Monday Moms

Monday Moms: Cancer Disrupts
By Elizabeth Heath

Almost six years ago I discovered a thickness in breast. At the time I thought “I don’t have time for this.”  My oldest was a senior in high school still looking for colleges. My middle child was a freshman and was failing out of school after being a straight A student since Kindergarten. We were having ongoing bug problems with our house. And to top it off, my father was dying of a rare disease that caused dementia and Parkinson’s like symptoms. I was helping my mother take care of him. My stress level was already extremely high.  I knew I couldn’t put off seeing the doctor, though, and within a week I had a mammogram and a sonogram and had seen the breast surgeon. The biopsy was scheduled for 5 weeks away so I thought I didn’t have to worry. I was wrong. It was cancer.

After much wrangling with the insurance company and various doctors, seven weeks later I had a double mastectomy. I didn’t have lymph node involvement which I was very happy about, but the cancer was deeper than originally thought so I was to have chemo and then radiation afterwards.

Chemo wasn’t easy for me. I was allergic to taxotere and so I had many unfortunate symptoms such a hives and thrush and diarrhea. I was actually worried about missing my oldest’s high school graduation. We discovered I was allergic the second round and from then on out chemo didn’t affect my life as much and I didn’t have to miss anything. Radiation wasn’t too bad–I had some skin irritation and I was tired.

I didn’t want my cancer or treatment to affect my children. I was determined their lives should go on as usual. In retrospect, I was wrong. Cancer affects everyone, and by not asking my children to make sacrifices, I wasn’t giving them the opportunity to participate in my healing.  People want to help, and so do children. It makes them feel they are making a difference and they are important to the healing process. At the time, my most important consideration was that no one’s life be disrupted because I had cancer. Cancer disrupts. It would have been easier on me if I had accepted that truth.

Now I am five years cancer free. My life has returned to normal. My children all survived and are doing well. I did learn things because of cancer. Five years later I can honestly say my life is better now than before I was diagnosed. I don’t mean the trite “I appreciate life more.” I now take risks. I travel. I follow my heart. I think to myself in ten years am I going to look back and think “Am I glad I didn’t do that or am I going to regret it?” And then I do it. Honestly, I do appreciate life more. It really is a gift, and you only get one chance at it. Enjoy every moment and not just because you never know when it will end, but because life is fun. Live it.