June 11, 2007

My 2-minute cancer talk

This is what I said to the Coldwater Creek shoppers:

"The day I found out my cancer had returned, I went home and fell and broke my leg. I had a long recovery and plenty of time to think about the impact breast cancer would have on my life.

I had originally been diagnosed at age 39 with a small tumor. I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation and was told it would probably never come back, go home and live your life. No one was more surprised than I that my cancer would return and spread to my bones when I was 42. I had developed stage IV, metastatic disease.

What is stage IV cancer? It's cancer that has spread outside of the breast. In my case I have tumors in my skull, spine, sternum, scapula, humerii, and femurs. I've been treated several times with radiation. But my cancer has been mostly stable on estrogen blockers. In August I will have lived with advanced cancer for 5 years.

I made a deal with my cancer. I think of it as a tenant in a house. If it would be quiet and not bother me, I would give it space. But if it acted up, I would have it zapped with radiation, drugs, whatever it took to become quiet again.

Cancer has had a huge impact on my life. I developed lymphedema, the arm-swelling condition that often accompanies surgery to remove lymph nodes. At age 42, I took medical retirement on disability from my career. I am in early (and permanent) menopause. Cancer cheated my husband and I out of raising children.

But I also now have time to do things that I didn't do before. I volunteer for a number of organizations. I sing in a choir. I walk my dog for a half-hour every day and I live the most active life I can.

My oncologist is always telling me that I just have to live long enough for the next new treatment to come down the road, that new things are available almost every month.

So what can you do? In addition to wearing a pink ribbon, you can do monthly breast self-exams. You can support Komen for the Cure. Your donation helps fund breast cancer research, mammograms for women who otherwise couldn't afford them, and even grants money to low-income women living with stage IV disease to help them make ends meet."

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