Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
Cancer, like many things in history, can be an unexpected landmark in our lives. With it can come crushing fear. If you feel that, even years after that moment in time, you are not alone.
There are events throughout history that are like landmarks. When they happen people remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. I was in middle school during the assassination attempt on President Reagan. I remember standing there in the media center with the news on the television. Everyone froze and watched with horror as they played the shooting. I remember standing there thinking why would anyone want to shoot such a good man. When the Twin Towers went down on 9/11 I was folding laundry on my couch. My husband called to tell me to turn on the news. My friend Jessica called immediately after him. We sat on the phone in tears. Watching the devastation and destruction wondering what on earth would happen next. It was like in those moments, time stood still.
The day I realized I had all the symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer was the same. I sat there in the dark after googling benign red spots on breast. My husband was asleep in the living room recliner. The children were asleep upstairs. Fear gripped my heart like nothing I had felt before. The kind of fear that overwhelming with the unknown. Fear that felt like regret. Fear that was filled with just flat out terror. I felt paralyzed. Our children were all I could think about. Our youngest daughter was ten, our middle was twelve and oldest was seventeen. Terrible times in life to loose a mother. I felt overwhelmed by the pictures I saw. Pictures of women with what looked like breasts that appeared to be rotting away. That amount of fear was so overwhelming. It took my breath away. It made it hard to keep thinking, hard to keep functioning.
But function I had to. Our girls were heading to rodeo bible camp. We had jobs with responsibilities. I remember sitting there searching and searching for survivor stories. I was looking for anything. Something, nothing, and then anything, just a thread of hope to hold onto. I read that treatments had been changing and statistics had not had time to catch up. That was the one thing, my thread I held onto.
When I called the nurse to say I needed an emergency visit, she had never even heard of IBC. My doctor said and I quote, "Honey, I've seen it and it's bad, you don't want it, and you don't have it." He was wrong, I did. The first oncologist I saw I asked, what are our chances here. He said the statistics are not good, but Mrs. Cardwell, you are not a statistic. You are in trouble, but don't listen to statistics. You pretend they don't apply to you. You don't know the age or the health of the people those statistics are based on. THEY DO NOT APPLY TO YOU.' I took that thread of hope and wove it together with my faith which gave me a rope to hold onto. Honestly, there were times it felt like a noose. Many times in the days, weeks and months that followed the fear was so overwhelming. There were times that I could not remember to breathe. Times that my body shook with anxiety and times that I was in complete peace. It was such a mixed bag of emotions.
It still is. As an almost thirteen year survivor, people tend to say cancer is behind me. It is not.
I carry with me everyday the experiences that came into my life because of that day. I am currently and have been for many years what they call NED. No evidence of disease. Some say, chances are, I'm cured. I want to believe that. Yet I know of women who were further out then I am who have had recurrences of IBC. For that reason, I never quite breathe easy. I breathe, I live. I take my medicine, I do what I can and I try to have faith for the rest.
When we have experienced that moment of receiving a cancer diagnosis, we never forget it. It is always there, a part of our history. I believe fear and fear of recurrence is something many cancer survivors struggle with. I want to encourage you if you are one who struggles you are not alone. There are many of us out there who understand. Don't think you are not strong because you struggle. I say we are strong because of our struggle!