I have been a cancer survivor since 2003 when my endocrinologist called with the results of my thyroid biopsy. I was expecting cancer but hoping my instincts were wrong. I have very little cancer history in my family, and both grandmothers who had cancer were in their 80’s when they were diagnosed. I was 36 years old with four-year-old twins. I didn’t have time for cancer! I was angry more than scared.
I had another surprise less than five years later. My mammogram came back abnormal and I was once again having a biopsy. It also indicated cancer. Not again, I thought. I was now divorced with nine-year-old twins, a career and I was working toward my master’s degree. I certainly did not have time for cancer now. But, once again I was forced to fit it into my life. The treatments were rough at times, but I always believed I was going to be okay and I was grateful to be the beneficiary of early detection and advanced treatments.
After that, I saw my doctors faithfully and did my best to exercise and take care of myself. But, as with many survivors, the fear of reoccurrence was always in the back of my mind. I was young. I was fit. I felt really good, but cancer came calling again.
Bloodwork drawn at my annual physical came back with high platelets and white blood cell counts. My primary care doctor wanted to repeat the test. As I was driving through rural South Georgia, from my home in Atlanta, I received the call that my numbers were still high and my doctor had called my oncologist and scheduled me to see her first thing Monday morning. They suspected leukemia.
They were right. After a series of tests, I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) at 51 years old. Three cancers in 15 years. With the previous cancers I knew they had found them early and that I was going to survive. With this one, my world was rocked. My friends affectionately call me a “rip the band aid off kind of girl” but this one took me a minute to fully understand and accept. But once I did, I found a specialist and started treatments as soon as possible. Because of advancements in medications, I once again have a positive prognosis. My doctor told me that if I had been diagnosed 15 year ago, I would have had a 30% survival rate. Now, because of medications that truly make this disease chronic, I can expect to live a normal life span with continued treatment.
I count my blessings often. I live in Atlanta where the treatment options are numerous, unlike in other parts of our state. My work hours can be flexible so I can do whatever is necessary for treatment or take paid time off when the fatigue or medication side effects get to be too much. I have colleagues, neighbors, friends and family who offer to help in any way they can. And, I am inherently optimistic and live my life with a sense of purpose and hope.
Cancer is an amazing teacher, if you will just take the time to listen and learn. It teaches humility, gratitude, patience, vulnerability and to depend on others. If you are facing a cancer diagnosis, take the time you need to fully accept and embrace that diagnosis, and keep moving forward. I wear my survivor label proudly and I hope I can be an inspiration to others. Cancer has not stopped me. Don’t let it stop you.
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