Survivor's story: My life after breast cancer
I sat there after five hours, anxiously waiting for the last few drops of chemotherapy to drip from the bag into the tubing. My last treatment. Finally, after four months of chemotherapy, surgery and three more months of post surgical chemotherapy, I was done. It was finally time to move on with my life and try to bring as much normalcy back to my routine as possible. The access port would have to stay for now. I still had some healing to do. Little did I know that there was a new normal to life awaiting me. Just because I was finished with chemotherapy did not mean that life would go back to what I knew as "normal."
One afternoon while shopping, many months after surgery, it hit me. My life had changed in more ways than one. Scars from surgery and scars from the access port are daily reminders of my journey. Even the types of clothing that I wore had to change. I could no longer wear a V-neck shirt or dress due to the loss of my breast. This was almost as devastating as losing my hair. I was never one to be vain or modest. I never took extra pains when it came to my attire. I wore what I wanted. But, the treatment and protocols involved with breast cancer sends modesty flying out the window. Because of excessive weight gain following treatment, my prosthesis had to change frequently. I required a new prosthesis every year after surgery, causing my breasts on occasion to be uneven. My new battle has become coping with this new "balancing act." I have now become self-conscious. This has become my new vanity.
Another new normal that I wrestle with is "chemo brain." It is real and scary. Often times I forget what I am saying right in the middle of my sentence. This is sometimes frustrating and embarrassing. I have tried to create a visual image of my conversation to keep me focused, but sometimes I forget what I said right after I said it. My advice to loved ones of chemo patients, be patient. This is not a side effect that we chose to live with. Sometimes even making a list does not work. The emotional roller coaster that comes with being diagnosed with any sickness or disease is unexplainable. A strong support system is beneficial to help a patient deal with these changes. A listening ear and a broad shoulder are worth millions.
Eight years have now passed since I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. I still have numbness in my arm from lymph node removal. A nurse once instructed me to hold my arm above my head or sleep with a pillow under it to relieve the numbness. I still obsess with the thought of the cancer returning in my other breast and having to go through this all over again. There are many things that I wish I would have known before surgery and many choices I question that I made, but through it all I cannot complain because someone's journey was worse than mine; someone did not make it through; someone has fought more than once. I am blessed to have survived, even if for one day. So many things changed after my breast cancer diagnosis. I now live through that journey to inspire others; to share their fears and tears; to encourage them; to let them know you can make it through each day. Support groups and/or fellow breast cancer survivors can help with the transition that comes with the diagnosis. We have to support one another. I thank God for my support network. I could not have made it without them. We have to share all of the valuable information that was shared with us. Sickness does not just affect the patient, but all of those who come in contact with the patient. I had faith that I would be a survivor; even if it was just for a day -- I survived. I know that I was healed for a purpose, even if to share my story.
There are so many things that we do not know to expect after breast cancer or any other disease. We lean to those who have experienced it or rely on resources such as the Internet or other materials to give us insight. Most importantly, we must learn to listen to our bodies. They tell us when things are not right. Don't ignore the warning signs. Early prevention and detection may result in less invasive or long-term treatment, even if it means a new normal.
Stacy L. Murray-Medcalf, South Point, Ohio, is an eight- year breast cancer survivor and co-founder of The Cause, Inc., which promotes resource awareness as it relates to health issues. For more information visit www.thecause7.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.