When I heard those words late on a Thursday night seven years ago “you have cancer” I felt my world crashing inside of me. What?? No this can’t be, no way, not me, I don’t want to die…
WOW, what a trip it has been! To say my life will never be the same is an understatement but it has turned into a beautiful journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, not one of the more common breast cancer and can be very aggressive should one have a reoccurrence. I had a couple of surgeries, six rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. I was “lucky” my support system was reliable, best doctors and nurses you could ask for, the strength that I found in myself and had decent insurance so not destroy us financially.
Unfortunately, not so many others when diagnosed have the same support available to them; slowly my healing begins, my eyes and heart opened to a whole new world that I would have never guessed I would have been apart. I had a friend that was a survivor, and she invited me to a cancer support group, I’m thinking, why do I need to go to this group (famous last words)! That was when I saw just how lonely diagnosis with cancer could be; physically it breaks you down, mentally it wears on you and financial it can wipe you out. Does this happen to all? No, but more than you could ever imagine.
Since then I probably have only missed a dozen of those meetings, why because these ladies are something to be admired and I am blessed to be a part of their journey. Every time I meet someone newly diagnosed some with fear in their eyes, those with fierce determination and others that miss that normal life they previously had. Then slowly those uncertain caterpillars turn into beautiful butterfly’s that now they are finding the new normal.
From the date of my original diagnosis I have been a Survivor, but more importantly, now I am a Caregiver and Advocate the many patients I have met. My journey now is to help pave a path so that the “bumps in the road” don’t seem as hard to recover from and to aid in the journey through diagnosis and beyond. I have organized meal trains, cleaning services, transportation, facilitate a support group, created a private Facebook group, visited patients at home and hospital, talk them through that first chemo treatment and celebrated the last treatment. I try and keep in constant contact with them in the beginning, the middle and onto Survivorship.
I distinctly see the need in my community that patients have while battling cancer, necessary things that should not be of concern: How will I feed my family? How can I afford treatment when my insurance only covers so much? Will I lose my job because the chemo is physically exhausting? How will I pay my bills if I can’t work full time? Where do I go for help? Clinical Trials? Will I be evicted for not paying my rent? The questions are endless, the fear is constant, and this is the reality for too many.
Also, my “Circle” would not be complete without remembering the ones that we have lost, I have attended funerals of far too many and see the broken hearts that left from a battle that can be cruel and exhausting for all. Spouses lose the love of their life of 50 plus years or just one year, faces of children that don’t understand why their parent is no longer with them or the irreplaceable emptiness in their lives left unfulfilled no matter what--are just a few permanent images that drive my desire to help.
The ringing of a bell signifies the final day of cancer treatment. What most do not understand is that cancer goes beyond treatment and the last treatment. There are days beyond diagnosis just as taxing as the days during treatment. This is the basis for my charity work and the mission for Beyond the Ribbon, Inc. There is not a day that goes by that cancer doesn't touch my life through the lives of others and each day I want to try harder for them. Each day I want to make their journey more comfortable because they need to be able to focus on that bell ringing on the day of their victory...and ringing a bell for every victorious milestone beyond that day.