A lot of people admit to living in fear of a cancer diagnosis. Having watched as family and friends fought for their lives and their dignity, I could not really ignore the two glaring realities of this insidious disease: First, cancer cares not whether you think you are too young to die or too busy supporting your family for treatment and surgery; and, second, fighting cancer is a full time job, requiring every ounce of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy you and your loved ones have.
In May of 2014 at 51 years of age, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer that was estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 positive and had invaded at least one of my lymph nodes. Earlier that year, after a negative mammogram and a negative ultrasound, Dr. Katherine Lammers, following her intuition, sent me to Dr. Lori Medeiros. A surgeon specializing in breast issues and Director of the Breast Center at Rochester General Hospital, Dr. Medeiros performed a biopsy and after diagnosis gathered a team of doctors for my treatment, including oncologist, Dr. Mehul Patel and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Mark Davenport.
From June of 2014 until today, I have been under the watchful eyes of these three doctors and their nurturing staffs. They supported my family and me through seven chemo treatments, three surgeries, and countless other appointments, tests, and less invasive treatments. My ability to endure and survive this dark period of my life is in no small part due to their compassion, humor, and warmth. Their wisdom and expertise in what they do every day is beyond question, and I continue to live every day confident in the knowledge that they are and always will be my support team if I am faced with a second diagnosis.
Good medical care was the first weapon in my arsenal against cancer. My second weapon was my support network: a close, loving family, and, additionally, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who never let me feel alone. My third weapon was, and still is, my faith which turned out to be a lot stronger than I believed it to be and continues to give me a great sense of peace as I move forward on my journey.
I am over two years past my diagnosis, healthy, and living my “new normal.” Sometimes I feel as if I am in this odd place somewhere between sublime gratitude for my returned life and crushing guilt over those who deserved to be as lucky but were not. But life goes on, and the answer to the “Why me?” question will never be answered.
When my husband and I first got married, we helped each other through challenges and big changes in life by calling each of them “Jeff and Pam’s next great adventure.” Any blessing or loss, we knew we could see the other side of it if we stuck it out together. He was by my side through every bit of bad news and every terrifying procedure. His quiet, strong presence and unconditional love gave me the ability to pretend I was courageous until one day I realized that I was not scared at all. I am not sure what tomorrow will bring, but I treasure my second chance, carry in my heart every day the memory of those who have not been so fortunate, and wonder what “Jeff and Pam’s next adventure” will be.