In honor of Pinktober (Breast Cancer Awareness month), I am (re)sharing a blog entry that discusses how I felt when I learned of my breast cancer diagnosis on New Years’ Eve eve in 2016. I am dedicating this to all my pink sisters out there, whether they are survivors, currently fighting, or sadly, have lost their battle..
Originally posted here
Other than having MS, I’m generally a pretty healthy person. I seldom get sick because I’m so careful about how I live my life. I exercise, I eat well, and as my former students would attest to, I’m slightly germ-phobic. I don’t consider that a negative trait because I’m sure that’s how I remain healthy. But one thing I was told early in my journey with MS is that having one illness does not preclude me from getting others. It’s something I filed in the back of my head somewhere and have only recently discovered how true it is.
As a woman in her 40’s, I am always on top of my wellness visits with all of my doctors. After all, I am a rule girl. I do my full body check with my dermatologist every year, get an annual physical with my primary care physician, visit my ophthalmologist once a year, see my gynecologist annually, and, of course, I get my mammograms. I have had irregular readings on my mammograms in the past, which have always revealed nothing unusual upon repeat scans.
So this year, when I was told that they would like to take some further imaging and ultrasound if necessary, I didn’t panic. Why would I? Offering full disclosure here, I have scar tissue from a breast reduction and being called for follow-up mammograms is not unusual under these circumstances.
This year, unlike past years, I was told that I should see a breast specialist because the mammogram and ultrasound revealed irregularities. I still didn’t panic because I’m so used to visiting doctors and specialists of all sorts, thanks to MS. When the doctor examined me, she didn’t feel anything but she did see what the radiologist had seen on the films from the mammogram as well as on the CD of my ultrasound. When she told me that I needed to have a stereotactic biopsy, I still didn’t panic. She explained that most likely it was nothing, and if it was anything, it was stage zero and very treatable.
The moment of panic came when I walked in the room for this biopsy and saw the table that I was going to be lying down on during the procedure. (Think: operating table with a hole in it where I was to lie face down with the appropriate breast in the hole.) To be fair, it wasn’t scary at all, and the doctors and nurses did everything they could to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
After the procedure, I was told that I would hear my results within 4-5 business days. The timing was tight because of the holiday falling smack dab in there. I debated with myself endlessly about whether it would be better to hear before New Year’s Eve or continue to not know anything until after the holidays. Ultimately the choice was not mine, and I got the call on the eve of New Year’s Eve.
With my sister on one side of me and Bruce on the other, I sat and listened to words I never expected to hear: it’s cancer. I promptly scheduled an appointment with the breast specialist for her first available appointment in order to discuss the biopsy findings further and also to come up with the appropriate treatment plan. As of the publishing of this entry, that appointment has not yet happened.
It’s a weird feeling to hear this kind of news. Scary, of course, but also relieved that I am a proactive patient and this has been caught early with a very positive prognosis. Still, I feel like I’m somehow living someone else’s life even though I know full well that having MS doesn’t guarantee me immunity from other illnesses.
One thing I have never done is ask “why me?”, not referring to Multiple Sclerosis, and not in this situation either. The truth is, that I believe in the universe, no matter what it decides to dole out to me. By overcoming obstacles in our path, we are made stronger. When I was diagnosed with MS, I never questioned it, and my journey has brought me many gifts and my mission has become more and more clear the longer it has been a part of my life.
So here I am, starting the new year, ready to fight another fight. I’m not sure what the universe has in store for me, but I do know that I would not be given anything more than I can handle. I also know that somewhere along this next part of my journey, my purpose will become apparent just as it always has in the past.
The lesson for all of us here is the following: sulking, questioning, and negativity are all a waste of our precious energy. Instead, let’s use our energy in productive ways. I, for one, propose a toast to all of us warriors out there, fighting to overcome whatever physical or emotional obstacles we are faced with. Grab a glass of lemonade (half-full, obviously), and be grateful for your blessings as well as your challenges, because both are a part of living a full and rewarding life. I’m looking ahead to the future, cancer and all, and I can’t even imagine how much stronger I will be next year at this time. Cheers!