After graduating from IU, I left Indiana with no intention of returning except for the holidays. In 2009, my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and my father’s Alzheimers meant he was unable to navigate her care so I, in the space of a chaotic month, left my life in Texas to become a full-time caregiver. My mother died in 2010, my father in 2020. I’m still in Indiana because I need ten years of service for an Indiana teaching pension. I’m finishing up my 7th year - but who’s counting? When I finally retire, I will have 32 years of teaching experience under my belt, mostly middle school. My retirement plan is van life, traveling to family and friends, seeking adventure while avoiding cold weather (and middle schoolers) at all costs.
Because of my family history of breast cancer, I began getting mammograms in my 30’s. Sometime in 2019 I had noticed some changes in my left breast, even brought it to the attention of my PCP but my mammogram that year and the year after were fine. When my 2021 mammogram came back as abnormal, I wasn’t surprised. Actually, there was a strange sense of relief because I didn’t have to worry anymore IF I was going to get breast cancer. It felt as if the other shoe had finally dropped. My diagnosis is here and now I can deal with it. Because my mother and her mother lived for decades after their mastectomy and died of causes unrelated to their breast cancer, I decided my narrative would be the same.
I was officially diagnosed in December 2021 with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my left breast, HER 2 negative, Estrogen and Progesterone Receptor positive. I tested positive for the BRCA-2 mutation which heightens the possibility of prostate, ovarian and breast cancer. My brother is also BRCA-2 positive and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018. He treated it aggressively and, for now, is doing ok. Fortunately, my sister tested negative.
After having managed to avoid an operating room for 56 years, 2022 was my Year of Surgery with a bilateral mastectomy in February and a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy in September. Yeah, I could say BSO but bilateral salpingo oophorectomy is so much more fun to say. My lymph nodes and mastectomy margins were clean so I did not need chemotherapy or radiation. My ovaries and Fallopian tubes were healthy. I am on a hormone blocker while, not life-threatening, has definite life-altering effects. I know women who have chosen breast reconstruction with implants or flap surgery. However, I made the decision to stay “flat” because I did not want any additional surgical interventions. To date, I have no regrets.
The Cancer Support Community has played an integral part in my recovery. It was early December, I was newly diagnosed, driving to work east on 3rd Street when BOOM! Cancer Support Community. I took that sign as a sign the Universe was going to take care of me. I don’t think the office was even open yet because the first couple of times I stopped by to check it out, the door was locked. I kept cold-calling and, eventually, the renovation work was done, the door unlocked and I jumped in with both feet. My first program was Rebecca’s art series. I was a little uncomfortable less because it was 3 weeks after my mastectomy and more because my artistic ability is MEH. I have painted and yoga-ed and Reiki-ed and eaten and counseled and sang and laughed and cried over the past year both in-person and virtually. I have learned about nutrition and organization and Moving Beyond, but, most importantly, I have learned that there is a resourceful, supportive and caring team of staff as well as other cancer fighters and survivors always ready with a smile and a “How can I help?”
At first, I struggled with using these resources because my cancer experience wasn’t really that bad. No chemo, no radiation, no hospital stays (my double mastectomy was outpatient!), no underlying fear of dying and leaving my family and friends to grieve. I “only” lost my breasts and ovaries and fallopian tubes. How could I possibly be a candidate for all these services? I didn’t deserve it. Crazy talk! I did have cancer. I did need the support. I still need the support, and I’m so, so grateful that the Cancer Support Community said in no uncertain terms “We are here for you.”