Story by Leslie Miller
Breast Cancer is not a death sentence; it is a blessing in disguise. Breast cancer is not what defines you; it is a defining moment. Breast cancer is not a separation from those you love; it is a re- connection to them. And breast cancer is not something that weakens you; it is a teacher of strength.
Though understandably alarmed at their diagnosis, all three women were quick to say that breast cancer does not signal an end to the life you live.
“It’s such a shattering and frightening diagnosis. Of course it scares you to death, but you have to set a goal to survive,” Suzanne said.
She continued, “I think it’s the best time, if there is such a thing, to have breast cancer. There are so many new technologies and treatments. I never really did get sick. I didn’t have extreme nausea or fatigue and I think that is a miracle.”
Vickie also went on with her daily routine after her diagnosis. “I had 36 radiation treatments. I went every morning, and I never missed work. I felt fine.”
Barbara agreed saying, “Surgery was nothing like I anticipated. There was very little pain.”
While the facts about breast cancer should not be ignored—the American Cancer Society estimated that more than 2,000 Arkansans would be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006—the stories of survival and perseverance should not be ignored, either.
“I always knew I had to be strong, but sometimes you don’t want to be tough,” Barbara said. “Sometimes you want to lean on someone else’s shoulder.”
While each woman said she discovered the depth of her own strength as a result of the diagnosis, each also emphasized the importance of a having a mentor and support group.
“You have so many questions and it helps to have someone telling you what to expect,” Suzanne added. “Someone who has been through it before.”
Although newly diagnosed patients may feel like they are alone in their battle against breast cancer, the reality is that 3 million American women are currently living with the disease.
“At first you think ‘Am I the only one that has this?’ But no, there are survivors everywhere,” Vickie said. “And once you become a survivor, you want to be there for other women who are battling the disease.”
“I want to help any other woman I can because that is how I got through my cancer,” Vickie said.
Suzanne added, “You want to do whatever you can to help because you’ve been on the receiving end.”
“People are so caring,” Suzanne said. “It’s your friends, and your family and people you don’t even know. They say ‘I’ve been praying for you,’ and it’s just an overwhelming experience.”
Vickie and Barbara agreed that they felt the same support.
“There were so many people,” Vickie recalled. “I got countless cards and phone calls, and you feel so touched. I remember thinking that I didn’t even know all these people knew me!”
It may seem odd to describe a life- threatening illness as a blessing, but our three survivors insisted that it was.
“It is the dedication and compassion of the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who enable you to begin this journey to recovery,” said Suzanne. ”It is your faith, inner-strength, and especially the love and support given by your family and friends that sustain you.”
“It’s really a blessing to go through this because you learn about yourself and your friends and the people that you love. Everyone was supportive,” Vickie said.
Barbara and Suzanne also shared that their cancer was a blessing waiting to be found.
“People are so wonderful and kind,” Barbara said. “It’s the kind of experience you don’t want to go through, but if you have to, the support is wonderful. There were so many people loving and caring for me.”
The women also agreed that their encounters with breast cancer reminded them to keep their priorities in perspective.
“And it’s sad that it takes something this traumatic to make us feel this way,” Barbara said. “But you wake up in the morning and you are thankful. You’re thankful that you feel alright—that you’re going to have another day. It changes the way you think about everything, and that’s a good thing.”
Breast cancer has truly taught these survivors that every new day is a victory and that time with family and friends is precious. Their encounters with the disease did not bring an end to their lives, but rather it began a new chapter. They hope that by sharing their experiences, other readers will remember the importance of early detection.
Vickie, Suzanne and Barbara were faithful to get regular mammograms and in Vickie’s case, insisted that the doctor find answers when something seemed wrong with her breast.
The survivors encourage all women to remember their yearly mammograms and watch for any changes in their bodies.
“Early detection is key,” said Vickie. “There is just no excuse not to. No excuse.”