Being from a small rural community has its benefits and downsides. While I had always enjoyed the benefits the downside presented a challenge in my treatment when I was diagnosed at age 41 with multi focal, invasive ductal, hormone positive breast cancer at the age of 41. This jumble of words translated into how my breast cancer was treated, age and family history also play roles in treatment plans. As for me I had no family history of breast cancer, both my sister and mom passed away in 2008, so it was my close group of girlfriends that helped me make decisions.
In April 2012 I found a small firm tender non movable mass in my breast. I had been very good about performing breast self-exams and I recognized as a change, notified my Doctor and within days had my mammogram, biopsy and diagnosis of breast cancer. My immediate reaction was to comfort my coworker who delivered the news. I just kept saying we caught it early, but it would not be easy, the first obstacle was insurance.
I chose to get an opinion from a provider in Tulsa that was in network in Tulsa OK, 90 miles away. I left that visit discouraged and confused as to where next to turn. My next option was out of network and understanding the potential cost of treatment eliminated that option. My next in network option was 600 miles away. I would drive to Tulsa board a plane to be covered in- network. For 18 months I made the trip every 3 weeks. I had surgery to remove both breasts, chemotherapy and a smart antibody treatment along with multiple surgical complications including a blood clot to my lung. Traveling was rigorous. My 20 year marriage had ended shortly before my diagnosis and I was raising my twin 16 year old daughters, my 12 year old son plus working full time; I felt like a ringmaster trying to keep everything going. In retrospect traveling to my appointments forced me to focus on my care even if for a few days at a time.
Support during breast cancer is very dynamic you gain friends, and you lose friends. Learning to accept help from others is a lesson and a blessing. Being single during this was difficult and I did not want to burden my friends so I coped frequently on my own. A close friend recognized this and together we created a closed social media group for area women, which now has 280 members. We have a completely open forum so that all the uncomfortable topics can be addressed. Breast cancer isn’t just pink ribbons it is ugly scars, loss of your hair, loss of feeling and many other dynamics that don’t get addressed sometimes even by the treatment team.
Since 2012 many things have changed and the healing continues. Helping other women deal with the fear of a biopsy, the breast cancer results, the aftermath of treatment has in turn helped me heal. My wish is that no one deal with this alone. My plea is that men and women learn their breast tissue by doing self-exams and get your mammograms yearly. Early detection saves lives.