Maintaining a Positive Attitude | Breast Cancer Awareness

LWMSeptOct2014-Final_Page_18New Year’s Eve, 1999, as I was getting ready for the evening, I did a quick “breast check” in the shower and felt a substantial lump. This took me by surprise. I’ve had mammograms every year since I was 35, saw my gynecologist regularly and did self-breast exams monthly–lying down. So what was this?

I jumped out of the shower, lay down on the bed and did my usual check. It was hard to detect. I sat up –there it was. It was a Friday and New Year’s Eve and there was nothing I could do until after the weekend. I called first thing on Monday, but the only available appointment was over two months away. I scheduled it. Two months later, during the appointment, my doctor asked why I waited – an appointment would have been made for me if they had been aware of the situation. Luckily, he realized the urgency and scheduled me for a biopsy immediately. Since the surgeon was in the same building I ran up the stairs, reassuring myself that I was in control; but the truth was my legs were shaking. During the biopsy they took out 17 lymph nodes. My doctors informed me that breast cancer is generally identified by the presence or lack presence of three hormone receptors: estrogen, progesterone, and the Her 2 receptor. Treatment is determined by those receptors. Three months after I first felt the lump, I learned that my tumor was triple negative: lacking all three. What this meant was that my cancer was aggressive and more likely to return. A lumpectomy was scheduled and I was told I would have back-to-back chemo regimens, since with this type of cancer chemo is not optional. Fortunately, at the time of my diagnosis, I was a flight attendant and was able to use my accumulated sick time throughout my treatments. I needed that time to concentrate on my needs.

Everyone chooses their own approach to coping with possible life altering events; one of mine had been to wait until I got the results before sharing my news with anyone. With the surgery date looming I told my parents, boyfriend and a few select friends. I continued running and exercising until I couldn’t. I wanted to keep what was going on with my life private and carry on with as few changes as possible. But cancer does take a toll on those who care for you. In some ways, my being sick probably hurt my parents more than it did me. I know of romantic relationships that have grown stronger from going through a life changing experience together, but mine wasn’t one of them. My boyfriend wasn’t able to handle the stress and our relationship didn’t make it through my treatments. Unlike a lot of people I know, I also chose not to delve too deeply into researching my cancer on the Internet and avoided support groups (except the “Look Good, Feel Better” program). I didn’t want to listen or be influenced by other people’s stories. I didn’t want to have to answer, “I’m fine,” each time I was asked how I was—especially if I wasn’t. I was intent on maintaining a positive attitude and concentrating on living my life.

Throughout it all, I never stopped reminding and believing, with all my being, that I was going to be fine. I think I had an easier time than some because of a concentrated effort to maintain a positive attitude.

I am now 14 years cancer-free and out of the danger zone. The experience made me a stronger person, and has resulted in an enriched, more meaningful life. I am blessed.

By Connie Bash

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