|Posted by Kay Curtin on February 24, 2010 at 5:04 PM|
Kay asked me to blog a bit about my exciting but not-so-fun Cancer Experience that I've been going through, and I'll happily do that. Some of the best (and goofiest) times of my life have been spent with Kay and friends, but we don't get up to the Funny Farm often enough these days. The June fundraiser is a wonderful thing to do and will be so appreciated by all recipients. A group of my friends, co-workers, and former employers had a couple of great benefits for us last summer, and every time that I'm feeling crummy I get out the cards and signed posters from the events and look at them. My spirit and attitude lift immediately.
One thing that I want to make sure everyone knows is this: I had mammograms faithfully every year. When my cancer was discovered because of pain in my chest, the cancer had spread to a stage 3C. They gave me a mammogram the day of the biopsy, and nothing showed. Only an MRI picked up all the tumors; at least one was large. During my treatment in Stillwater and Rochester, I've met literally dozens of women that have had their cancers completely missed by mammograms. It's become my little mission to get the word out. Don't stop having mammograms, but ask your radiologist if you have dense tissue, and ask that they recommend ultrasound or an MRI if you do. No one had ever told me that I should be having something beside a mammogram until it was too late. If there's one thing that I've learned, it's that you have to be aggressive and downright assertive sometimes about your own health and treatment.
Anyway, a bilateral mastectomy, one and a third rounds of chemo (I almost died from the second one), 26 radiation treatments, and now reconstruction have made me a strong old lady. I feel like I can whip anything. Luckily, I have a great husband and children that have been my rocks to lean on. We've met so many great people in the medical field during treatment, and a couple of a--holes. I chose to ignore the a--holes and anyone else that tells me that I have a lousy prognosis.
Some things that I've learned from cancer:
1. Being positive is sometimes tough, but essential. Everybody responds differently. I choose to not think about it unless I see something in the news about a new treatment, a success story etc. It takes months just to get over the shock of being told that you have cancer. At first I researched everything that I could on my type of breast cancer just to be able to visualize it being destroyed in my body. Now, I visualize it gone. Let's hope I'm right.
2. Stay away from negative people. Some are well-meaning, but their effect on you is the same. Hang around with the cheerleaders. My husband tells me almost daily that I'm going to be all right. That's what I need to hear. He's also funnier than hell. Laughing is a proven healer.
3. Only you know how you feel. I was deathly ill with the second chemo, but my doctors wouldn't believe me. It took weeks to convince them that something was wrong. They found that my lungs were full of crystals from the paclitaxol chemo drug, a rare but not unheard of response to taxol drugs, and stopped the chemo before I went belly up. This has changed my personality profoundly. I now speak up. Sometimes I yell and swear.
4. All the stupid little things that I worried about don't matter. Family, friends, and their love are all that matter.
5. You can drive yourself silly wondering what caused your cancer. I'm pretty convinced that mine was a combination of environmental causes and not taking care of myself. The head of toxicology at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene said that they know of four things that definitely cause breast cancer: 1) smoking, 2) genetics, 3) pesticides, and 4) plastics and other substances that mimic estrogen, such as BPA. In this case, I'm a top candidate. I grew up in a cloud of cigarret smoke, and was a pesticide applicator and a laboratory technician for many years. Some of the places I worked had appalingly poor ventilation and no personal safety equipment (i.e. no latex gloves, masks, etc.). I also was on the road for many years eating cheap take-out food and drinking water out of plastic bottles, and sleeping in lonely hotels night after night. And, there is lots of cancer in my family. The area where I grew up in northwestern Illinois has one of the highest cancer rates in that state, and there is a high arsenic and radium level in the groundwater. All together, I was probably a time bomb.
We've done a major lifestyle change. Organic food, or at least all that we can afford or raise. Luckily, we have a farm to raise great things. And lots of exercise, something that I avoided every chance that I could. I also do my best not to let things bother me, which is easier said than done.
The only good thing about cancer is that it makes you appreciate every second of your life, your family, and your friends. That includes you, Kay and Ann. We'll see you soon. Can't wait to start planting things in your yard!