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Andrea Paine Headshot

When the Teacher Becomes the Student

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My journey through breast cancer started five years ago this month. It was in April of 2007 that I was sent to a specialized breast clinic and was diagnosed with breast cancer. The quest to be healed would have many twists and turns along the road. Nothing was simple.

I had my first surgery towards the end of April. It was a lumpectomy, and they would check the margins to verify if they had managed to extract all the cancer cells. They hadn't.

The next step was to make a decision. We could either go in and remove a bit more and see if we got it, or go for a full mastectomy. I elected for the mastectomy, but requested they remove both breasts. And so the process to arrange for surgery began. As I was having a double mastectomy, I also needed to consult with a plastic surgeon for the reconstruction part. We were now into May and making more decisions. I elected to have reconstruction using the skin from my stomach. I thought this would be a more natural choice for me.

My surgery was scheduled for Aug. 3, 2007. I was in the operating room for 10 and a half hours. My doctor told me that when I woke up from surgery, I would feel like I had been run over by a truck. Never having been run over by a truck, I can't pretend to know how that feels. I can only say that the way I felt was awfully close.

Throughout all this, and through the eight rounds of chemotherapy I would undergo following my recovery from surgery, I maintained my positive attitude. I KNEW I would be healed. I knew I would go on to do better things. I was determined to speak about my experience and help other patients and their loved ones the best that I could. I didn't dwell much on the "why me?" I instead took the opportunity to set an example to my three daughters. If you experience that bump in the road, pick yourself up, and carry on.

And here's the catch... I suddenly find myself in the pupil's seat. In less than four months I will mark my five years of being cancer free. This is a true milestone for a cancer survivor, and one to celebrate. But it also scares me. Where do I go from here? There has always been something to count and look forward to. What happens after that? When will my oncologist tell me that I don't have to see him anymore? What will I think when he says that? Will my mindset change?

It's time for the teacher to become the student. I can't tell you the answers to these things yet, but I can say this is a normal reaction for any cancer survivor. I still have much to learn from others who have travelled the road that I'm on. I will face this unknown like I face all the other unknowns that have been in my life: with courage, gratitude for what I have in the moment, and the belief that the future will continue to be kind and generous to me.

And I will plan a party.