October is breast cancer awareness month

By Selma Williams, Gila Community College Wellness Center Coordinator

With this month being breast cancer awareness month I have asked a couple of very special ladies to share their story of how they discovered they had breast cancer and if they had any pearls wisdom should anyone reading this get breast cancer. This week will be one story and then followed by the other.

“I could not get well and stay well. I had moved home from Baton Rouge, Louisiana in October 2010. It had been an extremely difficult year as we had buried our mother and I was 2000 miles from home and wanted desperately to close that gap. I came back to family, found a job quickly and tried to settle in to being “home” after 30 years.

Everyone just figured that that was why I was struggling with my health all the time; anyone who has done a major move and lost a family member should be adjusting. I was in and out of the hospital 3 times between December 2010 and December 2011; countless bouts of bronchitis, two rounds of pneumonia; endless colds…just could NOT get and stay well.

Then, one day in March 2012, I stepped out of my shower and, looking into the mirror, I saw IT. I remember my arms just dropped to my sides and I stared, hard. It did no tricks, didn’t flip around to gain my attention, didn’t hurt, didn’t scream out “CANCER!” Yet deep down I knew. Knew to the depths of my soul what I was looking at. Then I did what I will NEVER tell anyone to do, especially my two daughters! I looked away and tried to pretend it was not there.

My health took me back into the hospital in April 2012, which necessitated that I have a follow up appointment with my new primary care physician. As we discussed my lungs and their lack of stellar performance, he casually asked me if there was anything else, he could do for me today.

I took a deep breath and said, “yes, I noticed a lump in my left breast.” He repositioned himself as he prepared to talk to me about self-exams, last mammogram, etc. I was unbuttoning my blouse. “Yes, I do self exams; last mamo was in early 2010 in Louisiana, nothing remarkable there.” I opened my blouse and reached around to unhook my bra…he never touched me…just stared hard, cleared his throat, looked to his nurse and said, “I want an ultra sound yesterday.”

She started to click away on the computer in the room ordering the test. From there we went on to many, many road trips, many tests, many phone calls made to family and friends with the latest test results. It seemed like that was the only conversation we were having anymore. Then on April 25, 2012, we were told it was breast cancer, tumor at three cm. Borderline for lumpectomy vs. mastectomy.

However, more tests came back removing any chances for lumpectomy and moving me into the mastectomy category; and now we learn about sentinodes; lymph nodes; chemotherapy; neluasta shots, lymphodema…we have learned more in the last six months than we ever wanted to know and compared to some peoples journey with cancer we haven’t even gotten past the tip of the iceberg. As we enter into Breast Cancer awareness month, I would like to share some of what I have learned with you.

Take nothing for granted and leave nothing to chance. I am, today, two chemotherapy treatments from completing the eight ordered. I have radiation and hormonal therapy to go.

When I had my surgery in June, four days after our Relay for Life event here in Globe it was hard for me to see an end to this challenging time in my life, but now here I am in Oct. and we are almost done, I am cancer free and getting stronger every day.

I trust my doctors, wow, they definitely are lifesavers; yet, I never forget, and remind them if the need arises, that I am the patient (or customer) and that while they are working on me I am the most important thing in their lives. I pay their paycheck and make it possible for them to make their student loan payments, if applicable, to pay for the wonderful education that allows them to be lucky enough to be my doctor.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t profess to be able to do their job, nor do I want to, but I want them to know that it is imperative that I am in my comfort zone as we go through this. I cannot sit back and say, “I don’t know” because it is my body, my health, my job to know. I must drive this bus and not take a “do nothing then I am not to blame” for the outcome attitude. My body, my attitude, my responsibility. But don’t go overboard either…stays off that internet.

Too much is not always a good thing. Every horror story is there for the picking, every failed attempt, every medication side effect, every “deformity” just don’t do it.

Information is power and that is crucial but use discretion. For me, I just had to quit going there because I was finding myself getting depressed. I have a wonderful friend who, after hearing me say that, just took up that task herself and never saying a word to me I would just find important, useful information printed and on my desk, or tucked into a new journal or book she gave me.

The point is let others assist you in these, and all areas, as there will come a time when you will need that help, physically, mentally and emotionally. Accept it, be grateful for it and pay it forward when you are able to.

Ladies, do not despair. Do your self-exams. Don’t be lackadaisical about your health for we are the daughters, the sisters and the friends of today and tomorrow and we still have a lot to do.

Love to you all my sisters, be proud to be you and always be the best you that you can be!

Until next time,

Selma

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