CHILLICOTHE — October is a time to enjoy fallen leaves of multiple colors crunching beneath your feet. A time to get out those fall clothes and enjoy cool weather made for football games, end of the season camping trips and pumpkin everything. It’s a time for ghost telling, haunted houses and trick or treat.
There is so much to enjoy about October, yet for some, it’s a reminder of a journey, a journey that is become all too common. The following is a story shared by Dana Wright, Air Force Veteran and Chillicothe VA employee. Her story is something that has changed how she sees October forever, a month dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2015. Finding it was a fluke, I found a lump in the spring of that year and got it checked out. It was a fluid-filled cyst, nothing of concern. To be safe, the doctor wanted a repeat ultrasound six months later. The repeat exam found a new lump, different spot, not related, and not the benign fluid filled cyst we all saw earlier in the year. I almost canceled that follow up appointment, the fluid filled cyst was gone and no longer a concern, so I thought.
After the realization of a new lump, time flew as I went through the process of confirming my diagnosis. Ultrasound. Repeat ultrasound. MRI. Biopsy. It was a blur until the evening of October 8, 2015, when I spoke with my doctor, a surgeon who specializes in breast care. I was standing outside for privacy during the phone call while listening to the results of all those tests. I heard “Something, something, something… invasive lobular carcinoma… something, something. My nurse will call you tomorrow.”
Two days later I sat in my doctor’s office, still in shock and with my equally stunned boyfriend at my side. I was so naïve, I thought if you get cancer, they treat it and that is that. It’s not nearly that simple. There’s genetic testing to be done, I was adopted and don’t know my family history. Then the decision to have a lumpectomy, mastectomy or double mastectomy. I decided to wait on genetic testing before I made my decision hoping the results would help guide me to the most informed decision. In the end, I opted for a lumpectomy.
My hat is off to all the ladies who go the mastectomy route, that process seemed terrifying with all the additional surgeries and no guarantee. I’m not that brave. In December, I got the lump removed along with lymph nodes. I later learned that the cancer had spread to lymph nodes. Had waiting on the genetic testing allowed the cancer to spread? Did I make the right decision?
In January I started chemotherapy. With no idea how I would tolerate it, I took the week off from work and laid low. On the day of the chemo, no big deal, but
then that evening, I was tired — probably more mental than physical. The next morning when I woke up my boyfriend convinced me to take a walk in the park and get some brisk January-in-Ohio fresh air. At the top of Mount Pleasant, he dropped to one knee, popped the question and of course, I said yes. The dreamy haze didn’t last however, when later in the morning I got sick. Not the romantic proposal story of every girl’s dream, but the story that fits my journey.
I finished chemo in March of 2016 and started radiation two weeks later. Chemo was now every three weeks. Week one, I was sick. Week two, I was weak. By week three I was feeling pretty normal. I lived for week three. If I thought the side effects of chemo were tough, I was ill-prepared for seven weeks of daily two-hour round-trip visits to the radiation center. Radiation sounded so easy, but it was a head-game. A daily reminder that I was fighting cancer. Those two hours on the road every single day, there was no ‘week three’ when I would get a break. I made it to the home stretch and in June of 2016, an ultrasound and MRI showed that the treatment was successful. I was cancer-free.
That engagement proposal and ring was my salvation. In my darkest hours, I could look at my hand and see the beautiful emerald and diamond engagement ring and daydream about planning a wedding and spending my life with my new husband. Two years after receiving my clean bill of health, we had a simple wedding in a botanical garden with our family and closest friends and a new journey began.
I was lucky. I was lucky that the cancer was found early. Would I have found that lump early enough on my own? Who knows…I was lucky that my co-workers rallied around me in so many ways. I was lucky that my family supported me throughout my treatment. I was lucky that being a Veteran, the VA contracted all my care in the community and cancer wasn’t a financial burden. I was lucky I had my sweet, loving, encouraging fiancé by my side for the whole journey.
Is it a journey that I would have chosen for myself? Never. But it was a journey that shaped who I am today, showing me just how strong I really am. Being a survivor is an annual celebration. A celebration that I am reminded of every October.”
If you are a cancer survivor, share your story. Be the support for others when they too find themselves on this same journey. Encourage women to do routine self-exams and attend yearly visits with their doctor. Don’t wait to be proactive in your health and take care of yourself.