A Candid Interview With a Cancer Survivor
In July of 2004 my mother called us three kids together for a family meeting. This was unusual for her, and immediately my gut told me something was wrong.My older brother, sister, and I were traveling from three different locations in the Bay Area. An hour would elapse before all three of us were together, sitting on mom's sofa, waiting for an announcement of some kind.
She sat in front of us with my father. They were holding hands. My anxiety was confirmed and my heart sank when she told us she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Today, my mother is a cancer survivor. She made it through this harrowing medical journey by virtue of her strength and resilience. What follows is an interview I conducted with her after her recovery.
Me: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Mom: I am proud of my 3 children, five grandchildren, and three great granddaughters. I have been happily married for the past 51 years.
Me: What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with?
Mom:I was diagnosed with breast cancer seven and a half years ago.
Me: What emotions were you experiencing when you heard your diagnosis?
Mom: Being told that you have breast cancer is the scariest thing that I have ever felt. Even though I believed it, I didn't want to believe it. I was in a daze for a long time before I fully accepted it.
Me: How did you go about telling your family?
Mom: I told my husband first and he was my rock and always has been. We just held each other for a long time. I was not at all worried that he might leave me as many husbands end up doing when their wives are diagnosed with breast cancer. We called our three adult children and asked them to come over to see us alone. They did and of course they were upset as well. They promised to support me and help me in any way that was needed. My oldest granddaughter had just left for college. After my first surgery I asked my daughter to go with me so that I could tell her (my oldest granddaughter) in person. This way she could see that I was doing fine. We are a very close family and I did not want her to hear it from anyone else.
Me: I know this is a sensitive subject, but can you tell us about chemotherapy?
Mom: A few weeks after my surgery I had to start on chemotherapy. I hated having that poison put into my body but for my family's sake, I was determined to do all that I could to rid my body of any existing cancer cells. The worst part for me about chemotherapy was losing all my hair. I didn't think that I was a vain woman, but I discovered that I did not like being bald at all. I hated wearing wigs and as soon as I got some "fuzz" back, I stopped wearing wigs.
Me: Did you continue to work your job during the treatments?
Mom: I had a wonderful job and a very understanding and supportive boss. I continued to work during chemotherapy and my radiation treatments. I could have taken FMLA during that time, but then my family would worry and wonder if I was really going to be okay. I took off every two weeks on a Thursday afternoon for chemotherapy, and went back to work on Monday morning. I rested the whole time after chemotherapy so that I could return to work.
Me: Where did you get your strength and resilience from?
Mom: My strength and resilience came from my faith and from my loving family. I could never have survived without having those two things. My faith and family helped me gain the strength and determination I needed to beat the odds.
Me: Looking back, would you do anything differently?
Mom: I am just grateful that I went for my mammogram when I did. I always had the test annually, but most often I would procrastinate and keep postponing it. For whatever reason, I felt very strongly that I must go for this test. I had just had my annual exam from my OB/GYN and she did not feel any lumps so I was feeling okay after that. Then, the technician had to take four x-rays because she spotted something, and I am grateful she did. The doctors didn't waste any time getting me in for a biopsy and then surgery. It all happened very quickly. I am glad that I did what I did and have no regrets. I did ask myself, "why me" and then I answered myself, "well why not?"
Me: How long have you been cancer-free?
Mom: I have been totally cancer-free for six and a half years.
Me: What advice would you give to women who are, or will be going through the same thing you went through?
Mom: Always remember to have your annual mammograms. Don't procrastinate. Also, please do your own checks regularly. My doctor did not detect anything and neither did I but it was there anyway. It is so important to have a strong faith in God and to love your family and they will love you back. Always have a positive attitude. When you feel sorry for yourself, the cancer gets ahead and you can't let it do that. Continue living your life as normally as you can. Get the rest that you need so that you can be ready for the battle against this dreaded disease.
Me: Did you know anyone who had breast cancer and how did that affect you?
Mom: Yes, I discovered quite a few women that were suffering with breast cancer. One was my dear cousin. She had a mastectomy five years before and she was cancer free. However, after I was diagnosed, she discovered that her cancer had returned and was in her bones. She was a wonderful example of me. She was having chemotherapy and had such a positive attitude even as sick as she was. She and I exchanged e-mails every single day. She started only sending them every few days and then they stopped all together. Unfortunately, she died, but it made me more determined to emulate her positive attitude and fight as hard as I could. I also had a best friend that passed away. There were also two women at my work that were breast cancer survivors. They always came to see me every day and I was fortunate to have them as friends. Breast cancer patients are truly remarkable women. Most survive, but some just don't. It is important to continue to pray for all women and especially those diagnosed with breast cancer.
In closing I would like to express my gratitude to my mother for agreeing to take part in this interview. I am also grateful for her strength and resilience in fighting this dreadful disease. She fought the good fight for God and family. If this article touches one life and gives just one person the hope and strength they need to fight cancer, then it was well worth the effort. There are millions of people fighting cancer in the world today. Please include them in your prayers.