“Carcinoma means cancer, right?” I ask.
“Yes” said my doc. “You have cancer.”
Nobody ever wants to hear those three words. They pretty much strike fear and panic into your heart. I heard those words right after our newly adopted son turned one. Breast cancer kills people. I can’t die now, I just got everything I’ve ever wanted! It took me a long time and a ton of effort to finally find Mr. Right. The ink isn’t even dry on our marriage license and we just started our family and now this. Seriously! Fear, anger and disbelief came first. Then came the sadness.
For several nights I laid on the floor of our sons room, just listening to him breathe. What if I die before he’s old enough to remember me? Will I have to write him letters to open on special occasions like birthdays, graduations and his wedding? I’ve waited 42 years to become a mom. Am I going to miss it? Will my husband have to raise him alone? There is so much I still want to do with my life. Cancer doesn’t fit into my plans.
Treatments began. When it was all said and done, I spent well over a year getting well. Chemo took my energy, my long brown hair and my eyebrows. Radiation created intense burns and permanently shrunk my skin. Four surgeries, one of which took both of my breasts and left me with an ugly, mangled chest. Scars and tubes and long recovery times. It was not a good year.
Disfigured. I really struggled with the word ‘disfigured’ for a long time. It was hard to look at myself in a mirror. The intense fatigue was relentless. I wasn’t able to lift or hug my son. Sleeping was intensely uncomfortable. Forget about sex with my brand new husband. Touching me always made some body part hurt.
There were lots of tears over many things, real and imagined scenarios that played out like nightmares in my head. But, there were several laughs along the way and tons of love. An outpouring of support from our family, my friends, my coworkers, my medical team, cancer support organizations and several kind strangers along the way. You really learn who your friends are when life goes sideways. My husband, my dad, my friends Kim, Sara and Allison and my sister-in-law Brenda rose to the challenge in big ways. Their support got us through.
A few weeks after my double mastectomy I started bursting into tears every time I thought about going back to work. I knew in my heart that re-entering my fast paced sales & marketing job would do me in, for sure. More stress was not the answer.
I wanted to spend more time mom-ing than working. If my days are numbered, I want to spend them wisely, doing the things I enjoy most with the people I love. So walked away from my $100k a year job, started teaching yoga and became certified as a health and wellness coach. I knew I could put my skills to better use by helping people improve their health, recover from illness and lead a vibrant happy life, no matter their circumstances.
I am now grateful for my cancer diagnosis. It was a very long and painful road, but it hip-checked me into a better life. I’ve learned how to cook healthy meals for our family, we enjoy way more exercise than we ever did before, we’ve both released 45lbs (and counting) and we have a ‘bulletproof’ mindset. Ya know that whole ‘that which does not kill you makes you stronger’ thing? It’s true! If you can get through cancer with a new husband, a toddler son and a full time job, you can pretty much get through anything.
I’ve been declared Cancer Free and I do everything in my power to remain that way. And if it does someday take my life, well, I won’t have any regrets because I spend my time the way I want. At the end of my story, it will be a life very well lived.
Thriving, not just surviving, is my daily pursuit. Helping others thrive by developing their own self-nurturing wellness practices is my calling. The true work I was put on Earth to do. Educating, empowering and encouraging others feels like an important contribution. My Vision is to live in a world where everyone is living the most vibrant version of their lives. My calling is helping people live an amazingly healthy, fun and abundant life. Trust your gut. Chase your dreams. I believe in you.
Oh, and I no longer struggle with the word ‘disfigured’. I’ve embraced the new me. My body isn’t perfect, nor was it before cancer. My breasts don’t look like they used to but they are just breasts. The rest of me is still here and I’m able to follow my passions, spend time with the people that mean the most, raise our son, travel, relax, teach yoga and improve peoples lives. You don’t need pretty boobs to do that!
I’d like to introduce you to my friend Charlotte Harloff of Shutterbug’s Perspective Photography. She did these amazing portraits. She’s on a similar mission as I am: Empowering Women. She’d like to include your portrait in a special edition of Survivor magazine. Are you ready to embrace your scars and find the beauty in your new body? Charlotte is gentle, funny, warm, respectful and this woman knows how to pose her photography subjects so they look fantastic in their portraits! She has a very special offer for survivors. Please reach out to her for details.
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