My Breast Cancer Story: Betrayed By My Body

Breast Cancer Awareness Month
ywcaencore Stories of Inspiration & Hope

Prior to my February 2012 breast cancer diagnosis, I walked so much my brother joked that I was doubling the risk reduction of such a cancer. I also participated in water fitness and hiking. I ate properly and maintained a reasonable weight. What could possibly go wrong?

At the age of 50, I requested a mammogram referral from my family doctor. I was confident it would be normal. Surprise! Instead, I was recalled. Additional tests confirmed a diagnosis of ductile infiltrating carcinoma in the left breast and two cancerous tumors in the lymph nodes. I had a lumpectomy and 18 lymph nodes removed about four weeks later. I completed the recommended eight rounds of chemotherapy and opted for 25 radiation treatments over a five-week period. The support, kindness and care from all medical and support staff and many lovely volunteers were critical to my fulfilling my treatments.

My husband felt tremendous anger with my diagnosis. My mother was devastated and chose not to celebrate her 85th birthday. Our adult children were stunned by the news. I was shocked and in denial for many weeks. How could this happen to me when I was so healthy? In the end, my family became my main support system and the experience made us closer and stronger.

The prayers of many friends also gave me hope and strength and made me feel protected.

My medical leave from work lasted 15 months. My colleagues were very supportive. The Case Manager for long-term disability handled me with great care and understanding. I chose to share my diagnosis with my colleagues as I feared that women might not be booking their mammograms or carrying out self-examinations.

Participation in ywcaencore was critical to my journey back to feeling human again. I was afraid to do more than walk slowly and was frustrated with my arm’s tightness and the pain and swelling in the breast area. I still carry out the stretching exercises we were taught and the time in the pool gave me the confidence to rejoin water fitness. More recently, I successfully completed an aggressive fitness program. This would not have happened without ywcaencore as the foundation. The weekly routine helped me learn how to organize myself for a structured activity again and to function in society. The discussions about lymphedema were empowering.

Breast cancer made life slow down for months and I hope I carry that lasting calm with me forever. I loved being home full-time even on the worst days. I have better hair now. When radiation ended, I decided I no longer had cancer. I am helping others, including my husband, deal with their cancer experiences now.

Nancy McCauley

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