FINDING MY STRENGTH
Summer of 2008, a new home out in the country. So relaxing to be surrounded by all the beauty of nature. I was in Heaven.
Then I was diagnosed with cancer. For months I had noticed some swelling under my right arm. It was subtle, just slightly puffy I thought. Sometimes hardly noticeable at all. So I kept it to myself, until one day I decided to ask my husband if he could see any difference comparing my underarms in the mirror. He wasn't sure. "Maybe, slightly. Kind of looks different but not real significant." So I let it pass until I convinced myself that this should not be ignored and I scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor. He too was not overly concerned but we decided to get a mammogram as I was due for a check up anyway.
I was very carefully screened twice by the technician and once by the head of the radiology department. Two ultrasounds followed and before I left that day I was assured that I did not have breast cancer. But there was reason to investigate why the ultrasound showed fluid in my lymph node.
My primary care doctor's nurse called with "good news." My tests showed no breast cancer. As she started to hang up, I uncommonly spoke up. "What about the swelling under my arm? It was the reason for my visit in the first place and the radiologist informed me that he was concerned and would write a letter to my physician requesting further diagnostic testing."
She said she would speak to my doctor and get back to me. Wow. As I look back now, I had taken charge. Not something I was accustomed to doing concerning my health. I was like most of us, so ready to say "OK, it's nothing" and go on with my life. Thank God I found the strength to speak up.
I was sent to a surgeon who removed a lymph node for biopsy. Now we knew. Yes, I definitely had breast cancer. A battery of other tests and procedures pinpointed the type of breast cancer I was dealing with and helped map out our plan of attack.
Then we begin the battle. Equipped with all the information further tests and procedures could provide, we successfully removed all twelve lymph nodes, nine of which were cancerous, and six small areas in my right breast.
How fortunate I was to have such a skilled surgeon who was able to save my breast and a wonderful oncologist and radiologist to stop the cancer in its tracks. We had a plan.
It would be a long process and I would need to gather all the courage I could muster to face this disease head on.
Where would I get this strength, this courage? How can I be sure I would win? Did I even want to go through all it would demand? Where was my assurance that all would be ok? That my family would be able to endure the challenges and burdens this disease would place on them?
The word spread quickly through my family and friends and for me I was grateful for that. My husband setup a web site, CaringBridge, so I could correspond with them. It proved to be the best way for me to share my feelings and release some of the anxiety as well as keeping family and friends informed. The support I had was the most important part of my attack on my cancer.
Staying focused and positive is vital but it doesn't happen alone. These were the people I could count on to brighten my day, understand my needs and patiently encourage my journey. I quickly learned that I could and should "speak up" ask for what I needed. Visits, a phone call, e-mails, cards just thinking of you's. They gave me strength.
It seemed like everyone I encountered was aware of my illness. I credit the pink ribbon. I wore like a badge of courage. My husband has made it a permanent part of his wardrobe. It is my strength. I didn't need to explain the slower pace, lack of hair or any other telltale signs. Kindness seemed to follow me. I believe the awareness through the Susan G. Komen foundation was so helpful in making this come about. It's a small blessing but a little kindness even from stranger meant so much. Thank you. You were my strength.
Because of strangers, family and friends I felt more love than I ever imagined this world had for me. I felt valued. I needed it. It fed my soul and gave me the strength to carry on.
My husband, Grady, took all the stress he could from me. He lost his job very shortly after my diagnosis. This might have made things tougher but, as we look back, we were blessed to have had this time together. He could be with me, caring, supporting, fulfilling my needs and giving me strength.
An enduring ritual I'd like to pass along got us through those awkward waits in doctors' offices, chemo sessions, surgeries, etc. I realized I needed to be his focus. Not a book, television or too heavy of conversation. Just wanted some loving support. So I used my strength and asked.
He would read to me from my favorite cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes, for just that purpose. It helped distract my thoughts and lighten the load. We laughed together, reminisced a bit about our own childhoods. It turned our medical appointment into a date. Just the two of us sharing, caring, and strengthening each other.
Through this battle with cancer I see life. I see clearly now what is dear to me. I have learned to glean strength from others. To accept my shortcomings, yet stand up for myself. Admit my needs. Graciously receive support and help. Show gratitude. Be encouraged by others, even strangers. Stay strong through my own strengths and the strength of others. Most importantly have Faith and tap into the strength God gives me.
On September 9, 2010 I will receive the results of my most recent tests. Regardless of the results I know I will be fine.
I HAVE THE STRENGTH.