October 28, 2002
The sisterhood no one wants to join
by Shari Laverty
Ten years ago I didn't think I'd be here today. I wanted to be, hoped to be but didn't expect to be Ñ never in my quietest moments or wildest dreams.
I am a breast cancer survivor. It somehow seems fitting that I was diagnosed during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Ten years ago, I had my mastectomy. I have been giving this 10-year anniversary a lot of thought and decided I would "celebrate'"by sharing my story. While part of me finds it difficult to share, I feel a responsibility to tell this story so that my new fellow survivors know there is hope and I can do my part to create Breast Cancer awareness.
I remember one day seeing a woman sobbing after participating in the Race for the Cure. After the race the breast cancer survivors gather in the stands at Husky Stadium to be recognized. They all wear pink caps, creating a sea of bright pink. It is a very impressive and sobering sight.
As I approached her, she said, "I just got out of the hospital and I didn't know there were so many of us." She was simply overwhelmed. As we survivors like to say, "Welcome to the greatest sisterhood, that no one wanted to join."
The most frequent question I am asked is, "How did you find it?" That was the day I began my journey Ñ my family's journey. My husband actually found it. I couldn't feel what he was describing, but Ron insisted I have it looked at just to humor him. Only a couple of days later I was undergoing my mastectomy. Pure disbelief. Surely it was a bad dream. Shock. The cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes, the highway to my organs. Not a good sign.
So I never really looked 10 years ahead. It was too far out there. I was caught up in the day-to-day struggle of getting through the day. If the cancer didn't kill me, I thought the chemotherapy would. For me, bald was not beautiful.
I remember praying that I would live long enough to see my son Karl, graduate from high school in 1996. I did. Then I remember praying that if it wasn't asking too much, that I could see my daughter graduate in 1999. I did. This year my youngest son, Keith started 10th grade and when he graduates, I'll be there.
I was never alone. The impact of being diagnosed is so huge to all the people who love or care about you. My family was impacted the most. Their devotion and courage sustained me. My darling husband refers to my cancer as our cancer.
Ten years later, we all use the diagnosis as a benchmark of time. Did this or that happen before or after the cancer diagnosis?
I didn't have the strength to be involved with my two older children's activities the way I wanted to, and my husband left his job to work with me because I wasn't strong enough to work on my own. We are still recovering financially. My parents and my brothers were amazing.
My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer that same year, 1992. It was a lot for my family. Unbelievably he's gone now. There should be a Prostate Awareness Month.
We are so fortunate to live in a time when there is such hope. New treatments are being tried every day thanks to the hard work of dedicated scientists and health care professionals.
To my own wonderful doctors, my heartfelt thanks. Even if I don't sound joyous, I am. But I am sobered by these thoughts: Am I still making the most of every day? Am I getting complacent?
I used to wake up,planning to make a difference every day. Now I have that thought as I'm going to the door, and some days not at all. After all, 10 years of days is a long time, a lot of differences. I think of all the wonderful people who have made a difference during the last decade. They were and are my teachers.
I've lived in fear. Fear that my cancer would return or spread. Every new hurt would strike dread. But no more. Enough. Ten years is a long time, long enough to move on - step out - move ahead with confidence about tomorrow.
Everyone has a life story. Thanks for listening to a part of mine. After all, I don't want my life defined by my cancer.
Please help the women you cherish in your lives stay vigilant, informed and aware of all their health issues. Ten years is a gift
Shari Laverty is a Cottage Lake resident.