Bands Against Breast Cancer is thankful to be able to share this moving story of one lady’s personal fight with breast cancer.
My Breast Cancer Survivor Story
By Debra Shuman
My mother passed away from endometrial cancer September 2003, my father from bile duct cancer April 2006 and I found my lump in my left breast while I was showering May 1, 2008. My first thought was cancer, but how could that be? I had a mammogram on December 21, 2007 and there was nothing indicating I may have any issues. I kept thinking I am an only child. This could never happen again to a family in less than 5 years; it’s just too cruel. Boy, was I wrong!
May 21, 2008 at the age of 45 I was told I had breast cancer. The garden variety. Of course when I went to my gynecologist, I was told no worries, we’re just being cautious, 80% of the time it is nothing. I still cried, maybe I already knew. If I didn’t really KNOW, I did when the doctor looked at the film and suggested the biopsy. He showed me the film from December compared to the newest one from May; the difference was so dramatic, even I could see it. The next week when the biopsy was completed, they placed a marker shaped like a breast cancer ribbon (so small that the ribbon is not visible to the naked eye) by the largest tumor (there were 2). Yep, that sealed the deal in my head.
I told only a few close friends and most of them were supportive. Of course, they told me it will be nothing. I did lose one friend; she kept asking why I was being so negative. I lived alone and wanted to talk to someone about what I needed to do to prepare. She didn’t get it. I wasn’t being negative. I was getting my life in order so I could go into battle.
My first meeting with the doctors was comical. My 25 year old son Matthew came with me and he kept saying no matter what just get a double mastectomy. It wasn’t his boobs so he had no idea what he was asking. Three doctors examined me, and I do mean examined. Matt had to step out of the room each time. By the time I was done, I proclaimed it was the only time I had been felt up by 3 men in one day. Matt did not find that humorous at all. What I found out that day was no matter what I chose to do, I would still have to do chemo and radiation; I was estrogen positive and Her 2 positive. The decision was a lumpectomy. Heck, I was only 45 and single.
I had support from my family and friends. My older children flew in. My youngest daughter, Amber, flew in from Pittsburgh and surprised me. It made it so much better to have her there. Surgery was great. The tests before were interesting, but all in all, it went well. As I woke up after surgery, the first thing I was told, was that it had not spread and they only needed to take out 2 lymph nodes! CELEBRATE! That changed a week later when I received a phone call changing my status from stage one to stage two. There were cells in the sentinel node and a second surgery was required to remove 14 more lymph nodes and more tissue from my breast. In the end there were 2 tumors (only one was cancerous) and lots of calcification, which needed to be removed. I ended with a partial mastectomy. My left areola was so high I had to show everyone that would look, it really was funny. I had to find the humor. My battle was just beginning and humor is my best weapon.
Chemo was 4 treatments of Adriamyacin (the red devil), 12 of Taxol, then 24 of Herceptin. I was so blessed that I never really got too sick, although tuna fish is no longer a favorite. I learned to eat what I could. My food was fried chicken sandwiches and French fries. It served me well and I gained 40 pounds (as my doctor said, that is better than losing so don’t worry about it). One more thing my oncologist said to me, “I will not let your life change anymore than it has to.” I took him seriously and any slight change in my well being I let him know and he did what he could to help. I went to Jaguar games. I went to work (only missed 4 days due to chemo and they were scheduled because I was tired). I rested a lot and drank an ocean of water, but I lived my life. The neighbor mowed my yard and family friends always came by to check on me after treatments. After the red devil treatments, my granddaughter, who was 3 at the time, would come over and take naps with me. She also wanted to have her hair cut like Mugga’s (that’s me!); bald. We said no, so she tried to pull it out. Grandchildren are just as devoted to their grandmothers! Taxol did not cause me any issues other than numb feet and toes, but the doctor worked with me on that. Radiation was a breeze and Herceptin had no side effects.
I have had 5 reconstruction surgeries, and yes the left areola is still not even with the right side, but that is okay. I just joke about it. I joked about being hairless and looking like Uncle Fester and I still have the bag of hair from when my niece shaved my head. Yes, I cried, but I also laughed. Mostly, I was amazed by the kindness of people. Like the lady who bought my $260.00 wig, just beacuse she happened to be in the wig shop. She didn’t even know me. Or the friends how who played poker to raise $300.00 for me. The gifts I received from friends, from candy to a breast cancer lunch box. The encouragement from people I didn’t even know. The Combat Boots poem from the author because she saw me alone at my radiation visits. The hat from a friend to keep my head from getting cold at the football games. The list is endless. The most precious thing was a new lease on life and a renewed relationship with the man that I thought was out of my life forever. I now live life to the fullest, I love my friends to the fullest. The only regret is I am so busy I don’t get to spend as much time with all of my friends as I wish I could.
I had breast cancer and so far I have kicked it’s butt, but it doesn’t define me. I have found a way of giving back by doing a survivor calendar with a friend and Bands Against Breast Cancer, to fund mammograms for those who can’t afford them. I am happy, healthy and I have a wonderful story to tell anyone who is placed in my path that needs to hear it.
If you would like to join Debra, and share your breast cancer survivor story to give hope to and inspire others, please Contact Bands Against Breast Cancer. We would like to share your story on our website and on our Bands Against Breast Cancer Facebook page, and Bands Against Breast Cancer on Twitter (@Boobsapalooza).