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My Grandma Pockey was a hard woman, but could give the best snuggles. I have very specific memories of visiting her in the summer. Planting flowers in her yard, eating Ritz crackers with Easy Cheese and marshmallow Pinwheel cookies. I loved laying on the bed in the guest room surrounded by sunlight and books and later snuggling in her bed as she would get ready for bed at night, the smell of Noxema thick in the air and watching her take her little pillows from her bra and place them neatly in a drawer.
I didn't know much about those “pillows” except that I would play with them whenever I could. They were soft and smelled like Pockey.
It wasn't until I was in High School that I put two and two together and realized that my Grandmother was a Breast Cancer survivor. I realized how strong she must have been and how at ease she was with her body. It wasn't always that way though. My Mom was very close to Pockey, she was her grandma after all. When I asked her about Pockey's cancer, she teared up and shared this with me.
I remember a feeling of helplessness when my grandma, the light of my life and my best friend in a world of parental abuse, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It felt like someone had punched me with all their might in the pit of my stomach…being a selfish teenager, it was all about me and how her diagnosis would affect my life. Never did I stop to think about what she might be going through.
Breast cancer…it wasn’t the common cancer in the 60’s that it is now-I hadn’t heard much about it when my grandma was told she was needing a drastic surgery to sustain her life. In fact, I knew NOBODY who had been affected by breast cancer-I had to read up about it to even understand the implication of that disease. It was still all about me-how her disease would change my life. Little did I realize how that diagnosis would impact me…
She had her surgery, a double radical mastectomy, and was hospitalized for three weeks. Back then, insurance would allow people a relaxing recovery under the supervision of healthcare professionals, much different than today’s surgeries. Her healing was slower because of her age-she was in her 60’s. I visited her every day-she was my lifeline to normalcy and I needed her daily. Never did I think of her life as being in danger-her mortality was never an issue. She wasn’t going to die…not my grandma.
She came home from the hospital and stayed with our family for another month as she recovered. That was a wonderful time for me but my mother ‘didn’t care much for’ my special grandma so there was some tension. I helped her as much as I could but I was in school so the days were long for her. She never complained, she just rested and tried to heal in preparation for returning to her home and my grandpa. Why didn’t she recover at home? I am not sure but they didn’t have a shower in their bathroom and now, years later, I suspect that was the reason.
One memory that has burned itself into my mind and one I remember frequently as I hear of women suffering through this horrible disease occurred one Saturday morning when she asked me if I would help her with a shower. I was nervous-I hadn’t seen her breasts, or the lack thereof, since her surgery. What was I getting into? What would I see? Should I look? Should I act nonchalant?
She was in the shower when I entered the bathroom. I thought she wanted my help? I was confused but soon realized her goal-to help me to realize the impact of her surgery and ‘break the ice’ between us. As I walked into the bathroom, she slid the glass door open and there she stood, naked and raw. As I peered into the shower, she looked back at me with tears rolling down her cheeks and with the wail of a little child, simply said, “look what they have done to me”. Fully clothed, I reached in, hugged her and we sobbed together. She was my life! I loved her more than anyone on the face of the earth and someone had violated her.
She recovered and healed physically but in my opinion, she never healed emotionally. Back then, the prosthetics weren’t what they are today and she was forever unbalanced. But she lived!
As I read that I cried for my Grandmother. This woman who was still so young and yet had lost something so connected to being a woman, her breasts. I can't imagine the pain, both physical and emotional that she must have felt. And to be alone in her recovery with only a teenager to turn to had to be equally difficult.
But, like my Mom said, she LIVED! They caught the cancer early enough that she didn't need chemotherapy. She was able to see all 5 of her great-grandchildren be born and watched us grow. She came to Christmases, Easters, plays, recitals, musicals, nothing stopped her. She came and stayed with our family every summer. We went to visit her often and she was such a bright spot in all of our lives.
For many years, she was the face of Cancer for me. Because of that, I thought it was a disease that really only effected older people. That was until 2 years ago.
On April 29th 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like I had just received a death sentence. How could this be, I was only 26 with a husband and a two year old boy. I have no history of breast cancer in my family and the very thought of it was something so foreign. Only old women got cancer, not me. All I knew about cancer was that those who had it, died.
It all started when I found a lump but because it couldn’t have possibly been anything serious I didn’t do anything about it. Some months later when my husband and I started thinking about having a 2nd child, at this time I decided to first have this lump looked at as it had become painful. I went to my gynecologist to have it examined and was referred to a local surgeon. He, the surgeon, did an immediate biopsy, all I could do was wait.
The next day my life would change forever. I received the phone call from the surgeon around mid afternoon. His diagnosis was a shock; I struggled not to cry and used all my strength to simply try to hear the doctor out. While on the phone my son came into my room, the sight of him and the thought of not being around to watch him grow old and to see him play and be a cute little boy was more than I could bear. I broke down and started to weep, I told the doctor goodbye and sat and held my son for some time and cried like I hadn’t cried before.
About an hour or so later my husband came home from work. When I told him I was balling, he was stone cold and could only say “It’s going to be OK.” I felt angry that he didn’t have a bigger reaction, I realize now that he was trying to be strong for me. I know that he hurt and felt anguish. His father had passed away a few years before we met after losing a battle with Leukemia, now the love of his life was entering the same battle.
The surgeon scheduled a lumpectomy for the very next Monday, the next day however he called and explained that after speaking with some colleagues he decided that I should have a mammogram first. The results indicated that my right breast was full of cancerous lumps, great. He then recommended that I get an MRI to get a better picture of the cancer and to determine if my left breast was also cancerous.
After waiting for hours and hours, after the MRI, I was told that they needed a biopsy of my left breast because there were some suspicious areas. Never before had I been so poorly treated and talked down too. The doctors were very rough, insensitive and emotionless. One technician who showed us the MRI images said that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, was very serious and acted put out that I was so upset about it.
After the surgeon took a look at the data my cancer was diagnosed, I had DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ and that it wasn’t present in my left breast. I had to then find an oncologist to help orchestrate my surgery and all that having cancer entails.
I was able to get in to meet with my husband's Dad's oncologist, even though she was not accepting any new patients. She loved his Dad and would do anything for our family.
On our first meeting she was absolutely perfect. She sat us down and spoke to us on our level. Spoke about our concerns and fears. I remember that she gave me a big hug and said that I will have kids again. This meant the world to me and I’ll always remember her for the hope she gave my family.
After meeting with them we then arranged my surgery for 6 June 2008 which gave me a month to prepare. I don’t think I’d ever been so scared in my life. I feel lucky to live in the world that we do with all the advancements in science that we have. I really am pretty lucky.
On the big day I underwent a skin sparing mastectomy which removed my right breast but left the outer tissue and skin, they also implanted a tissue expander which would stretch the remaining tissue and muscle and aid in forming a new breast. The people at the huntsman were great but I won’t lie, I hate being in the hospital. After a few days stay I was able to leave and start the long recovery process.
The mastectomy revealed that it had NOT spread to my lymph nodes YAY! What a relief.
Over the next three months I would visit my plastic surgeon weekly for saline injections. They were gradually filling the tissue expander with fluid to form my new breast. After it was sized back to normal I had to begin radiation therapy. So for the next eight weeks I had to go to the hospital every day barring weekends and endure the radiation treatment. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds until the end when my skin was so burnt that it started to crack and bleed. It helped that the staff at the clinic were so kind and funny. What a support. They told me that they were going to do three things to me that my mother had warned me about never doing. 1) Gave me a tattoos, 2) Took nude pictures 3) and asked me to take my clothes off for a stranger.
When that was all said and done and I had healed a bit I made my appointment with my plastic surgeon, to have the final reconstructive surgery. On Dec 22nd I had my final surgery and left Cancer behind me in 2008. It was a fairly easy recovery compared to the mastectomy. For what I went through the final results were great. That being said, I’d much rather have my old breasts back, but I’ll take life and what it brings, even if it’s single breasted.
I’m happy to say, that on November 11, 2009 I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This is my way of fighting back at cancer and showing it that I’m not afraid. Life is to be lived.
Cancer can and does hit everyone at some point in their lives. 1 in 8 women in the US will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in her lifetime. If you are not diagnosed, you will know someone who is. This disease doesn't care who you are, how old you are, what you look like, how many children you have or what you have to do tomorrow. It is hard and cold and will take from you as quickly as it can. Breast Cancer is the leading cause of death among US women ages 40-59.
I started doing self breast examinations when I was 18. I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law and saw that she had a self exam card in the shower. I did one that day. I have found it easiest to do it on the first of every month. That way I remember and I get it done.
I will admit that I don't always remember. When I am pregnant and nursing (like I have been for the last 8 years) it is hard to remember. But it is so important to know your breasts. To know what feels normal so that when something doesn't feel normal you can do something about it.
I am so grateful for organizations like the Susan G Komen foundation that is constantly educating women about Breast Cancer. KFC has teamed up with Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money to find a cure for this terrible disease. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the world's largest, most progressive, non-profit breast cancer organization. They have invested almost $1.5 billion in breast cancer research and community programs. You recoginize the pink ribbons, and that is because of Komen. They have transformed how the world talks about and treats this disease. They have helped millions become survivors rather than patients.
For every Pink Bucket, KFC makes a 50 cent contribution to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The Pink buckets will be available in KFC restaurants through May 23rd KFC has teamed up with Blogher to raise money. BlogHer will donate $1 for every comment left on the blog posts and across the other posts from the Exclusive Offer page at BlogHer.com, up to a total of $1000 for the entire program.
This disease has effected so many women in so many ways. Whether it is your Mother, Grandmother, sister, friend, daughter, or self, this disease takes so many and changes so many lives. The survivors I know try to make a difference in other's lives. They take the second chance they have been given and strive to improve the lives of others.
You can make a difference too by buying a pink bucket of chicken, or going to Buckets for the Cure.
It really can be that simple. Do your monthly exams, be smart and help others. Do you want to help? Leave a comment here and Blogher will automatically donate $1! It's that easy. Want to do more? Go read the other amazing stories of strength and courage, leave a comment and help more women in the race for the cure.
Together we are strong, together we can make a difference. What do you do to make a difference in the lives of others?