Navigating the breast cancer highway

​I had cancer.  Some days I have to repeat myself.  I.Had.Cancer.  I first had this thought in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.  You would think at this point that it would not come as such a surprise to me.  I have lived with the idea of cancer for the last 40 years.  At six, I watched my mother succumb to breast cancer.  I have spent the rest of my life waiting for the day that I would be diagnosed as well.  It finally caught up with me on April 30, 2015 (the mammogram heard around the world).  For the past eighteen months, cancer has ruled my life.  I have waded through genetic testing, two surgeries, five months of chemo, six weeks of radiation, and endless months of trying to heal, both physically and mentally.  If this time has taught me anything, it was that I woefully unprepared for this fight.

I had done everything right.  I read a little bit about how cancer works in the body, which overcame some of my fears.  I developed a working relationship with my doctor, and had annual exams.  I started mammograms at 35, going every two years until I was 40, when it accelerated to every year.  Mentally, I was well prepared.  When the doctor called me to tell me my mammogram showed a new mass, and that they strongly recommended a biopsy, I was calm.  I was fine.  

Then the biopsy hit.  Like a hurricane.  I followed the tech in the room, she prepped me, and told me the radiologist would be in shortly.  And I waited.  And waited.  Apparently, the radiologist was tied up with another patient.  Some deeply held panic suddenly bubbled up from the dark recess of my brain.  I was staring at the ceiling, thinking of my mom, and how hard this must have been on her to be diagnosed, with two small children.  I have never had any kids, but the idea that I wouldn’t be able to grow old with my husband suddenly became a possibility in my mind.  I was suddenly terrified.  I was in tears.  I wanted very much to live.

When I received the biopsy results, I was not surprised to find out it was cancer.   But I stewed none the less.  What did the results mean?  How bad was it?  I googled some terms from my report, and quickly decided that was a bad idea, as I didn’t understand what I was reading, but, boy, was it scary-sounding.  I went to see the surgeon, I met with oncologists, and all my doctors did a wonderful job of explaining what my treatment options were.  But I was completely overwhelmed.  I felt paralyzed.  I didn’t know what else to research on my own, or what other questions I should be asking.  As time has passed and I have learned more about cancer and treatments, I realize that I should have made some decisions differently.  I wish I had been given a roadmap, a checklist, or some type of direction to help me navigate.  Because it is confusing.  There are so many doctors, so many options, and so many choices.  As I tried to do research, I found myself lost on websites, drowning in a sea of data.  And I couldn’t help but wonder, was I alone in this?  After more than a year of visiting with other patients in multiple waiting rooms, support groups, and just out and about, it’s clear how many of us face this.  

I have two purposes going forward:  to share my story and to provide information to help others navigate a little easier.  I am not a medical professional, nor do I want to dispense medical advice.  But I want to pull together information that I wish I had been able to find a year ago, linking to sources that may be able to help others in their own research.  Through this blog I hope to share my experiences and feelings as I try to transition between the worlds of patient and survivor.  Because one thing I know for sure – the road to breast cancer survivor does not end when treatment does.  Through trial and error, I am driven to become a breast cancer survivor.

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