It will soon be four years since my double mastectomies following a diagnosis of breast cancer. I usually celebrate this milestone on that date, and not on the date I was diagnosed. I just felt that the day I had the mastectomies was the day I got rid of the cancer in my body.
Cancer changes you in so many ways. The minute you're diagnosed it places you at that proverbial fork in the road. The decision as to which path you choose is yours. Either way, you will never be the same person again.
I chose to fight. The power of the mind is essential in this process. Every patient has their own reasons to choose life. For me, it was my three daughters, who were 12, 10 and 6 at the time. I took the opportunity that this disease presented me, and included my girls every step of the way. I continued to work and live my life as if I was living. I hope they will take the lessons learned with them through life. Through my diagnosis, they, too, looked fear in the face with dignity, purpose and determination.
A positive attitude is also what got me through eight rounds of chemotherapy following the mastectomies. Taking ownership of the situation happens at many different levels here, from shaving your hair off when the inevitable happens, and clumps of it start appearing on your pillow, to putting on a brave face when you are crashing after treatment or self-injecting yourself with much needed medication (even though you hate needles and are scared to death of them).
But I knew early on that this would be the beginning of a new life for me. I started running a year before my diagnosis, and the doctors credited my good physical shape to my body's recovery. I started running six weeks after surgery, and continued running throughout chemotherapy. I now try to run races that raise money for cancer research or that raise funds to help families with loved ones pay for their required, but expensive medication as well as supplement their loss of income.
I also started writing about my experience. From a young age I have always expressed my emotions through the written word. By doing this, I hope to inspire other cancer patients, survivors and their families and friends. With cancer research taking place all over the world, more discoveries are made, and treatment is adjusted accordingly. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. In fact, it can be seen as an opportunity to look back at the life you have lead, and look at your future with a different lens.
And it's through that lens that I hope to make a difference.
A few days ago I ran into a friend of mine. She works in the same business as I do; a male-dominated and very competitive field. In her mid-forties, she's the same age I was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly aware of her need to lose some weight, the job related stress she deals with and the late night receptions where one glass of wine sometimes leads to two or three, she admitted she was worried about her health, and needed to take control of the situation. Her concern was that, at her age, it was too late.
But it's never too late.
Anyone can make the decision to start exercising and eating healthy meals. And when you do, you are already on the road to a healthier body and have better odds on your side. What I have learned through my journey so far, is that balance is key. Be true to yourself and create the positive energy that will feed and maintain your healthy mind, body and soul. Be patient... this doesn't happen overnight. If you take baby steps, you will soon find yourself in a better place.
I wish I had that kind of inspiration and knowledge before my diagnosis. My gift is what I have learned since then. I hope it finds you.