Ten years ago, a self-check revealed a lump that was diagnosed as breast cancer. Two surgeries, chemo, radiation, years of medications and scans and blood tests and on and on...The possibility of never having any more children was real and hurtful. Being curled up on the couch, in pain from what the chemo was doing to my body. Attending my 10 year high school reunion in a wig, and flying home early the very next day to receive a chemo treatment. Serving as a bridesmaid in my best friend's wedding wearing that awful wig. Having a plane full of people look at you strangely because you're wearing a germ mask. They're wondering what's wrong with you, what you might be passing on to them, totally ignorant of the fact that you're worried about what they might be passing on to your worn-down immune system. Cancer treatment is no walk in the park. I did everything I could then to fight it so that I could look myself in the eyes in the mirror and declare I had done all I could, should it ever show itself again.
But deep down, I knew...I always told those closest to me that somehow I knew that wasn't the end of that disease for me. I just felt like we would meet again...it was inevitable.
Life took us to Japan, where we were blessed doubly with Anaya and Audie. Anaya's name is actually of Hebrew origin, meaning "God answered." He surely did by giving us the gift of more babies after my treatment. After they were born, I inquired about having some permanent surgeries done to put a nail in the cancer coffin. Being where we were geographically, it would have been a logistical nightmare, so they offered to watch me very closely, and they recommended I request surgery upon our return to the U.S. When we arrived in the D.C. area, and I was referred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, I was optimistic about reaching a more permanent solution. However, I was met with resistance from my assigned surgeon (a female), who felt I was being "drastic." She didn't know what I knew about our inevitable meeting that would happen again...But I allowed her to shut my intention down. I continued getting my mammograms and bloodwork, but stopped pursuing what I knew I needed to pursue. Don't do that. Advocate for yourself.
Sixteen months ago, my annual mammogram looked like it had paint splattered across it. Not just one questionable spot had appeared since the prior year's - a dozen had. Those spots were later determined to be well on their way to cancer, but I didn’t let them get that far. This ugly scan gave me the leverage I needed to demand a different surgeon and plead my case. I elected to have a bilateral mastectomy because I was completely not interested in having cancer in my house again. Side note: in the 2.5 months between the biopsy and surgery, the lesions has already grown significantly. The surgeon actually said I was "a ticking time bomb." The past year has been a tough one, with the mastectomy and three additional surgeries to reconstruct safer alternatives 😉, repurposing my fat in the most creative ways. It has left me tired, sore, uncomfortable, sometimes unreliable, absent, and often in need of help. But it's left me LIFE.
There have been plenty of days I have cursed cancer and pain and drugs, and counted and recounted my 37 scars...but there hasn’t been a single day I haven’t been thankful for modern medicine, and its ability to see what we cannot see. I thank God for guiding me in this journey, for providing the assurance I needed when making this decision, for blessing mankind with a brain so marvelous that it can INVENT. I thank scientists who have dedicated their lives to finding a cure, and doctors who have dedicated theirs to pursuing the treatments that might get us closer. It's no doubt these days, cancer is everywhere. It is an ugly beast and if you let it, it can take a lot from you. But armed with knowledge, preventative measures, and a kick-ass spirit, you can put up a heck of a fight and you can protect yourself. I beg each and every one of you women: Do not wait until tomorrow to do that which you can do today. It could literally kill you.