Editor’s note: We’ve re-published this post in honor of breast cancer awareness month and in support of our upcoming “Beauty for a Cure Day.” Please join us – details below.
I’ve struggled with how to best begin this chance to share my story, then it came to me as I was reading a recent article in Time magazine. There was an entire section dedicated to thought provoking questions, with opinions being uttered by experts with opposing views. The question that grabbed my attention the most, ‘What common practice will horrify our kids someday?’ I thought for a moment, and then I knew exactly what I wish the answer to this question would be for my daughter when she is an adult.
Before I share that aspiration, I would like to openly discuss the journey I have been on for the past 5 years. My experience is unfortunately not unique, rare or uncommon enough. It has been like riding one of life’s agonizing roller coasters that is easier at times to handle, but never seems to come to a complete stop.
And so I begin…At the age of 41, on December 27th of 2012, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer after a routine mammogram. I have been battling and beating the disease ever since.
To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. I was healthy, active, young and have treated my body with care. How could this happen to me? I was sure there had been a mistake!
Unfortunately, this was no mistake, in fact, it was a very serious reality. Like most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, the type of cancer I had was quite aggressive. I had an annual mammogram one year prior, and in that time I had developed two tumors and other cancerous areas within my breast. In addition, it had already spread to two lymph nodes.
In January of 2013 I worked out a treatment plan with my team of doctors that included 6 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy, then 30 sessions of radiation, continued with targeted drug treatment for a year and numerous reconstructive surgeries that are still ongoing to this day.
I have been poked, prodded, and scanned more times than I care to remember. I have no less than 14 scars on my body, some that will be obvious for my lifetime, and a few that are beginning to fade. There were the typical side effects…hair loss, nausea, fatigue, exhaustion, but there are a whole host of others that range from debilitating to just plain irritating that no one ever realizes until they are in the throws of cancer treatment.
I had assumed that as soon as the major part of my treatment ended, so too would the worry, stress and anxiety. Regrettably, as hard as all of the physical pain has been, nothing has prepared me for the emotional anguish a cancer diagnosis causes and psychological stamina it takes to fight and overcome this disease. From diagnosis through treatment and into recovery, I never expected my mental fortitude to be pushed to its limits over and over again.
After the physical symptoms subside, you think (and so does everyone else) that your life will return to some a semblance of normal. It kind of does, but it mostly doesn’t. Like going through any major life event, there is a new ‘normal’ that is established. One where I must work hard to suppress my fear of recurrence on a daily basis. One where a consistent ache or pain gnaws at my psyche, and forces me to ask ‘has my cancer returned?’
I see my oncologist every four months now, and with the anticipation prior to every appointment, I feel the doubt creep up and into the forefront of my thoughts. “Can I trust my body, or will it once again betray me?” Then, good news comes, thank God, I get to breathe for four months, and so the process goes. This will continue for years. I may get better at keeping my deepest fears corralled in my subconscious, but they will be there for the rest of my life.
I truly believe in my heart of hearts I have beat this disease for good, but when life gets hard, and I am exhausted, I find it difficult to suppress the undercurrents of doubt that cancer likes to leave in its wake.
What is even more difficult is to know what this has done to my family. I understand it was not something I could control, but it is still heart breaking to realize how much sadness and insecurity this disease has caused them. I imagine it’s much like the feeling you would get walking around on thin ice when the weather is starting to warm, then cool, then warm again.
I have had to look into my family’s eyes and see fear, worry, anxiety and anguish. I have had to bear witness to their suffering. I have had to live through my daughter asking, “will mommy be okay?,” with undertones of grief and uncertainty that are both crushing to my ears and piercing to my gut. Even all this time later, I have to constantly reassure her that I’m doing well, that the cancer is gone. Regrettably, I cannot make a promise to her, my husband, my parents or anyone else that it will not return some day. This is the under-told emotional story of what cancer does to a family.
While I am enormously grateful for the lessons this journey has taught me, the fantastic outcome, my doctors, and the loving support I have received from so many caring souls, I just do not think a person should have to be poisoned, mutilated, burned and tormented to have a shot at beating cancer.
I know there is a better way out there, somewhere. We just need to give the researchers, doctors and scientists the funding to find the answers. I personally believe, given everything I have read, watched, asked, and experienced, that funding breast cancer research is the key to unlocking the secrets of how this disease starts, grows and sometimes eludes current treatment options.
I believe through research we can find more targeted treatments, ones that do not poison the whole body, just the cancer cells. Currently researchers are in the midst of using the magnificent power of our own bodies to find, fight and destroy cancer cells. The potential of this discovery is limitless, but it takes donations and participation to make it a reality.
It is for these reasons and many more that I feel passionately obligated to do what I can to help support those who are working on better ways to annihilate cancer. Specifically, on October 5th, our schools will donate 50% off all student salon service sales to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Wings of Karen in our “Beauty for a Cure” Day. All I ask is that everyone participate to the best of their ability.
These two organizations are focused on funding research that can lead to a world where breast cancer does not traumatize families, nor steal the lives of much beloved mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, or dear friends. A world where my wish is granted and my daughter looks back 10 years from now and says to the question posed by the Time article… “The cancer treatment my mom went through was horrific, I’m so glad it is not like that any more.”
Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty.
I am a mother, wife, daughter, niece, aunt, cousin, a friend and the Co-Owner, Vice President and CFO of Phagans’ Cosmetology Colleges located in Bend, Salem, Medford, Corvallis, and Grants Pass Oregon.
Beauty for a Cure Day! October 14, 2015
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