BY Sidney Anne
After almost a year of taking care of my mother, we went out to celebrate her last chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma. What we thought would be a great night of relief and joy turned out to be the beginning of yet another life altering journey.
That night, I ended up being rushed to the hospital and after a few weeks and a battery of tests was diagnosed with breast cancer. There are so many things wrong with everything I just said but there I was, in my 30s, meeting with oncologists and plastic surgeons and trying to make life-changing decisions almost over night.
I had made the decision to have a bilateral, total mastectomy because (for me) that was the right choice based on what was presented to me. I never felt defined by my breasts and my life was more important to me. In meeting with several plastic surgeons, however, I met with one that simply didn’t seem to understand the kind of woman I am and I really needed my doctors at the time to “get” me. What I was going through was so far beyond words in many ways that I needed to know that when I explained my feelings to them, they understood me and how I felt. I heard him out and quietly got up to leave knowing that there was no chance I would be having my surgery done by this guy so I politely excused myself until he said, “Don’t worry, when you get your new breasts you will feel so much better about yourself.” I’m not sure if it was a case of wrong place, wrong time or what exactly happened to me at that moment but I stopped cold in the doorway, turned and said, “I feel pretty damn good about myself right now. I just don’t want to die”. That was a turning point for me.
From that day forward, that hazy cloud was lifted and I started to fight. I have fought every moment of every day since and I have no regrets about any of it. I’ve always been a fighter, but this last year or so has been quite challenging for many reasons. People told me all of the things that I “may” experience and I experienced them all but if they told me to do 3 exercises a day, I did 5. If they told me to walk 5 blocks, I walked 10. I was determined to get better and I did. I recovered quickly and remarkably. I joined support groups, I did yoga and pilates for breast cancer patients – whatever it took. When I started to feel awkward about my breasts not being my own, my friends would send me T-shirts that said, “Yes, they’re fake. My real ones tried to kill me!” We would laugh about it and move on. There was no way this thing was going to get me.
I am no expert, but if I had one piece of advice to give it would be to just keep going. Everyone has their moments, but you can never give up. This is not the first tragedy I’ve been through and I’m sure it won’t be my last, but that’s life, isn’t it? I can’t let it break me but I can let it motivate me. Since my diagnosis, and though I am still undergoing the process of reconstruction, I knocked three or four items off of my Bucket List. Some things have been huge. Others are just about appreciating the little things in life that I used to overlook because I was too “busy” doing a whole lot of nothing all that worthwhile. This experience has given me a remarkable gift-a reminder that no one is guaranteed tomorrow so enjoy as much as you can today!
Don’t get me wrong – it hasn’t been fun, but I feel stronger and more alive than ever before! I want to do it all! Nothing stops me. My life has become a non-stop adventure and I’m rolling with it because I never thought anything like this would happen to me at such a young age. It made me realize life is a gift and it is not to be wasted. I made a conscious decision to live my life on my own terms from that moment on and I have ever since. That may sound unrealistic to some but it is more achievable than you think.