October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and pink items have begun popping up everywhere. They serve as the perfect reminder to honor the amazing people (men get breast cancer too) in our lives who have battled the disease. Last Saturday three of my survivor friends met me at Big Fish Grill in Woodinville for a luncheon celebrating … THEM!
Although each of the women had their own unique story to tell, they also found that they had many similarities. From shared surgeons and doctors, to the hardships they faced and the lessons they learned, these ladies truly belong to a very special “club”.
As each woman related their story, tears flowed and laughter rang out. I don’t think any of them really realized how much they went through until they heard it spoken in their own voice from beginning to end. I think even they were amazed by their own bravery. At least, I hope they were.
Helen was only 35 when she found a lump on the side of her chest. Her youngest son was 4 years old at the time. After two lumpectomies, lymph node removal, a mastectomy, chemo and radiation she figured her saga was over. But, nine years later, cancer showed up in her sternum and she went through chemo all over again. Three years after that, the cancer had gone into her spine. Daily pills, treatments every 3 months, scans and CTs are a part of her life now. But, you would never know her struggle. Helen has a vigor and a joy for life that is contagious. She does not sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop, she lives life to the fullest. She works full time, parents her sons and enjoys her sweet husband. She celebrates each day. Helen also mentored me when I was very ill and she taught me to never give up.
Shawn was caring for her very ill mother when she found her lump. Because she had previously worked at the local hospital, she got in for testing right away. But, this also meant that her friends knew she had cancer before she did. One of those friends showed up at her house and waited for the call she knew Shawn would be receiving. That is friendship! Sadly, Shawn had a horrible reaction to the chemo and was very ill. During that time she worked at the police station and she was surrounded by big burly guys. When she was ready to quit the chemo, one of the officers (with tears in his eyes) said, “You can’t quit, Shawn, we need you.” His words gave her the strength to continue and she credits him with saving her life. Shawn eventually opted for a double mastectomy. Although reconstruction was not an option for her because of her past radiation treatments, the decision has brought her much needed peace.
Monica did not have breast cancer. She had vulvar cancer. Although we’ve come a long way in increasing awareness and raising money for breast cancer, sometimes the other women’s cancers get lost in the shuffle. Thus, the color theme for our party was pink AND teal (teal is the ribbon color for gynecological cancers). Women’s cancers tend to show no symptoms in the beginning stages which makes them very dangerous. It was years before Monica’s symptoms were bothersome enough to send her into the doctor. By the time her cancer was found, she was at stage three and two invasive surgeries were needed. Radiation and chemo came next and Monica now deals with lymphedema and daily pain. Although she lives with the fear of a recurrence, she doesn’t let it stop her from enjoying her precious kids and grandkids.
I asked the ladies what cancer has taught them and this is what they said:
“I learned how amazing my kids and husband are.”
“I learned how important my female friends are to me.”
“I learned to celebrate each day and to never take things for granted.”
“I learned how important my faith is to me.”
It was unanimous that those friends who didn’t ask “What can I do to help?” were the best friends to have. For, those were the friends who simply brought dinners, vacuumed floors, and drove them to appointments. They saw needs and filled them.
Meeting these incredible ladies you would never know about the battles they have fought just to survive. They all suffer from health issues and pain as a result of their treatments but they do not use their symptoms as an excuse to hide from life. They work, they play, and they nurture their friends and families. They travel and try new things. In other words, they enjoy life.
The word “hero” is thrown around a lot these days, but these wonderful women have fought the good fight and lived to tell the tale. They are the first ones on the scene when they hear a sister is ill and they are generous in sharing the wisdom they have gained. In my eyes, they are the very definition of heroes.
Who in your life needs to be celebrated? Share your pictures with us!