a male co-worker who was wearing a strand of pink beads around his neck. As I glanced around the floor, I noticed everyone else was wearing pink beads around their neck. There was a bouquet of pink balloons placed on my desk along with a bag full of strands of pink beads and a gift certificate for a spa treatment of my choice. My monitors were covered with strands of pink beads. I could feel the emotion welling up but there was no way I was showing anyone else my breasts. These people, my friends, had been there with me every day for the past six and a half weeks and now, together, we could celebrate the end. There was a full sheet cake with pink icing and a large pink ribbon in the middle. With the help of my husband, mother, aunt, family and friends I had made it through. Now it was time to heal.