In 1990, at age 39, I had my very first mammogram. Later that week, I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. I had a right mastectomy and thought I was home free. But in 1996, after experiencing shortness of breath, it was determined that the cancer had recurred in my lungs, changing my diagnosis to stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
For the past 16 years, my breast cancer has been held in check with various oral drugs. The side effects are not always pleasant, but doable; I still ride horses, quilt and travel. I am 61 years old now and have been living with cancer for 22 years. But I am living – I have a wonderful life and treasure every moment.
MY UNIQUE JOURNEY
I have been a medical social worker for 38 years, including 9 years spent as an oncology social worker at the IU Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. I honestly questioned this decision because I thought, “I live with cancer 24 hours a day, and do I really want to spend even more time thinking about it?”
But, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was privileged to work alongside physicians, nurses, medical technicians and secretaries all dedicated to making the lives of cancer patients better in whatever way they could.
I also learned a great deal from my patients and their families, who taught me how to handle cancer with grace, dignity and a sense of humor.
MY ADVICE FOR OTHER WOMEN
I would encourage newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to not compare themselves and their disease to other breast cancer patients. There is a tendency for well-meaning friends and family to share their own experiences or experiences of others. We will hear stories of others whose breast cancer is not as bad as ours or is worse than ours.
But if you compare your situation time and time again to these stories, your piece of mind goes right out the window. My breast cancer is my breast cancer, and no one knows my journey better than me and my care team.