(Early July 2002)
I spoke with a good friend and fellow Relay for Life volunteer, Dan. He was busy with his own cancer battle -- testicular cancer. (TC) However, there was one common thread in our pathway to life beyond cancer -- he too had undergone lung surgery, but not once -- twice. He had to have pulmonary surgery when his TC spread to both lungs, so he knew exactly what I had just experienced and knew - first hand - the pain I was feeling. When I told him there was a “rock” sitting in my chest just below my left breast, he understood. When I spoke about the fatigue (the inability to fully function at anytime of the day) Dan said he understood. In fact, we even shared the same surgeon -- so we were able to talk about Dr. Khouzam and how great he was.
My conversation with Dan helped so much. He was even able to talk about the medications for pain, since we were taking the same drugs. While his chemo was different and he was undergoing physical therapy at the time, speaking with him allowed me, for the first time since surgery, to communicate with another person about how I truly felt. He shared something the surgeon had told him: “It’ll take about eight months until I feel like myself again.”
Okay. So now I had some sort of a time frame for all of this, even though I realized that Dan and I were obviously different individuals dealing with our own cancers and each had his/her own battle to fight. But, having someone there with me - in the trenches so to speak, made my day.
I attended my first breast cancer support group meeting on July 11, 2002 at MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando. Go to: I took my Mom as a guest and it turns out, I’m glad I was there. I met a woman that evening who was also a metastasized breast cancer survivor. Her cancer had spread to the liver and she was on the drugs Herceptin and Taxotere, (Go to: the same two medications prescribed by Dr. Shah for me. When I heard that Darla was doing well and her liver tumors were gone -- my heart skipped a beat for joy. I was happy for her while feeling a sense of relief for me as well. Since she explained that they could not do surgery on her liver and that these drugs were her only chance, I realized the power of the treatments we were undergoing. Other women spoke that evening as well, sharing their experiences as we went around the room. My Mom received a huge round of applause as she announced her survival time ... her BC diagnosis was in Sept. 1976 ... almost 26 years as a survivor. The room erupted into shouts of joy! She was hugged by everyone in the room before we left.
Knowing what I did now, from both Dan and Darla, my cancer journey seemed more manageable. Perhaps I could handle all this, and maybe in time, I could return to work and to a normal life. When I did get home from the meeting, I was both exhausted and hyper. Since I was taking steroids as part of my treatment, this was obviously a reaction. I got ready for bed, but was too energized to sleep. It was 11:30 p.m. and I was super charged with energy and yet, I was also tired. A very strange combination.
I thought about my life and what I wanted. Did I want to return to DRC or did I simply want to be a freelance writer? I knew I wanted to travel. I wanted to spend time healing, becoming stronger, and desperately wanted to be healthier. I daydreamed of being financially well off and having lots of friends. Enjoying life -- that’s what I wanted most.
I reminded myself once again, before finally falling asleep that “everyday in every way I was getting better and stronger.”
(Note: My dear friend and fellow cancer survivor, Daniel O’Leary, lost his battle to testicular cancer in Sept. 2009. He is remembered every year at the Relay for Life of Oviedo by a team he helped establish and is now under the leadership of his wife (also a great friend and ACS RFL volunteer) Jennifer O’Leary. I met this dynamic couple when we were all Survivor Committee members at the University of Central Florida’s RFL. In memory of Dan, I also light a luminaria at our Sanford RFL. If you would like to honor his memory (or another loved one or friend) you can do so by going to the RFL site and purchasing a Luminaria that will go on display during the Remembrance part of the event. This donation supports the ACS commitment to provide education. service, advocacy and research. "There is no finish line until the cure is found.")