I was 58 years old on April 25, 2012, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I found the lump during a routine self-exam and followed up with my primary care physician. He ordered a mammogram, ultrasound and core-needle biopsy. The results came in – it was Stage 2B, right in the middle of the road.
When I first heard the news, I was kind of in shock, even though my gut feeling all along had told me it was cancer. After the initial shock wore off, I had a range of emotions from anger to fear.
Right after my diagnosis, the Wellmont Cancer Institute got the ball rolling. Dr. John Ehrenfried did a bilateral mastectomy and removed two lymph nodes, and I was referred to Dr. Jamal Maatouk for my chemotherapy – I had 16 rounds of chemo at the cancer institute’s Kingsport office.
I couldn’t have asked for anything better from my cancer team, even though the chemo was rough. I had all the things that usually go on during treatment – nausea, hair loss and fatigue. You hear people say they’re tired all the time, but chemo tired is a different kind of tired completely.
But I’m a fighter. I’m not going to lie down and quit. The three main things that kept me going are my faith in the Lord, my family and my church family.
I think when you’re going through this, it has to come from within. I know the Lord heals us, but you’ve got to have that determination and that fight.
The entire time, my navigator, LaCosta, was by my side. She introduced me to so many resources, including the Look Good Feel Good program. It’s amazing, sitting around with a bunch of bald women, all of us pale as ghosts, putting on makeup. But it was fun, and it made me feel better about myself.
I also had breast reconstruction. I debated on that part, but it wasn’t a vanity thing. You want to feel like a woman, but when they cut your chest open and remove your breasts, it’s hard to feel that way.
My family was also a source of strength. I have two grown children and four grandchildren, and my oldest grandchildren would get on the bandwagon and see who would get me to treatment, so I didn’t have to worry about transportation.
The first four chemo treatments are called the Red Devil, and that’s exactly what they are. That’s why my family’s support was so important to me – during this difficult time, they made sure I ate right, and my son kept me chock-full of peanut butter milkshakes.
I also relied on my faith. When you’re fighting cancer, everything comes from the heart.
When you’re first diagnosed, you’re in shock and don’t really know how to feel about it. And then, you get home and you think, “I have cancer. I don’t want to die.”
To everyone going through cancer: KEEP UP THE FIGHT. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
Everybody’s scared, so you have to be a fighter and figure out if you’re going to make it through.
I’ve come full circle. At the time of my diagnosis, I was working for the Wellmont CVA Heart Institute. I was sitting at the cancer institute one day getting chemo, and I thought, “I’d really like to work here and work with cancer patients.”
And as I got better and started feeling better, it was like God opened a door. I love talking to the patients who are scared to death. I tell them, “Hey, I’m a survivor too.”
If I can spread one ounce of cheer and determination and enthusiasm to these patients, that’s my goal. When patients come back and say, “thank you,” I know this is what I’m meant to do.
I think about how I’m blessed, and not about the “what ifs.”
Did a compassionate smile lift your spirits? Or did a world-class team of physicians save your life? Whether you were born here, healed here or both,
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