How cancer turned me into an athlete

A Cautionary Tale

The first question most people ask when given a cancer diagnosis is:  “Why Me?”  My first question was:  “How did that happen?” 

So take a trip back with me:  I’m a busy working mom.  Work, travel for business, too busy to do any kind of annual check-up, and besides I had no risk factors – slightly overweight (who isn’t), ‘medicinal’ red wine and dark chocolate (my self-prescribed health program).  There really was no need to go and get poked, prodded and squashed. 

The economy tanks, my job gets eliminated, (it was 2009) and I all of a sudden have plenty of time to exercise and take care of myself.  I keep saying it was 5 years between my last annual and the one I finally scheduled in late 2009.  But that is just to make it sound better.  It was a lot longer.  Which just goes to show you how well my self-prescribed health plan had been working!  I step into the machine, the tech looks and re-adjusts; takes another picture; re-adjusts; takes another picture.  Then a biopsy.  My biopsy confirmed the diagnosis:  Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).   

With DCIS, there are no lumps, no telltale signs; it tends to be considered a pre-cursor to full-on breast cancer.  It is diagnosed through a mammogram screening.  As I blithely traipsed along in my life, the thought never occurred to me that I might be at risk.  After several more screenings, my doctor recommends a bilateral mastectomy as the DCIS was extensive.  Instead, my post-surgery diagnosis included not only the DCIS, but two small tumors in the center of the breast – unseen, unfelt, unnoticed because of their size and placement.  Good news – no radiation!  Not so good – chemotherapy.  Six months of a 3 blend cocktail, and then a single shot of chemo for another 12 months.

It was during this time that I made the leap to a better, healthier me and joined Team Survivor Northwest and started walking.  That group of women cancer survivors knew what I was going through and kept me sane through the months of chemo-induced fatigue and bloating. 

It never does any good to second guess or ask “what if” – but I do ask myself that question.  What if I had continued with my own self-prescribed health program and hadn’t decided to finally get my annual?  My story isn’t meant to scare you, unless it scares you right into a screening.  It is a cautionary tale about the importance of annual check-ups, even when you have no risk factors and are healthy.  You need to take charge – and isn’t that what thriving is all about?