In July 2011 Barbara Carlos was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A resident of Hawaii, she works in administrative support at a college and has retirement as her career goal. Music keeps her sane, as side effects of chemo and radiation linger. Overweight since childhood, she keeps trying to lose the estrogen-laden fat that her cancer loves.
To most of the world, the day I had a mastectomy was just another day. But to me, it was the start of so many changes in my life.
When recently speaking with a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient, in the course of our conversation she innocently asked me when I had had my mastectomy. I knew from the tone of the conversation that the answer she was looking for was something along the lines of how long ago. After all, we were talking about diagnosis, treatments and side effects. I could tell she wanted a yardstick to measure where I was and where she was in the journey. Yes, I knew she had a time frame in mind. Instead, I purposely gave her the exact date. She was surprised and showed it. She even asked me how I could remember exactly when it was done. I explained, as best as I could, that it was a day like no other, a turning point, or at least the start of a large turn in my life. It was a day I could never go back and undo, a day that brought so much change into my world and continues to do just that, even now.
I don't know if my explanation was clear. I hope it was. I know she is facing a lumpectomy in another week. I didn't mean to scare her, but cancer is scary, especially in the beginning. She brought up the scariness factor several times in the course of our conversation, and I agreed with her.
When I was first diagnosed I was scared. But in a matter of days, the fear was replaced with fierce determination. Information is power. I absorbed cancer information slowly and in small bites. I could only focus on a small piece of information at a time, but each day, throughout the day, I took in a little bit more. Eventually I had enough information to feel empowered. There were still a lot of unknowns in my cancer world, like size and staging, how my body would react to the surgery and how I would feel afterwards, who my oncologist would be, what chemo would be like, and a whole lot of other things I had no clue about. My determination came from that empowerment. I was willingly walking into the closest thing to hell that I expected to encounter, and I was determined to walk out on the other side. I knew I wasn't going to make it through unscathed, but I was determined to make it.
So, yes, I remember the exact date of my mastectomy. It was Aug. 2, 2011, a Tuesday. So many things changed as a result of that day. I changed too - physically, mentally and emotionally - and I am still me, maybe just more so.