My name is Laurie and I am a breast cancer survivor. This is my “story” but I never considered it “my” cancer. It invaded me for a time, but there was only one option – get rid of it and ensure that it never had a chance to return.
I found a lump in my breast in February 2006. I thought it couldn’t be anything serious…40 was too young…I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer…I didn’t have any risk factors. I had my first mammogram seven months earlier and everything had been fine. I went in for my first biopsy to rule breast cancer out. It was inconclusive. I had another sonogram followed by another biopsy. Then I was asked to see a surgical oncologist, who based on my test results did not think it was cancer. She did, however, recommend removing the lump just to be safe. At this point, I was a little scared, but it was mostly a nuisance. Because, of course, it couldn’t be anything serious. In October of that year, eight months after I discovered the lump, I had it removed. A few days later I received the call that would change everything.
Even though my doctor assured me that we would beat it, I didn’t make it to work that day. I drove on auto-pilot to my brother’s house. Before I knew it word had spread and I was surrounded by my family. They were by my side, showing me that I wouldn’t be fighting this on my own. I was overcome with a strength I didn’t know I had. Even then, I didn’t want to be a part of “that group” of women who endured this journey, who lost a breast, went through chemo, lost their hair. I was not one of “them.”
When I found out that chemotherapy was my recommended course of treatment, I tried to stay strong, but as I left the doctor I was reduced to fears and tears. Just then one of “those women” saw my fear through the glass windows of the waiting room, and this stranger who was waiting for her treatment, wearing her scarf, came through that door and just hugged me. She was young and beautiful and strong, and told me that I could do it. I still didn’t want to do it, but then and there I believed her. I knew that I could. I never got that stranger’s name. I never saw her again. But I will never forget her and that one moment with her that filled me with the strength I needed to get through this journey. Since then, I have learned that those acts, those moments, are what breast cancer survivors do for each other that no one else can. They pass along their strength, realizing that helping to hold someone else up also strengthens you.
In the months that followed, I gave up the breast that threatened my life, got a replacement, let the chemo do its job and take my hair with it. Through it all, the word that defined my experience was faith. It’s why I had the determination to keep pursuing the medical tests when they weren’t quite sure what was wrong. It gave me the unconditional love from my family who surrounded me and took care of me and never for a moment let me feel alone. It’s how I gained strength from the women who experienced the journey alongside me. It brought reconnections of friendships that may not have ever been, but are now a cherished part of my life. Nine years later, I’m often tempted to put this whole experience behind me and wear my scars in secret. But I did become one of “those women” – women of strength and courage, compassion and a determination to do our own part in helping to get to the day where no more women will ever get that phone call.