The “c” word most people dread hearing is cancer.
Five years ago, I went for my routine mammogram. I wasn’t expecting anything unusual to turn up, but within 2 weeks I had a diagnosis of cancer. The diagnosis was made in early June, and my mastectomy was scheduled for July 8. For a couple of weeks, I wasn’t sure if I would get to go ahead and have the mastectomy or have a port put in for chemo. Thankfully, the test results came back that I didn’t need to have chemo.
The word, cancer, hit me hard like a car coming out of nowhere and slamming into me. I just didn’t see it coming. My summer plans were instantly changed to surgery and then recovery.
I remember sitting in the breast surgeon’s office listening to him tell me about the surgery. I think it’s interesting that doctors go into all of this detail about the surgery and don’t tell you what to expect post-surgery. Yes. What he explained was important. He explained what kind of cancer I had. He explained why a lumpectomy would not be enough. I was okay with him taking the whole breast. He also explained that having a double mastectomy would not be an advantage. I opted to just have the one breast removed. He explained about reconstruction. I opted to not have reconstruction. I wanted that cancer out, and not put anything back in. Besides, I’d heard about problems with implants. I sat dry-eyed in the doctor’s office with the peace of knowing that God was in control. I had given my life to God when I was 8 years old. I knew that my life was in His hands, and that whatever I had to go through, He would be there with me through it all. He would give me the strength I needed.
I was NOT prepared for the first time I took the bandages off. The scar was a shock! He did NOT explain that I would have a drain in place for up to six weeks. And believe me, the drain made me cry much more than the missing breast. I could only take a shower with the water-proof tape over the drain, and the tape caused me some major itching. My husband and I tried everything we could find to cover the drain that would allow me to shower and also keep the itching under control. No such luck.
I thankfully didn’t go insane from the itching, and rejoiced when the final drain came out six weeks post-surgery. Then it was time to adjust to my new normal. I saw the oncologist and was put on a hormone inhibitor called Arimidex. I had several side effects from this drug, but the most severe were hot flashes and insomnia. Try to imagine 5 years of not feeling like you got a good night’s sleep. It would take me an hour or two just to fall asleep even when I felt sleepy. If I woke up during the night, it would often take me an hour or two to go back to sleep.
Then I was fitted with a breast prosthesis and special bras. My new normal also included having to be careful about low-cut tops (not that I ever showed cleavage). I found a necklace fan and carried in my purse. Some may have laughed when I pulled it out, but believe me it was not a laughing matter to be sitting there feeling totally normal and then have this intense heat take over your body.
That was 5 years ago, and the cancer has not returned. Since I’m low risk, the oncologist has allowed me to stop taking Arimidex. I will still see the oncologist yearly for another 5 years.
The toughest part of getting the cancer diagnosis was having to tell my older daughter. Her husband was also battling cancer. His battle was so much worse than mine. My son-in-law lost his 6 1/2 year battle with cancer on June 5. He was only 35 years old. Whenever I would get down about what I was going through, I would just tell myself that it could always be worse.
My son-in-law, Tony, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer during the fall of 2012. The doctor found a lump on his thyroid during a physical. He went for a sonogram and that started his cancer journey. He was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive type of cancer. He had the thyroid removed and took radioactive iodine. During the fall of 2013, right after a wonderful family vacation to Disney World (my husband and I went along), something showed up on his scans. The cancer had invaded his lungs. He started going to M. D. Anderson in Houston in January of 2014. I began staying with the kids when Tony and my daughter would go to Houston. He went through several treatments, clinical trials, and most of the time took a daily chemo pill. I’m sure he had many days when he did not feel well. You would have never known. He powered through. He continued to work full time as a civil engineer, and helped with the kids and the house. He was an amazing man. My daughter began working on her master’s degree in counseling 2 years ago, and Tony took on more around the house to help her. He was admired and loved by so many people. He was promoted to project manager at his company. He served as branch president for his professional organization. And he won awards from his professional organization. All this while battling the cancer which finally took his life. I’m sure the last two or three months of his life were extremely tough. During his last few weeks, he could not eat and grew very weak. It was clear the cancer was spreading. He had a heart catheter for a few days in May, and came home with a lung catheter during the last few weeks. Tony had been a part of our lives since the fall of 1999 when he and my daughter started dating. I will miss him acutely.
During this last spring, my grandson wrote about his dad being his hero. I would also add Tony to my list of heroes.
God takes us down many paths we never planned to take. The important thing is to keep holding tight to His hand and trusting in Him for comfort and peace. I can’t explain the deep joy, peace, and trust I have in Jesus Christ. Life is a roller coaster. Hang on and trust the One in control.