October 29, 2001, was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Isn’t it amazing how cancer survivors remember that day as if it were a birthday? But I wasn’t celebrating that day. Instead, I worried that my life would forever hover in gloom and sickness. Would I ever laugh and dance again? Would I live to see grandchildren? Little did I know that my life would soon be brighter, richer, fuller.
It all began at about 3:00 one morning as I lay awake with insomnia. I felt tenderness and a small lump under my right breast. Because I regularly performed self-breast exams and had annual mammograms, I thought the tenderness must be from the estrogen I was taking. But after a week, the lump was still there. A very clear voice inside me said, “Nora, don’t wait any longer. This could be breast cancer.” Whoa! I got chills thinking about that possibility.
Terrified, I made an appointment with my gynecologist. He felt the lump but concluded it was probably just muscle tissue. That was encouraging. But I still had a gnawing feeling. I hoped my upcoming mammogram would let me know for sure. Mammograms are somewhat uncomfortable, with the squeezing and holding your breath (who designed those machines anyway?) But mammograms are really necessary. The doctor who read my x-rays saw nothing irregular. I was once again relieved. Yet in the next few weeks I still felt the lump. My instincts told me not to let this go. No one knew my body better than I did. Something just was not right. I wanted, I needed, a third opinion. I scheduled a physical and wasn’t surprised when my primary doctor felt the lump. She agreed that it needed to be removed, and I thank her for saving my life. She reassured me that a woman needs to look out for her own body. She was the doctor who listened. She referred me to an excellent, caring surgeon.
As I sat in the waiting room shortly after the biopsy, my surgeon gave me the diagnosis. He also assured me that we would “get the cancer.” All I could think of was, “How?” My husband Calvin, my daughter Marissa and I sat quietly in shock for what seemed like hours. They were there for me from that first day, and they are still by my side. I cherish and love them more than life itself, so I grew determined to kick this cancer for them and for me.
Still, the next days were filled with anger, numbness, and fear. How could two doctors and technology have failed me? How long would I live? How would I tell my beloved sister, Carol, that I had breast cancer? Soon, my family and friends, who have always been priorities in my life, gave me their strong support, love, and kindness. I began to replace fear with the peace of knowing that God would keep me in His loving hands. I had a conversation with a support group counselor who helped me to realize that I was going to be a survivor. Once I let go of the idea of being a victim, my outlook and life changed. I found courage, hope, and strength. The sunshine returned in my life. God had a plan for me.
So I faced the lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments with a positive outlook. I even got to like the feeling of having shower water tap on my bald head. Bald was liberating! Did you know there are thirty ways to dress up a saltine cracker? Same with my head! Sure, there were rough times and unpleasant side effects, but the cancer was treatable. I was determined to live!
Now, as a survivor of almost three years, I thank God for taking me under his wing; for giving me my loving husband, daughter, sister, cousins; a blessed church family and my dear friends. I love each day that I’m alive. I do not feel alone because I know there are other breast cancer survivors who are there for me, as I am there for them. I now have excellent doctors who continue to provide me with the best of care.
I have tried to embrace each year with an open heart and soul, and have learned a few simple lessons I wish to share: Prayer is powerful. God is a healing God. Thank Him for your blessings. Listen to your instincts. It may save your life. Take control of your own health and body. Be forgiving. Doctors and all of us make mistakes. Enjoy the golden sunsets, the smell of rain, the laughter of a baby, a hug from a friend and the freedom of being alive. Tell those who are special in your life that you love them again and again and again.