It was a regular day in March 2015. I had never hated the sound of my own phone ringing. But the past month had changed that. I had found a lump in my breast a few weeks prior to this phone call. I had done the doctor visit, the mammogram, the biopsy. Even the wait. The agony of the wait was strong in its perseverance. I didn’t want my phone to ring because I knew on the other end of that line would be the words I had been dreading from the moment I found the lump. But all of my emotional denial didn’t stop the deadly truth hiding in my right breast from making itself known. The lump was still there. The phone still rang. The news still leveled me.
“You have cancer.”
The tears flooded my eyes. Blinded my vision. Blurred my perspective. They didn’t stop for weeks. But the tears made no difference. I had no control. My body had decided to betray me and sacrifice my most feminine attribute to do it. My instinct was to fight. But first I had to rid my body of the lump that had started it all. I had the surgical lumpectomy. Based on the biopsy, doctors told me prior to the surgery that it was best case scenario and I would only need radiation. After the surgery – immediately after taking possession of the lump in question – they told me they were wrong. It was worst case scenario. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I was told that I had no choice but to do chemo to be sure there were no microscopic leftovers waiting to reemerge and take me out. The doctors inundated me with statistics, drug information, to-dos, what-ifs, and in case I didn’t feel bad enough…bills.
That first visit to an oncology office – oncology – that word that I always assumed applied to someone else, never me – was now staring me down in the parking lot. I went alone. I needed to be alone to process it all. It was as if going into that office would officiate my cancer. Signed, sealed, delivered. Cancer.
The whole process was so common place to the medical professionals in that office. But for me, it was foreign. Terrifying. Damning. I felt like someone had blindfolded me, punched me in the gut, spun me in dizzying circles, and punched me again.
The surgery was quite possibly the easiest part of the whole experience. Probably because I was blissfully drugged for the pain.
When it was over, I retreated to recover and to research like I had never researched before. I read about treatments, outcomes, side effects, recurrences, costs, statistics, logistics, and alternatives. I searched my soul to listen to my own body. Everyone had an opinion on what I should do. But they weren’t the ones having to poison their bodies for a shot at healing. The verdict I came back to the doctors with was not the one they wanted to hear. I was rejecting chemo. While I told them I would do the radiation, I refused to poison my body simply because it was the only thing they knew to do at the time. Statistically, I was told that the chemo would *possibly* prevent the recurrence. I had a 70% chance that they got it all. That it would never return. That meant a 30% chance it would return. Doing the chemo reduced that chance by just 10%. However, committing to chemotherapy would , with 100% certainty, derail my life for at least a year, ensure that my kids watched me suffer tremendous pain, threaten their security, make me sicker than I had ever been, and flood my body with poison…all in hopes of killing a microscopic chance of recurrence. And then there was the promise that the chemo was not a promise. It may have no effect on a recurrence. I read story after story of patients who died a slow death from the treatment, rather than from the cancer. And if all of that wasn’t enough, my own body was screaming at me.
Nooooo. Don’t do it. No. Don’t. No, No, NO.
One thing age has taught me is to listen to my body. Above doctors, above google, above educated guesses…listen to your body.
So I decided to forgo the chemotherapy. Take my chances. Reclaim the power that cancer had stolen from me.
The doctors didn’t make that easy. They used scare tactics, shame, and guilt to force me into the chemo. But I had made my decision.
That was over 3 years ago. I never did the chemo. I never did reconstructive surgery. My breasts are slightly different sizes now that the lump is removed. I have a beautifully dented scar to remind me that my right breast once got sassy and gave me lip. But that’s all it is now…a reminder. I’m healthy. I didn’t put myself and my family through a year of chemo hell. The cancer challenged me to a fight. I stood my ground. It retreated. I will always live in fear that it will return. I will forever wonder if a persistent headache, a pain, exhaustion, or anything out of the ordinary is a recurrence bearing my expiration date. I will always wonder if I will live to regret my rejection of chemotherapy.
But for now, I am back to living. Back to the other stresses life bestows. Kids, homework, jobs, bills, flat tires, broken appliances, daily political sparring in the news. Cancer has taken its looming and unwelcome spot in the back seat. But I’m behind the wheel. It’s there every time I look in the rear view mirror. Staring back at me. Reminding me of the power it could once again take from me.
I see it. It sees me. While we maintain our fighting positions – just in case – I also keep moving. I’m steering toward the future, focusing my energy on my family, and keeping my foot heavy on the gas.
Speeding on to take in the moments I wasn’t sure I’d get. Tickets be damned.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Think Pink.
~ Chick Hughes
“Be Strong. You never know who you’re inspiring.” ~ author unknown
- One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
- On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and 1 woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
- Over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the U.S. today.