Breast cancer is a terrible disease. Frequently, it takes the ones we love from us far, far too soon. But the happier, flip side is the fact that every day, women are facing down the cancer demon and winning. To celebrate the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let's meet some of those survivors, hear their stories, and cheer them on.
Lisa Adams is one such woman. She writes an intelligent, insightful blog about her experiences as a breast cancer survivor -- but that's not the whole story. Shortly before she was diagnosed, she gave birth to her third child, who had several physical abnormalities requiring treatment. And her beloved mother-in-law died in a car accident that also severely injured her father-in-law. Through it all, she's found support and clarity in writing about her experiences.
Adams was actually diagnosed after giving birth to her son. At a postpartum visit, her doctor felt something abnormal about one breast and sent her for a mammogram, during which the tumor was discovered. Adams was lucky: She'd had a clear mammogram only about two years earlier.
One of the greatest myths about cancer, Adams says, is that when the surgeries and treatments are over, so too is experience with the disease. That's not the case for many women, for whom drugs like Tamoxifen or Femara are necessary to maintain good health. Such medications can come with some unpleasant side effects, leaving it hard to move on. "Once your hair grows back in and you look healthier, people are more apt to think life has returned to normal," Adams says. "There are so many ways cancer affects me each and every day, some of them negative. I think it’s a mistake to gloss over those and only focus on smiling, happy people wearing pink.”
Jody Emmi was a 32-year-old mother of 4-year-old twins and a 2-year-old when she discovered a lump in her breast in the shower. Eventually she had a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstruction. The people in her life made all the difference during her ordeal, stepping in to help with her children and even feed her family. "For six months we had dinner delivered to our house three times per week," she says. "That was amazing. Cancer treatment is so overwhelming, I don't know what I would have done without the support of my friends and family."
She's served as an advocate and mentor for young women with breast cancer, who have much different concerns than women diagnosed in middle age or later. Still, five years after her diagnosis, her scars serve as a daily reminder, and like many cancer survivors, any ache or pain sets off a chain of worries. Her marriage did not survive the strain of the cancer treatment, and she worries that her daughters will have to battle breast cancer like she did. Despite all that, she has found positives in her fight. "I like to tell people that cancer gave me a gift," she says. "It made me realize how strong a person I can be; if I can get through that experience, I can get through anything ... I am reminded every day that I am one of the lucky ones."
A teacher, mother of triplets, and friend of Emmi's, Amy Maurice asked her doctor for a mammogram when she turned 40. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made, because the test uncovered what proved to be breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. She hadn't even felt a lump before the tumor was discovered.
Maurice's triplets were 5 years old and about to start kindergarten when she was told she had the disease. "The summer of 2009 when I was diagnosed was probably their most fun summer ever!" she says, because friends and family took the kids to so many activities and events so that she could rest. An online group called Young Survival Coalition proved to be a great source of support. "Those girls really helped me through the darkest of days because they could understand what I was going through," she says.
Two years later, cancer is still very much a part of her life. Many things about her day-to-day have changed -- her long, straight hair is now short and has turned curly; her sex drive has taken a hit due to the hormonal effects of the chemotherapy; and she's put on some weight. It's hard to not dwell on what she went through, but she channels those thoughts into helping other people struggling with the disease. "I try not to sweat the small stuff," she says. "Although it is hard for me to do and to keep on living as if breast cancer is something I had, not something that I have."
Is there a breast cancer survivor you know who inspires you?
Image via leah jones/Flickr