Take It From Someone Who’s Been There: You Are Not Alone
In late summer of 2013, we moved to a new house and were in the middle of an all-out remodel – scraping ceilings, redoing the kitchen, and painting everything! I was also training for my first half marathon. I looked better than I did in high school and I felt great too! I really thought I was the picture of health. At the time, I was a nutrition support dietitian at a local hospital. I spent half my days on the ICU looking after patients who couldn’t eat and the rest of my days taking care of the rest of the hospital.
In September, just before the High Holidays, as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, I did a breast self-exam. I had been known to find dense tissue, but this felt different. It was perfectly round and felt like there was a cliff on one side. I asked my husband if he felt it too. He shrugged it off and said, “get it checked” like he always said.
I finally got to the breast center in early October. I knew it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I was in charge of the messaging on the board outside the cafeteria that fed the whole hospital. I created a display all about food, antioxidants, and how food could protect you from cancer. Medical article clippings and all! After I finished putting up the new material for the month, I walked over to the imaging center at the end of the day and got my mammogram. I was one of just a few people there so late in the day. No hustle, no bustle.
The tech did the mammogram and asked me to wait in the hall while they checked that the image was good. She came back and said the radiologist would like an ultrasound of one area. Ok, no problem. The goo felt warm, the ultrasound quick. The visit was not.
The radiologist came to talk to me and explained he saw an “area of concern”, that I was young, likely there was nothing to worry about (especially since I had no symptoms), but that they were being judicious. So we did a biopsy, right then and there. Okay, not a great way to end the workday, but I wasn’t alarmed. There is no cancer in my family and I was getting ready to run a half marathon….
He told me the results may be in as soon as late the next day.
The following day I was a chaperone for my youngest son’s class on a field trip. It was a fun day, but the biopsy played like background music in my head. I had some time after dropping the children back at the school before pick up to call the office to see if the results were back. And there in the span of a few minutes, I heard the three hardest words I’d ever heard, and my life unraveled.
During the treatment, I had the usual hair loss, pain, fatigue, rashes, and low blood pressure. My first treatment was a few weeks before my only sister’s wedding and my hair started falling out mere days after the big day. My newly minted brother-in-law shaved my head and kept me laughing while he was doing it! I don’t know how he managed to bring the comic relief, but I’m grateful. I remember when he was done I was afraid to look in the mirror, so I skipped the examination of my bald head in favor of a shower and came straight in contact with my reflection in the shower door. I thought I looked like a Holocaust victim. I cried hard in the shower. And then I was afraid for my kids to see me with no hair because I didn’t want them to be afraid of me.
In the years just after the diagnosis and treatment, I suffered a lot, especially emotionally and mentally. Fear ran rampant in my house and it was difficult to go very far from home. I spent my time reading and resting. I slowly started coming out of my cocoon and the woman who emerged took me by surprise! Who knew that I loved to hike, bike, and surf?
When I was going through treatment I always felt like there was a bigger purpose to all of it, not just me suffering for the sake of suffering. I didn’t have Sharsheret by my side, so I muddled through alone. But I wish I had…
I wish I hadn’t had to muddle through on my own. I wish I’d had the support of a community of Jewish women who knew and understood what it meant to walk that road and what I was going through. I now choose to be a part of the Sharsheret community and support their mission in helping other women through all that they do.
I’m finally able to own what happened to me and all that I went through and I have created a program for breast cancer survivors to help them in their recovery process as well. The program is called Wings of Hope (for more information visit www.subscribepage.com/wings-of-hope/).
My hope is that one day we will see a world free from cancer, but until then, we have each other.