My Breast Cancer Story: Okay, So I’m Dying – When?

October Breast Cancer Awareness Month
ywcaencore Stories of Inspiration & Hope

When I was 26, my doctor at the time thought he felt a lump in my left breast. I went into panic mode but tests revealed nothing and life went on. Throughout my 30s & 40s, many scares of lumps which of course brought mammograms and ultrasounds to back up the findings which was always “nothing to worry about.” I remember my next doctor saying at one exam that she did not like the feel of one particular lump…but of course the  mammogram showed nothing. I also recall a technician finding calcifications and being concerned, saying “it could be something.” This happened at at least two mammograms, but again nothing turned up abnormal.
After an abnormal pap test in September, 2007, I now was dealing with uterine cancer. I had a full hysterectomy. It was found to be stage 1 so NFT!!!!
This now raised my suspicions that we were dealing more than just dumb luck and I put my Internet searching into high gear. Our family was then tested through Juravinski genetics and found to carry the HNPCC gene (bowel cancer gene). It unfortunately hosts many other cancers, but surprisingly not all findings point to breast as being a part of that spectrum.               
On June 10, 2009, it was time for my annual physical. I will never forget my doctor’s words: “Did you not feel this?”….heart stopped and anger set in. Yes I felt it!! but all tests in that area had never raised more suspicion than a mammogram and ultra sound…never biopsied or even suggested. Rant done.

I have always kept all my lab reports so back I went to read and reread. In fact when I went for this mammogram it also showed no abnormalities, but because of my doctor’s concern, further testing. She felt my node area and said she could feel nothing.

I figured this could be a very early cancer, a large in situ, because of my diligence. I couldn’t have been further from that diagnosis. My soon-to-be surgeon, as soon as she felt the area, said “We are looking at a Stage 2, possibly 3, breast cancer.” Well, you could have scraped me off her exam room floor. STAGE 3 – are you kidding me???
Surgery was set for July 31, 2009. I opted for a bilateral mastectomy, and my surgeon concurred.
I believe my full pathology report was back on my follow up visit with her: Stage 3C 7.5 cm lobular cancer, 11 out of 25 nodes positive. Okay, so I’m dying – when?
Next stop, the Juravinski Cancer Centre to meet with my oncology team. Treatment dose dense AC & Taxol. Four weeks of the “RED” devil and four weeks of Taxol every other week. Then onto radiation which was 25 sessions and with a bolus, oh yeah, they hit me with all the BIG GUNS!!!
It took me many months to come back from the DARK side. Most of that was working through the anger and fear.
I met an old friend at JCC. We reconnected through our “dilemma”; she had just finished her treatments as I was starting. We went to Tai Chi classes and she introduced me to the practice of Reiki. I also found comfort in an online support group, many of whom I still keep in touch with.

Okay, so here I am, 4 years 1 month out…how has  cancer changed me?
I think it has made me a better person; I appreciate life and take every moment that comes my way. I try not to sweat the small things in life. I try to be kinder, more compassionate. I LIVE every day! Because every day you think you are dying – you are not fully living.
Thanks for listening,
Cheryl O’Neill, age 54


One response to “My Breast Cancer Story: Okay, So I’m Dying – When?

  1. YWCAencore participant

    Cheryl, as a survivor myself I can totally relate to the “Dark” side and working through the fear and anger. You are a true warrior. This is quote I live by “Make the rest of your life the best of your life.”
    Thank you for sharing your story.

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