So, it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month again. I was 53 years old when I was diagnosed. I started treatment in October of 2013. The outpouring of national and local “pink ribbon” awareness positively overwhelmed me! The following year I was completing chemo and wanted to ignore every reminder of “pink”. In 2015, seeing pink on NHL ice rinks and NFL fields filled my heart with gratitude. Last year, my son’s Binghamton Junior Senators Hockey Team honored me at a game for the funds we raised for Traci’s Hope. (Traci was my friend, a fellow hockey mom and mother to three young boys when she was diagnosed with 3b breast cancer at 31. She passed away in early October 2006 at 38 years old, but not before starting Traci’s Hope. Traci formed the not-for-profit to celebrate the hope she found in outliving her 5 year, 3% chance of survival and the tremendous community support she and her family received. Tracie’s legacy of caring continues through funds and practical assistance it provides for other women and men in our area fighting breast cancer.) Spending time with Traci’s parents made that night more beautiful.
October brings awareness! My doctors had years of my routine mammograms for comparisons when they called me back for more testing. My stage 2 cancer was discovered while very treatable. Sadly, survivorship for younger women and men is often reduced. They ignore symptoms. They think they are too young to “get” cancer. By the time they are diagnosed, the cancer has often progressed to a less-treatable stage. My message to you is: please, perform self-breast exams. Don’t ignore changes or concerns.
I’ve learned so much in these last four years:
*If I had to do it all again (and I pray I never will), I would not concern myself with maintaining the “sturdy girl image. Many days, I soldiered through and was in bed at 4:00. I would definitely take more time for myself
*Get a second opinion. I resisted getting a second opinion. I’m from Buffalo, home of Roswell Park, a world-renowned cancer institute. My father constantly asked me why I wasn’t going there. To give him peace of mind, I went and ended up getting some peace of mind for myself. This amazing place would not have done anything different; my treatment here was second to none!
*Cancer is not contagious but it affects the whole family.
My 13-year-old son was my rock. He didn’t give a second thought to our new normal. He fashioned a “sling” that allowed air to get to my radiation burns and promote healing. My daughter’s new normal brought different challenges. She spent her senior year living with family members in Buffalo. She attended a private high school there that prepared her to compete in the crazy world of woman’s collegiate hockey. At the same time, she found it very hard to be away from me. Her Aunt Wendy and Uncle Fred’s ended up being the best place for her. My sturdy girl is currently in her senior year of college, playing Division 1 Hockey and going into a graduate program in Physical Therapy!
*Support for Families: Support doesn’t just ask what and how to help, IT DOES!
My work family gave me a pink breast cancer bag filled with goodies every time I left for chemo. We called it “Tuesdays with Margaret.” They provided dinner for my family at least once a week. They “adopted” my children for Christmas that year. They didn’t just ask, “What can we do?” They just did. I am forever grateful for their support.
*Join the YMCA Livestrong Program: I know I’m fortunate, I know I’m blessed. I came out on the other side a survivor. I just had my 6-month scans and have been declared “clear” for another 6 months. These appointments invoke anxiety but the results are very comforting! I am LIVING STRONG and so grateful for this YMCA program. I highly recommend it for anyone living this journey. I’m committed to wellness! Cancer only made me a tougher, stronger, survivor…a real “sturdy girl,” LIVESTRONG helped get me there and my YMCA workouts are keeping me sturdy.