A Decade of Cancer Survivorship: What Helped Me Through It

CURE magazine and other resources helped one survivor navigate diagnosis and beyond.
BY Judy Kirchmeier
PUBLISHED July 17, 2019
I remember seeing copies of CURE in my oncologist’s reception area; I took the Winter 2019 copy to read about cancer. At home, I decided to fill out CURE’s subscription card and just got the spring issue in the mail – I couldn’t put it down!

I’m going into 10 years of survival from highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer; now it’s my turn to write about my experiences based on the stories in this issue. My younger sister-in-law and I were diagnosed with breast cancer a few months apart, but for some reason, family members wanted to keep it secret from both of us. Neither one of us started treatment when first was diagnosed as we were waiting for different things to fall in place. NOTHING was the same after we were diagnosed. She had double mastectomy and I had two surgeries at once: lumpectomy with sentinel lymph node biopsy.

I sent my sister the article, “A Work of Art, Not a Work of Cancer” and then filled out a subscription card for her to receive CURE.

In addition to CURE, other resources helped me along the way, too. CancerCare was my emotional support during my entire cancer experience and two years of survival. They helped me with all kinds of decisions. I never knew there was controversy over chemo until it became necessary for me to change doctors. My body could not handle, “damn-the-torpedoes-and-full-steam-ahead!” type chemo with my first oncologist. The toxicity, the real word for the polite “side effects,” was making it impossible for me to cope.

My second opinion oncologist became my new doctor as he was listening to all my chemo complaints. The phrase “patient, heal thyself” was definitely true! He slowed down all chemo treatments with lower does, longer time, changed meds, and did all lab work the day before chemo treatment at the local hospital. Being newly diagnosed with celiac disease six months before the cancer showed up, I had all kinds of stuff go wrong with chemo. It was deemed safer to keep me at the hospital for chemo rather than the doctor’s outpatient facility. This was a team decision as I felt safe there, couldn’t handle any more medical changes, and cried constantly!

I got the chemo video from the American Cancer Society sent to my email address along with any other educational material I needed to increase my coping skills and understand how treatments work. I’m sure my hysterical calls were a challenge, but their voices and questions calmed me down so that they could understand why I was calling.

My favorite article in CURE, “Facing the Downside” is the main reason I’m writing my story. Even as a 10-year survivor, peripheral neuropathy comes and goes. I’m a preschool teacher and on difficult days, the kids say, “Oh, Ms. Judy, is this a goofy hand day?” When I say yes, they want to help me either clean up a spill, pick up stuff I dropped, or carry something they think is too heavy for me – they love helping me! I was forced to give up my position when first diagnosed and lost five years of teaching. Today, I’m back on track teaching in a small, privately owned preschool; teaching for 30 hours a week; seeing two doctors a year; and thinking of dating! Life is good!
 
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