Norma Jean Page
I am not a writer but I have a story. My father died April 2011 on Easter Sunday with an abdominal aneurysm and I thought my world had ended. A little over a year later after working feverishly to get my mother settled into a safer neighborhood and remodeled home I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t know about other survivors but I still have difficulty saying the words, “I have breast cancer” and I’m not sure I have said those words out loud.
I had a lump in my breast, which was not unusual. Almost every time I had a mammogram there would be a lump and the doctor would aspirate before I even left the office. Never any cancer cells, no history of breast cancer in my family so there was never any worry or concern. But this day, September 20, 2012 would be different. I had a lump but the mammogram did not show anything. I ask the doctor, “Don’t you want to aspirate the girl on the left?” She looked at me with a puzzled look and then felt the lump. She said, “Let’s do that aspiration”. While she was aspirating fluids she looked at me and said, “this does not look good” and of course my response was, “you’ve been wrong before, right?” to which she responded, “yes”.
That’s when the journey began. I was immediately sent to a surgeon to look at the lump, he sent me to an Oncologist. I had blood test, Pet Scans, MRI’s and I’m sure more but the next several weeks were test and doctor offices, it seemed every day.
So I meet the best Oncologist in the world or I think he is and he proceeded to explain our journey together. To be honest reality had not set in and I thought, maybe they could be wrong, but Dr. Rose confirmed that I had Stage 2 Breast Cancer, it was aggressive and had gone into my lymph nodes and we needed to get busy. Frankly I was scared to death. Should I tell people, should I try to go through this and survive and then tell people? What do I do now?
Dr. Rose proceeded to tell me about the treatments, medications, side effects and yes I will lose my hair in 14 days after I begin treatment. I would have a port put in the next couple of days and then treatments will begin. I missed most of the explanation my mind and thoughts were all over the place. How do I tell my friends, my co-workers and more importantly, how do I tell my Mother who was still mourning the loss of her best friend and husband for 61 years and a brother who has always loved his little sister I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me but I truly thought life was over and I was going to die.
I told Dr. Rose, “I don’t care what it takes, get this out of me, I have better things to do.”
I went to work and started cleaning my personal items out of my office thinking I may never be able to come back to work. I may die and I have all my stuff at home that I need to clean out so family and friends will not have to deal with, but everything happened so quickly and I didn’t have time to prepare. Was I going to die from breast cancer? A lot of people do. Will I be so sick that I may never be able to work again.
I re-wrote my Will, prepared a Living Will and had them notarized, just in case.
After I finally broke the news to a few of my best friends one suggested I put the names of all my concerned friends, co-workers and family members on the same email list and send out updates to everyone on the list at the same time. This would make it easier to let folks know how I was doing with less effort. So that’s exactly what I did and it turned out to be the most therapeutic experiences of the journey. It is my journal. I have not been able to read through the journal without getting upset. Reliving the experience is almost harder than going through the treatments. How did I remain so positive and how was I able to find humor during that terrible and weakest time in my life?
My co-workers rallied around me and all wore pink uniform shirts, my staff and co-workers turned everything at work pink, when possible. The support was incredible and much needed.
I had long hair so I decided to go ahead and cut it short so that when it fell out maybe it would be less traumatic. A couple of my friends visited me the weekend after my second treatment when my hair started coming out in hand fulls. We proceeded to the back porch where my head was shaved with pet shears, wouldn’t advise, but they worked. We took pictures, I blogged out the experience and kept everyone in the loop.
I was on my 4th treatment and thought it was my last. You see when they explained the treatments I glazed over and didn’t hear the entire process. I had 12 more treatments to go. Boy did that make me hit rock bottom, but once again I knew I had to be strong to get through this process. I was determined not to let this get me down. Chemo treatments are cumulative so you get sicker and sicker, weaker and weaker and the blood levels continue to drop.
Through this process I met other women and men going through Chemotherapy and we became close friends as we shared our journey. Some of those friends survived, others didn’t.
The one thing that seems to be neglected are the friends and family that are the caretakers. They sit through the chemo treatments which are at least 3 or 4 hours long, sometimes longer. They see the effects of chemo as their friend becomes sick, weak and unable to cook, eat, clean and do every day and normal activities. They too suffer during the process, not knowing what the outcome will be.
The side effects are awful and hard to describe.
I kept my email updates, which I now call my journal, thinking maybe I would get someone to help me put it in book form but there was nothing special about my experience as compared to others and frankly I didn’t have time to edit all the grammatical errors and misspelled words. But I have shared my journal with other women that have been diagnosed with breast cancer hoping to give them some insight as to what to expect and also to provide some humor and smiles as they read my antics. You see I took pictures and tried to find humor in my journey. Don’t get me wrong, it was nothing to laugh at, but humor is the best medicine.
I finished Chemotherapy, radiation and Herceptin treatments December 2013 but had to keep my port in for another year, just in case.
May 2016 I was finally able to say that I am cancer free. Follow up CT scans, MRI’s, mammograms and blood work never end……………but I am alive, have hair and lots of energy, again.