Looking back on it all, I knew I had breast cancer even before I got the diagnosis. On some instinctual, guttural level, I knew. When I got the official diagnosis, I was not surprised. Without even thinking about it, I went through everything almost virtually alone. I told probably 5 people and as far as anyone knew I simply disappeared for over a year as I waged my battle. In hindsight, not some of my best decisions.
In October 2009, I had a double mastectomy and a DIEP reconstruction. I went through 16 hours of surgery that day and when I woke up I knew my life would never be the same. I was forever changed and I never felt so alone.
When I began chemo, I was prepared to lose my hair. But no one told me that this also meant losing my eyelashes, nose hairs, fingernails….the list of losses just kept growing. At some point, I realized that I needed to pull myself out of this. I was alive and it was time for me to re-join the world. But I did not know how to do that.
How do I re-emerge after disappearing? How do you feel comfortable in public wearing a wig, false eyelashes, compression garments, prosthetics, and the scars across your chest that make you look like a road map of downtown Baltimore?
How do you find laughter and light again?
I tried to go to support meetings—but honestly, I wanted to punch people – clearly I could not do this as it is generally considered assault— God was not punishing me, my body was not punishing me and I swear if I hear that one more time I will scream!
I am a statistic—who am I going to be mad at? Math? I considered the odds—I took one for the team! I am the 1 in 8! Never was good at math….
I need laughter in my life—well that and xanax and red wine—but then again, how do I find that with all the baggage I was carrying.
So I turned to the web and asked a simple question on a cancer forum—Any Baltimore women here? On a really cold night in February I was amazed when 12 women showed up. There was an immediate sense of sisterhood—of support—of love and what I needed most—Laughter. These fabulous women have been with me every step of my journey since that cold night in February and I am proud and honored that I have been able to be a part of theirs. This sisterhood, this sorority that I am now a member of, has blossomed into a larger group— a movement away from the darkness and away from the cancer. We are the Breast Cancer Divas.
Cancer has connected me to women I would never have met otherwise. I have been embraced by this amazing group of women and I gladly embrace them back. We understand each other in ways that no one else can.
The real truth about cancer is that it is the most personal and lonely fight a woman can wage in her life. No matter how supportive her family, her friends, her co-workers are, it is those moments when you lay your head down to go to sleep and in the those moments when you awaken when you are alone with the darkness. No one can understand that fear that grips your heart and for a moment steals your breath—no one but someone who has been there.
As I have now just passed my 51st birthday and the scars are continuing to fade, I marvel that I am a 3 year survivor. I have found, reached out to, used and recommended all the resources that I have been able to find. I have created and nurtured a “sorority” that stands at the ready for any “sister diva” that needs us, and we are growing. We fill a niche that no hospital, breast center, or doctor can ever fill.
Cancer has changed me in so many ways and as odd as this may sound, I am better for the experience. I am stronger, smarter, and I am able to appreciate the journey that I have taken. Like my sister Divas, I am proud and I can embrace this new me. But perhaps the biggest impact that breast cancer has had on my life, is that I know that I am not alone and I am committed to making sure that no other woman with breast cancer embarks on this journey without the Divas with her.
I have looked back over the course of this journey and I am so grateful for, so humbled by and so proud of our Diva group. They, these sisters of mine, have gotten me to this day. They have come to embrace each other, support each other without question, and love each other immensely. They are phenomenal women.
As for me, cancer picked the wrong Diva.