My Relay for Life story actually started months before being diagnosed with breast cancer. It started with the birth of my daughter, Grace. My husband, Matt and I were anxiously awaiting her arrival in San Antonio, Texas – after three false alarms, she was finally born on Feb. 7, 2010. By the 13th, we were on our way home to Lynbrook from adopting our beautiful baby girl.
Being home on adoption leave from work, I decided to get all my medical checkups done including my annual mammogram. I remember watching Dr. Oz one afternoon and him saying that every woman should get a sonogram with your mammogram if you have dense breasts, and I remembered that last year’s mammogram had indicated I had dense breasts, so I asked my doctor to add a sono to my script.
Well after being called back a few more times, a PEM scan (positron emission mammography), four biopsies and three doctor consultations later – I was finally diagnosed with DCIS – Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. It was in 75% of my right breast as well as a very large radial scar. I asked the doctor, “So what does this mean?” She said, “It means you have breast cancer.” It still didn’t sink in. I mean I was worried and scared, but I was a new mom and this was just an inconvenience to my very busy schedule.
First person I called was my best friend, Marlene. Being a survivor herself, she helped me through my options and gave me the strength I needed to continue on the path of “getting this taking care of” as she would say.
Once it did sink in, I was only worried about one thing – finalizing the adoption of Grace. Will the agency find out about my diagnosis, the social worker? Will they not let me finalize because of my health? My doctor at Sloan told me not to worry, of all the breasts cancers to have – “this was the best kind.” She was right. It was not life threatening and the adoption was finalized, no problem.
On May 26, 2010, my bilateral mastectomies were performed. During my surgery the sentinel lymph nodes were removed, biopsied, and both were clear of cancer cells. The cancer had not invaded my lymph nodes. This was a huge relief for me. Because of these results, and because my cancer was at a very early stage, I did not need chemo nor radiation. I was going to get brand new breasts! I know I’m making this sound like it was a piece of cake, and my family and friends can tell you stories of my fears and tears during the whole ordeal, but all in all I made it through.
I know I couldn’t have done it without them, my family and friends. They cried with me, they held my hand, they held and played with my daughter - when I couldn’t, they walked my dog, they cooked and cleaned for me, took me to doctor appointments, they made me laugh. I couldn’t have gone through this without them and I’m thankful for having them in my life, everyday. And most of all, my ultimate hero––my husband, Matt. He was there for me every step of the way and I couldn’t have found the strength to get through this without him and his unconditional, uncompromising love for me.
I made it through my surgery and I’m happy to say that I’m cancer free for 2 years now. But then twice after me, breast cancer reared its ugly head again. First with my fun-loving cousin, Angela and then my precious mom. They both had stage one breast cancers and they both needed chemo and radiation. I now understood what the term “survivor guilt” meant. I actually felt guilty that I didn’t need chemo and they did. I think I cried more for their diagnosis than my own –– though I didn’t dare show it to them. As I knew would happen, both my cousin and mother came through with flying colors. Both are two of the strongest women I know. Both will be walking with me at Relay for Life this year.
God knew exactly what he was doing when he planned my life! He built me up to the real challenge to face, but gave me the strength to see it through. As my wise best friend Marlene, told me, cancer can do one of two things: bury you or teach you a lesson. I’m very glad to say that it did the latter for me. My entire life changed, not because of the disease itself, but the tools it gave me to use through my life challenges. It gave me the strength to do what I needed. Being there for my cousin and then my mother. I have a whole new life now. I’m a mother, I have a new “stress-free” job, I have a whole new attitude and as I joke, “new boobs.” Cancer didn’t define me, but gave me the opportunity to live my life in a way I wanted to live it. It was my gift, as weird as it is to say that.
RELAY – Communicate, pay it forward. That’s what it means.
Come join us – the survivors, the caretakers, the community of love and support! While it has been said many times, how hard it is to describe Relay, no one ever has trouble explaining WHY they Relay. We Relay because at one point in our lives we have personally been touched by cancer and we all desperately want to put an end to the disease.
This disease does not win – let’s prove that right. Walk and share with us. Relay for Life is a life changing experience…he has been for me.