Life After Cancer: I’m Embracing the New Me

It’s been 20 years since my cancer diagnosis, and in that time, I’ve changed significantly.

Hearing the words “you have cancer” is not what I expected.I was 39 years old and enjoying the life I had. I was recreation director for a city of about 11,000 residents and enjoyed creating programs for the community.

I remember cleaning up after a Halloween party on Monday, Oct. 28,2002 when I felt a lump just under my collarbone.I thought I pulled a muscle so I waited a few days and finally on Friday Nov. 2,2002 I went to my doctor.

My doctor recommended a mammogram and got me an appointment within the hour at our local medical imaging center. After the mammogram, of which that area of my chest could not fit into the mammogram machine, the radiologist suggested an ultrasound of the area. After the ultrasound I was ushered back to my doctor's office to discuss the results, and he asked me what surgeon I wanted.

One of the benefits of living in a small community where you are well known and you have all the medical services right there is that the wait time is quick. I requested the weekend to research the local doctors because I had never had a surgery before. I met with my friends and when I called my doctor back, he scheduled the consultation with the surgeon. I met with the surgeon and he recommended removing the whole tumor instead of doing a needle biopsy.

A few weeks later, on Dec. 12,2002, I found myself sitting across from the surgeon with my mother and hearing the words, “I am sorry but you have breast cancer.” I remember listening to him describe my options, but also don’t remember much because I still was in shock. Thankfully I had my mother there and she was my second set of ears.I recommend never going to an appointment alone in case something is said that you might miss hearing.

I had just entered a world of disease and illness I knew nothing about. I had a lot of research to do.

I needed to have a partial mastectomy to get clear margins and removal of all my lymph nodes. In March 2003, I began chemotherapy and radiation.

I remember my oncologist telling me, “Patti, we are going to treat you aggressively so you never have to go through this again.” I said let’s do it. With each chemotherapy treatment, I got sicker and sicker. I had chest infections, double-eye surgery and would shed my skin like a snake.

Dehydrated, vomiting and unable to eat, my son would wipe my face with a cool cloth and empty my vomit bucket after every treatment. I remember him asking me if I would be alive for his birthday that May. I said yes and many more.

Sometimes it hurts to retell my story. When I look back and speak about my journey, I realize how blessed I am to share it 20 years later. My cancer journey has led me to meet some of the most incredible survivors, caregivers and medical professionals. I have grieved some heartbreaking deaths and overcome so many obstacles to find the “new me.”

Today, I am blessed that the “new me” is an inspirational speaker, life and health coach, author, and massage therapist.

There definitely is so much more to living life and I am taking full advantage of it. Next July 2023, I will be 60 years old and looking forward to celebrating and embracing it.

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