October has always been a favorite month, ushering in the fall (or here in Florida, the ability to wear a pair of closed-toe shoes without feeling like you are going to melt,) settling into the school routine, preparations for one of the best holidays ever, and pumpkin spice everything. It also is the month for Breast Cancer Awareness.
Statistics show that approximately one in eight women in the United States will develop a form of invasive breast cancer. October is an opportunity to remind us all that there is still a search for a cure, and provides an opportunity to contribute in some way to bring awareness to this disease. I wanted to take it one step further by introducing you to a few warriors throughout the month. It is easy to get caught up in the statistics and fundraising, so let us take a few moments to recognize those who are in the thick of it, whether as a survivor, or as someone undergoing treatment.
I have known Beth since 2008, when I first moved to Amelia Island and my son was enrolled in the same school as her daughter. She's a lovely woman, who is a teacher, an animal lover, obsessed with all things Disney, and heavily involved in our local community theater. She is also a four-year survivor of breast cancer and has graciously agreed to tell her story below.
My journey began in October of 2013. I had a new house that I loved and my favorite holiday was approaching. I went in for an overdue checkup with a new gynecologist who felt something funny during the breast exam. She asked me if I had felt anything during my self checks and I confessed that I rarely did them since I was so lumpy anyways and I would not be able to tell the difference. I wasn't worried because I had just had my annual mammogram less than 10 months earlier. No way could there new something there that fast!
Insert short health history here- I had none. I am adopted. So when you have to fill out those Family Health History forms at the Drs offices, I could never enlighten them on anything about my past other than what I knew from my own life experiences. Anxiety?-check, stomach problems?-check, CANCER?- NO WAY!!! You get he idea. I had been having mammograms since my early 30's due to fibrous Brest tissue with a few abnormals along the way that caused me to have to go in for a 2nd test but they never came back positive and honestly, I never expected them to.
Fast forward to October 2013 in that Drs office. She insisted that even though I had just had a mammogram 10 months earlier that this lump concerned her and I left with my orders to go back for another mammogram. To my shock and surprise I HAD BREAST CANCER! The day the Dr called me with the results I was anxiously waiting by the phone. When she told me I had cancer a panic swept over me and I lost it! I called my husband and mother to deliver the news that changed my life forever. As I hung up the phone with both of them, I had an immediate pity party for myself that involved lots of tears, lots of why me's and lots of why God why?? That moment was the most powerful for me. As I was talking to God this peace washed over me. I didn't just stop crying and and get over my fears, I mean this sense of peace and calm like no other washed over me and from that moment on I was able to pull myself together, take charge and move forward with getting the nasty cancer out of my body. No way was cancer going to win!
How people treat their cancer is very personal. Mine involved several different opinions and my first step was to see if I tested BRCA positive or negative. This would determine if I wanted a lumpectomy or mastectomy and also determine how at risk my daughter may be. Thankfully, I tested BRCA negative and I made the decision to have a lumpectomy and keep the rest of my breasts. I needed radiation but opted out of chemotherapy because I was right on the line between needing it or not. I also chose not to take Tamoxifen even though it was recommended. I listened to the pros and cons about why I should or shouldn't take it from fellow Breast Cancer survivors and from family members who have sadly lost their own mothers to breast cancer even after taking Tamoxifen. I decided to take my chances and pray it never comes back. Again, these choices are very personal and must be made by the person going through it. Both the surgery and radiation went well and I am so thankful. I never miss my mammogram and ultrasound appointments every 6 months although the mammogram didn't find my cancer, my Dr did. That visit saved me and I thank my Dr every year.
I remember hearing about someone being cancer free and how significant that term is to someone diagnosed with cancer. I asked one of my Drs when can I say that I am cancer free? He told me that I should consider that day I had my cancer taken out of me, December 14th 2013, as the day I could officially say I am cancer free. As my 4 year anniversary approaches, I am hopeful and happy and feel so blessed and fortunate. I never really think of myself as a survivor. The other women who had to go through much more than me are the ones I admire most. I feel a sisterhood with them- the ones I know personally and the ones I have read about. I feel so sad when I hear of someone who has lost the battle and feel guilty to be so fortunate.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about cancer and pray it never comes back. It is the fear of the unknown that I constantly live in. Will it come back? Are some of those cells hiding within me? I try to live everyday to the fullest. Laugh more, love more and just have fun. I have no time for negativity and hate. I am so happy to be here, living and breathing and I am one of the lucky ones who truly appreciates being here alive and living in the moment.
So when October rolls around and I get to decorate for one of my favorite holidays, Halloween, I also look around at all the pink ribbons and support from friends and strangers alike and I feel loved and proud to say, "I AM A BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR!!""
An endless thank you to Beth for sharing her very personal journey.
Beth and her lovely daughter Sarah came by our studio so that we could create some beautiful images of them - both individually and together. These are a few favorites.