Article by Linda Jackson
In 1985 at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very frightening time for me as a wife, mother of three teenagers and an active member of my community. I was afraid I would not live to see my children grow up, have the opportunity to enjoy retirement with my husband or be there for my parents if they needed me, as they grew old.
As I recovered from my mastectomy, I put my life in order, just in case. No one told me if I was going to live or die, and quite frankly, I was afraid to ask.
It was amazing to me how quickly I recovered from my surgery, how soon I was able to return to all of my normal everyday activities and how I looked and felt like the same person. For some reason, I expected to be different.
For the first few months, I thought about breast cancer every day and how it might affect my life. I soon discovered that having cancer really did not change me, except to make me more aware of the importance of friends and family, and to appreciate each day. It also exposed me to a world that I would not otherwise have known, the cancer community and the many thousands of breast cancer survivors like myself, who have gone on to live long, and productive lives.
In 1989, four years after my initial diagnosis, I had a reoccurrence and underwent a second mastectomy. Having the cancer return was difficult to deal with in some ways, but easier in others. I knew what to expect. I was more educated about the treatments and I wasnít afraid to ask questions. I also clearly understood that a cancer diagnosis does not necessarily mean certain death.
It has now been almost 9 years since my second surgery and thirteen since my first. I donít worry about cancer anymore, I just donít have the time. I have learned, grown and moved on with my life.
There are several important aspects of my cancer experiences that I would like to share with other women: Practice breast self exams and have annual mammograms. Breast cancer is 100% curable if diagnosed early. Always get a second opinion. Educate yourself about your options: mastectomy vs. lumpectomy, reconstructive surgery vs. external prosthesis, and followup therapy treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal. Write down questions to ask your doctor, or better yet, take someone with you to your appointments. It may be difficult to absorb everything your doctor says. Trust your physician. If you canít talk openly with him/her about your concerns find another doctor who makes you feel comfortable. Find a breast cancer support group where you can share and learn from other survivors. Itís a safe environment with women who do know what youíre feeling. Once youíve made your personal decision - have no regrets. No one can make the choices for you or change the outcome. Youíve made the decision that is best for you. While you are recovering listen to your body. Give yourself permission to rest when youíre weary. Ask for and accept help when you need it. When you are healed physically and emotionally - give something back to your community. Be a Reach To Recovery volunteer or facilitate a breast cancer support group. Just remember, there are thousands of women who have not only survived breast cancer, but who continue to live happy, healthy, active and normal lives.
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