October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you will see PINK popping up everywhere. At Walmart, where employees pledge a certain amount to breast cancer treatment and are allowed to forego the Navy blue or white in favor of pink. To your favorite hair salon which might donate a portion of it’s earnings to the cause. To Lands End who has a special pink line that donates to the cause. And it’s a friendly reminder to women everywhere to get their mammograms!
Last month, headlines was made when an actress tweeted that she has breast cancer.
"1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I'm the one," Julia Louis-Dreyfus wrote. She made headlines. But there are many women who are diagnosed every day who don’t.
Let me tell you my story.
In July of 2008 I was doing my routine breast exam and I noticed a lump in my breast. I ignored it. I was nursing a baby and swollen milk glands are normal. In August, that lump had grown. Major time, causing a portion of my breast to be misshaped. I still ignored it. Milk glands will get better, you just have to nurse through them.
In September, I decided two months was long enough and my husband was worried. So I made an appointment, went to see the nurse practitioner who agreed with me. “Yep, there’s a lump.” What we didn’t agree on was the course of treatment. I wanted a round of antibiotics. She wanted me to have a mammogram. I argued. What is the point? There is a lump, give me antibiotics and lets not waste time. But she held the prescription notepad and would not write me a prescription. She did order a mammogram.
My very first one.
And wow, imagine that. There’s a lump! They even ultrasounded it. I cried through that, because it made it seem more serious than an infected milk gland. And then they referred me back to my doctor. The real one this time, who must’ve been eighty years old. Seriously. Very old school.
He sent me for a biopsy – which he did himself in the hospital. And told me it looked like an infected milk gland. YES. Point goes to me for correctly diagnosing myself. But like the practitioner, he refused to write a prescription. We’ll just wait for the results.
May I mention at this point that the medical profession drives me nuts?
So, then the results come in. I go, alone. I pray in the waiting room, and God assures me, “It’s going to be okay.”
It wasn’t okay. The doctor, lovely man, was very blunt. “You have cancer. I’m taking your breast.”
Excuse me. What?
And then wham, bang, boom, I was back in that small town hospital where that eighty year old doctor took my breast.
It is noted on the medical records that I woke up asking about my lymph nodes. Over and over and over because the nurses pretended they didn’t hear me. They did, because it is in the notes.
At that point the eighty year old doctor decided maybe I should go see an oncologist. You think? I wish I would’ve demanded one from the start. But I was kind of blindsided. Young nursing moms don’t go from a milk gland infection to breast cancer with no warning without being blindsided.
There are verses in the Bible about a king who begged God for his life. And like Hezekiah, I cried and prayed the same. Isaiah 38 says In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord,3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life
I promised God at that point that my life from this point on was totally and completely His. I would do as He wills. And my writing was given to God. Everything was. I sold out. I am His.
And the church laid hands on me and prayed for me. I am a member of a church that does NOT do this. But they did. And I felt God’s presence, I felt His touch.
The oncologist sees me. Looks at the mammograms and the ultrasound and the biopsy results, determines it was confined to the breast, my lymph nodes were clear, and mutters over and over and over “I could’ve saved the breast.” I told him to stop talking about it. It was done, over, and past saving and I didn’t want (or need) the guilt. Especially when the decision was made and executed before I had a chance to regroup.
He recommended chemo and radiation. I argued. If it’s confined to the breast, what is the point? He rather patiently explained that it would kill any cancer cells that remained in my body and I did want to be around for that sweet little girl.
Well, yes. And my husband. And my four other children…
So then another breast cancer survivor (an author), told me to fight the cancer with everything I had. She sent me her book, and the main character donated her hair to locks of love as a token punch to the disease.
Yes, I could do that. So, I found a place that did donations, had my long hair cut off, and spiked – because my husband told me no – and when the chemo started taking my hair I asked my husband to shave me.
He cried. But he did it. And told me that was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life.
Another breast cancer survivor told me to drink lots of water. Like a gallon a day. I did. And whether it was the water or God, I didn’t get sick on the first three doses of chemo. My blood counts remained normal. I was able to function, which is good because I still had five children to take care of.
Then the oncologist stopped chemo for six weeks of radiation. Compared to chemo, this was a walk in the park. The hardest part was getting marked up for it. I was seriously getting seasick on that twirling “bed.”
Then three more chemo treatments. The oncologist promised this one would not take my hair or make me sick.
All my hair fell off, including my eyebrows and lashes which I didn’t lose the first time. And I got so sick it was awful. I seriously thought this would kill me.
And again, the oncologist was impressed with how well I handled it.
I told him it was all God.
He told me he didn’t have much use for God, but He certainly worked with me.
If you are going through breast cancer, my prayers are with you.
And get your mammograms. Don’t let a little lump become big. Mine was golf-ball sized when it was removed.