Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's Pink October -- An Opportunity to Share My Story

Yes! Today is October 1. When I began getting ready for the day, I almost forgot the significance of this month. Well, at least, I thought I did. Unconsciously, I was well aware that today marked the beginning of Pink October. I had already picked out one of my favorite hot pink exercise tops to wear to spin class. I also pulled out a pair of "hot pink" panties. (Okay, so no one would actually see these, but I would know.)

Pink October is not meant to be a fashion statement. While I may look good in pink, I must admit it was never one of favorite colors -- at least, not until I heard the words: "You have breast cancer." The date -- December 4, 2000. I woke up following surgery; I had undergone a lumpectomy after a biopsy had indicated that one of the two tumors in my right breast was malignant. My life changed that day.

At first, it seemed rather simple. My Mom was a long-time breast cancer survivor. Her mastectomy was in September 1976, just months after I had gotten married. Back then, cancer was usually spoken in "hush hush" tones. My Aunt Elinor, a registered nurse during her career and my Mom's sister, seemed rather concerned but tried to reassure my Dad and I that things would be okay. Actually, it was my Mom who gave us the reassurances -- she woke up asking: "What's next?" Other than the surgery, she never had any other problems from her breast cancer. She did undergo physical therapy for a year after surgery, needing to regain the use of her arm. But, otherwise, she was fine.

That is what I recalled as I went home that evening.  In fact, when I called my Mom to tell her the news, she responded: "You'll be fine." My cancer was stage one, fully contained. That was my diagnosis. The news was good. My cancer was found early, thanks to my diligence of undergoing annual mammograms. I went through radiation treatments (which were horrific but I survived) and I went on Tamoxifen, because my cancer was estrogen positive.

Then, my life really changed. Fast forward to 2002. A routine chest X-ray showed tumors in both lungs. The week after that "not so routine test" turned into a real nightmare. Suddenly, this "rather simple" breast cancer" experience was way out of control. I underwent major lung surgery, losing the upper lobe of my left lung. Now, my life had really changed.

From that day in May 2002 until nearly 2008 my life became a "living hell." Pain was constant. I now lived with chronic pain and it was in stages that hit past 10 on the standard pain scale. I lived on so many medications that I needed an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper just to keep track of every pill I took around the clock. I gained weight from my sedentary life style, reaching 186 pounds at one point. I had asthma, diabetes, osteoarthritis, pulmonary hypertension, high cholesterol, high blood pressure -- on and on. I wasn't seeing pink -- I was seeing darkness. I went into a very deep, scary depression. For years!

Thank goodness that darkness is gone. I can see pink and it's beautiful. Now, I look forward to Pink October. I look forward to the annual 5K Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. I look forward to attending exercise classes at the Oviedo Y... including spinning, Zumba, Qi Gong and water fitness. I look forward to seeing friends and family. I look forward to waking up each day. I look forward to sharing my story -- a story of survival.

It's Pink October and I'm a breast cancer survivor. I'm here to celebrate!

(I recently applied for a U.S. Copyright for my book "High Maintenance." The book shares my cancer-related experiences over the past 13 plus years.)

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