My cell phone rang while driving to my son’s basketball game; he was in 4th gradeand about to play his elementary school’s archrival. I was supposed to watchhis game for 30 minutes and then pick up my daughter from her tennis match. But when my doctor told me I had “a couple of cancer cells,” I pulled the car over and cried. “Does this mean I have breast cancer?” I asked myself later; I hadn’t asked the doctor because my mind had shut down when I heard those words. I was too young to have cancer, I thought — I was only 44 years old. I was too busy to have cancer.
I had a thousand questions racing through my mind. But,slowly – too slowly – some were answered and I progressed with my treatment.After 10 long months my treatment ended in late 2004 and I was pronounced “cancer-free,” andI headed into my “survivorship years.” I’ve learned a lot about breast cancer and my body in the past 4 years and there were some things I learned that Iwished the doctors – or someone – had told me sooner:
I wish someone had told me that my body would be thrown into permanent menopause.Not the gradual, “life change” menopause, but the one-day-I-have-estrogen-and-the-next-day-I-don’t kind, thanks to the chemodrugs, which basically shut down my ovaries. Suddenly, I was worried aboutmy skin’s elasticity, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness – not to mention weight gain.
I wish someone had told me that the doctors don’t make any treatment decisions for you. The first month after my diagnosis, I went to the doctor expecting him to tell me what to do. He never did. He laid out my options and I had to decide what was best for me. I was in limbo for that first month until I had my surgery. Itdrove me crazy!
I wish I’d known that some of my friends and family wouldn’t always know the right thing to say,if anything at all. I had a first cousin who basically stopped talking to me.She didn’t know what to say, so she avoided me at all costs.
Going through breast cancer treatment is a slow and emotionally painful process. But, as I learned, a survivor is just that: one who wants to thrive and live. I went through this test for myself, my husband, and my kids.
VickiTashman lives in Los Angeles, where she is the founder of Pink Link (www.pink-link.org).
Visit Breast Cancer: Healing the Whole Woman to read all of our breast cancer content.