That experience brought me back to another place and time in my life when what felt like a hurricane came out of nowhere and turned my life upside down. It has now been more than 22 years since I heard those devastating words “You have breast cancer.” Just like my experience with Hurricane Irma, I can recall my full range of emotions. It started with the initial shocking jolt that led to many tears and many, many fears. It brought back the horror of losing my grandmother to breast cancer in 1968. It brought back the memories of my mother’s diagnoses with the disease in 1978 and again in 1984. I was gripped with fear as I underwent surgery and chemotherapy, worrying the whole time what would happen to me if they didn’t work. It was very easy to fall into the abyss of negativity. Somehow I had the good sense to know that negativity was a dangerous thing that could only bring forth defeat. The resentful feeling of “Why me?” and the anger of thinking that I had been unfairly singled out for this fate were obstacles I needed to overcome in order to survive. Feeling sorry for oneself uses energy that can be better directed towards recovery and healing. Thankfully, with the loving support of my family, my friends and my faith, I was able to summon sources of courage and strength I never knew I had.
I made a point of learning all that I could about this horrific disease that seemed to be stalking my family. The statistics on breast cancer are daunting. It is estimated that one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, with approximately 255,180 new cases being diagnosed each year. But there is also a glimpse at strength in those numbers, as survival rates are steadily increasing. And breast cancer survivors are some of the strongest people I know. A breast cancer survivor is indeed a force to contend with! I try to prove that everyday.
Let’s not forget that breast cancer is not strictly a female disease. There are approximately 2,470 new cases of breast cancer in men each year. Although the lifetime risk of a man developing breast cancer is only one in 1000, approximately 460 men die from breast cancer each year. Sadly, breast cancer in men is sometimes ignored until it is too late. Typically, men do not go through the screening procedures of mammography and self-exams. It is my hope that breast cancer awareness among men will increase as we learn more and more about this deadly disease. Other than the identification of certain genetic mutations, a specific definitive cause of breast cancer has not been identified. That is why early detection is so important.
I survived cancer, making a vow to myself that I would never take life for granted again. Cancer had the power to scar my body and my emotions, but I didn’t allow it to scar my soul. I will be forever grateful to the American Cancer Society for their support programs, educational resources and funding of research. Not only did the American Cancer Society save my life, but the organization gave me the opportunity to give back. It has been an honor to be an ACS volunteer. It has been a way to bring to completion my full circle of healing.
My husband has always loved the quote from the movie “Tombstone,” when Doc Holliday, on his deathbed, says to Wyatt Earp “There is no such thing as a normal life. There is just life. Now get on with it.” Those words ring with such truth. Hurricane Irma was a strong reminder to me that life will always have its storms for each and every one of us to face. Unfortunately, most of those storms can’t be predicted. There will always be surprises in life and many of those surprises are not good ones. But the human spirit is amazing in its will to survive.
There is a tremendous source of power in our Universe. Sometimes in our most challenging times and moments of darkness, if we search deeply within our souls, we can feel that power so intensely we can grasp it. We can tap into it for strength. Some simply call it “energy.” I call it God. We can all call it Love.