I came across Rachel’s profile while searching breast cancer articles here on AC. I wrote to her and asked her to be part of this series. Rachel agreed and sent me her amazing story today. I feel honored to have her part of this series and honored to be a part of anything that may help raise breast cancer awareness. Here is Rachel’s story as she sent me via email:
My name is Rachel and I’m a breast cancer survivor. I was only 28 when I was diagnosed. The doctors didn’t want to believe it. No one could believe it actually; no one but me. I knew it from the moment I felt that hard little lump in the lower part of my right breast. It didn’t belong there. It had to be bad. Plus, it probably didn’t help that I’d been having really destructive thoughts in the months leading up to the cancer.
Before I was diagnosed I’d been having a really hard time being happy. Things were fine when I was busy at work, at the gym, or out with friends. But the moment I stepped into that lonely apartment for the night, the sadness soon swept over me. I had never expected to be in that situation. Foolishly, I’d followed my first love from Chicago all the way to California. We lasted a full ten years total, but not all of those were good ones. It had been a year since he’d let me go and I thought I’d moved on, but the sadness wouldn’t stop. That’s when I began imagining all the bad things that could happen; things like car accidents and cancer. I didn’t have a death wish, but I did want to take a time out and I didn’t know how else to do but to be sick for a while. If I were stuck in the hospital, that would be a sanctioned break. Despite thinking about things like that, I wasn’t really expecting any of them to happen. But as the saying goes, careful what you wish for because the next thing you know I had cancer.
The way I would describe my entire experience with cancer would be lonely. For the most part, it was something I went through alone. My parents were there for my surgery; one week total. But a few days after the surgery they had to get back home and I was on my own. I drove myself to every appointment and back. The most difficult was driving to radiation therapy. It was every day Monday through Friday for more than a month and a half. The radiation always left me so drained. I had to get home immediately after my sessions because I’d soon be ready to pass out from exhaustion. There were many times I’d be asleep by seven in the evening, not to wake up again until nearly nine o’clock the next morning. I’d never known such fatigue before.
In some ways sleeping was good, though. It kept me from feeling the hot flashes brought on by the injections I was getting once a month to suppress my hormones. Turns out my own hormones were feeding the cancer. Anyhow, by the time I was in radiation I had turned twenty-nine and, because of those injections, I was also going through menopause. First it was cancer, then menopause. Wasn’t I just having a great year so far? Oh, and I forgot to mention that a day or two before my surgery a woman told me I was lucky my breasts were so small because, unlike her, I really didn’t have much to miss after surgery. I guess that was supposed to be the silver lining, but it wasn’t. In fact, I felt worse for it. I couldn’t even fill out an A cup completely and now I’d have even less than that to work with.
As if I wasn’t insecure enough before. I had already feared dating after having had only one serious relationship. Now I had the extra baggage of being a cancer patient. I guess I shouldn’t have been worried about things like that considering my life was at risk. But I did worry about those things. I was almost thirty, single, and I was sick. Instead of seeing my life flash before my eyes I saw a long lonely life without a partner and without children. The crazy thing was that as empty as I felt inside, I didn’t feel sad about the cancer. It wasn’t that I was happy about it; I just didn’t worry about it. I believed I’d get better and the cancer wouldn’t return. If only I’d learn to trust that everything else would work out too.
When all was said and done I’d had a lumpectomy in my right breast, lymph nodes removed from my right underarm resulting in permanent nerve damage to that arm, nearly forty sessions of radiation that left my skin sunburned and sensitive, three years worth of painful monthly injections that induced menopause, and daily pill popping for five long years. Let me tell you, when I surpassed the five year mark without any recurrence and was essentially considered cured – that was a happy day. No more medication and I’d only have to see the doctor once a year. I still had to endure the painful squishing and smashing sensation of an annual mammogram for the rest of my life, but that would have come eventually with age anyway. I just happened to start a little younger than most women.
I don’t know if the cancer helped me move past the sadness I was feeling then or if the sadness kept me from panicking about the cancer. Either way, both things worked out just fine in the end. I kicked cancer’s ass like a champion. I was a little more of an amateur when it came to the sadness, but I knocked that down too – eventually. When the cancer was under control I moved back to Chicago; back to my roots, back to my family. It’s now been a little more than eight years since I first began my battle with breast cancer. I’ve come a long way and learned a lot about myself in the process. So many things have changed too. I am so blessed to now have an amazing husband and a beautiful little girl. And I never feel that nasty sadness anymore. I still have a lot to learn in this life, but I do know that feeling depressed is not an option. I also know with absolute certainty that I’ll never have breast cancer again. I believe it through and through. To think otherwise is not an option either. I have too much to live for.
I realize I usually include information on breast cancer along with the personal story for the day, but I really feel this story needs to stand alone. What an inspiration and a reminder that taking one day at a time and living in the moment is so important. Like Rachel said, be careful what you wish for. One day you could be moaning and complaining about life and the next find out you will have to fight for your life. Thank God she found the lump when she did. Please visit Rachel’s profile (click here) to read her great articles. Her two articles of her personal accounts with breast cancer are equally compelling. You can view them by clicking their titles Breast Cancer Under Forty and One Bowl of Lumpy Oatmeal Please.
Thank you so much Rachel for sharing your story with us and helping raise awareness of breast cancer.