I’m writing this while I recover from my third breast cancer related surgery in 13 months. I am 44 years old and I’m now an amputee. This is being written during a month that shows us lots of pink ribbons and fundraisers. I am writing this to ask you to make sure you know what you’re supporting when you contribute to something with a pink ribbon on it. I’m asking you to read my story and learn from my mistakes and also from my achievements.
Breast cancer took away one of what I considered my best physical features. I had a great rack! They were big, they were still relatively perky (despite having two kids and being 43 years old), and they were all natural. That all changed the day I found a weird lump on my right breast during a self-exam in the shower. It didn’t hurt, it didn’t protrude, it wasn’t hot or red, or have any other signs that they tell you to look for, it was just there, and it wasn’t there before. After two doctor’s exams, two mammograms, and one biopsy, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
I elected to have a double mastectomy because there is a history of various cancers in my family tree and my research showed me that the likelihood that cancer would return if I had a lumpectomy was high. Confidently I approached my surgery knowing I was tough, I wasn’t that vain, and I would be fine; everything would be fine.
There was a plan: it was that my surgical oncologist would remove all my breast tissue and some lymph nodes and then my plastic surgeon would swoop in and put my implants in and I would wake up with my silicone implants and go on with life. Well, plans change and when I awoke from the 9.5 hour surgery, I was not only flat, my chest was inverted and I was in some extreme pain every time I tried to move my right arm. The surgeons told my husband that they couldn’t do direct-to-implant because they had removed too much tissue. Instead, they had to put in a chest expander. After a few weeks of healing, I would visit my plastic surgeon’s office weekly to have them inject this expander with more saline so that my body would accept implants. Those days following such a lengthy surgery are a blur. I remember being sad. I remember feeling like I somehow failed myself.
I’ve worked hard most of my life…well, technically since college when I realized I needed to try harder to get something out of the tuition money I was paying. When age 40 was approaching, I knew I had to conquer my bucket list item of owning my own business. That wasn’t happening at a small law firm.
I leaped at an opportunity to buy a commercial property in Old Town Lansing. Unsure of what I would do with my new spot, I knew I enjoyed the area, the community feel, and just the space. I am now the proud of owner of Polka Dots Boutique in Old Town Lansing.
However, my career in law wasn’t left in the dust. I was/am still working for an organization that works to further continuing legal education in the criminal defense arena. I also accepted another part-time contract position working with the State Bar of Michigan. My work history had given me confidence that I could do new and hard things, and also the understanding that work isn’t always pretty or clean. Working on myself through my cancer journey has been ugly, dirty, and full of missteps and even some good falls.
Breast Cancer as a Mom
Pain and difficult situations can make you stronger. I believe that our children will mimic this strength they see. My children worked hard at school and sports through all of this. Worry wasn’t far from them though. They sat in the hospital waiting room and worried for hours, they saw my pain and worried, they saw some of my scars and worried more. I saw the worry in their eyes. But, I also saw them push past worry and dive into working on tasks in front of them.
I was admiring their strength and mentioned it to my husband. His response was, “They’re doing what they see you do and they’re reacting to cancer how you reacted to it.” My external reactions were to maintain positivity, to be strong, to overcome, yet attempt to be transparent as well. I was somehow able to hide my own fear, my own self doubt and blame, and show up as a woman ready to conquer. Showing up determined to show my kids that this was something I could handle and that they shouldn’t worry was important to me.
They grew up way too quickly in the last 13 months with some tough life lessons, and way more responsibility thrown at them than I would have liked. But, when your mom has cancer, a global pandemic is going on, and throw in some other traumatic life experiences—like their grandmother passing away (of cancer no less)—they had no choice. I’ve never been more sure that therapy is in all of our futures.
Some lessons I’ve learned and reinforced: being a mom is so hard! Kids are resilient. Kids learn so much from how we react to events in our lives and it molds them. It may make them tougher, but they can also learn empathy towards other humans. Being a wife is hard! Picking a partner who will stand by you and hold you up through trauma is a standard you should never give up.