I Still Have a Life Despite Cancer

I didn’t let my cancer diagnoses get in the way of living life.

I was in the bathtub when I found my first breast lump. I thought it was strange that I hadn’t noticed it before because I am small breasted (something that used to really bother me). Then I went on a mad lump hunt, and wouldn’t you know, I found another one.

I was dumbfounded…and soon, so was my doctor.

I was 29 years old and married with a four-year-old son. My doctor told me to wait and go through a menstrual cycle because it was probably hormonal, but I didn’t wait that long because it was very painful and it’s all I could think about.

A mammogram showed nothing. We did an ultrasound and the radiologist patted me on the shoulder and said not to worry because I was too young for cancer. Those were the worst words a medical professional could have ever spoken at that time.

I chose to have an excisional biopsy on March 31, 1998. Some dates you never forget. I can remember waking up in recovery and hearing the surgeon on the phone. I have no memory of what he said. When he told me it was cancer, I couldn’t even take in his words. He left the room and came back some time later and told me all over again.

I live in a small town and knew the nurse well. As the doctor was talking, she put her hand on my shoulder and I looked at her and she had tears in her eyes. I remember thinking, “I better pay attention because they are talking about me.”

Nine days later, I had a mastectomy in Minneapolis, three hours from my home. Both lumps were cancerous and two different types of cancer. I had microscopic lymph node involvement.

An oncologist entered my room and ended up treating me for over 20 years before he retired. He was such a gift in my life as we had many opportunities to battle cancer together.

Chemotherapy was brutal in those days. Antinausea meds weren’t given until you needed them, and I definitely needed them on treatment day 1. I threw up and couldn’t function much for five days. At that time, I asked God to please take me if that was going to be the result anyways. At the end of the first week, I told God “OK, since I’m still here, I will fight.”

I have been doing that for over 24 years now.

A year after my diagnosis, I was surprised to find out I was pregnant. I was so scared, but I learned that God had so much bigger plans for my life than I ever could have imagined. My daughter is almost 23 now, and I could not imagine having a life without her.

Then in 2007, I felt a strange bump in my armpit. My doctor thought it was just a residual stitch, but thankfully he listened to me, and we investigated further. My mom had been diagnosed with lung cancer just a few months prior to this so she was my main concern at that time.

My surgeon went back in to remove the lump, and at that point, I found out I had metastatic breast cancer. She had removed all she could see, but she described it as a “paint brush splattering paint against the wall.” The cancer was scattered all over that area. She said I would need to be treated as chronic — a label that bothered me for a long time. However, people live with chronic illnesses all the time so I decided I could too!

Chemo, radiation and tamoxifen followed. My mom was getting worse when I started radiation. We didn’t live in the same town, but our radiation was in the same facility and we did treatments back-to-back: her first, and then me. My radiation team was phenomenal and when my mother passed away on Feb. 29, 2008, they were compassionate and flexible to keep my treatments going while I was mourning my most loved mom. I will never forget their kindness.

Prior to 2017, I started having many symptoms in my left hand and arm — the same side as my mastectomy. Nobody could figure out what was wrong, but the pain was changing me and making life unbearable.

I got the call on March 31, 2017, my original diagnosis date, that I had either cancer or inflammation. I knew what I was facing.

Fast forward to today, I am on treatment for life. I do infusions every three weeks, and have cancer in my brachial plexus and cancerous nodules in both lungs.

However, I am 53 years old, a proud grandmother of three and even though my left arm and hand aren’t helpful to me anymore, I still have a life!

This article was written and submitted by Deb Larsen; it reflects the views of Deb Larsen and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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