There is never good timing when it comes to cancer. I knew this before my husband of 31 years passed away due to colorectal cancer in October 2013. I really knew it when I received my own diagnosis of breast cancer two weeks after he passed. Not only does cancer have bad timing, but it doesn’t care if you and your family are grieving the loss of someone else. It doesn’t care if you are a Labor and Delivery RN in a busy Perinatal Regional Center, and it certainly doesn’t care if you are so fresh from a loved one’s journey that you feel like you can’t take any more bad news. Cancer doesn’t care.
Cancer has bad timing, and it doesn’t care. These are two of the nicer things I can say about it. But here we were, but this time it was my cancer and my choice on how to fight it. My husband wanted to keep his secret to not worry anyone in the family. This was not how I was going to handle mine. I knew I needed to talk about it and let my support system support me through it.
My goal was to do whatever the experts suggested so that I would survive for my two adult children and two grandchildren. The plan was to have surgery, then radiation, and finally oral chemotherapy for five years. I started radiation therapy six weeks after the surgery, one week before I returned to work full-time. My Nurse Manager agreed to allow me to work three 12 1/2 hours shifts on weekdays to accommodate the radiation treatments that could be scheduled prior to my shift. Radiation was five days a week for six weeks. It was a difficult time fighting extreme fatigue, and treating the burns from the treatment, and driving 30 miles each way to the hospital. My last day of radiation was the first day I met with the oncologist to discuss the next step. Later that day I was admitted to the hospital for pericarditis as a complication of left-sided radiation to my breast. Five years of oral chemotherapy brought about a recurrence of menopausal symptoms which I thought were behind me. That was nearly 10 years ago. I thank God for the expertise of the staff at Carol Baldwin Breast Center at Stony Brook Hospital for discovering my early-stage cancer. The staff at Winthrop University Hospital’s Radiation Oncology unit were very supportive, taking care of one of their own, along with the love and support I received from the staff on my unit. I honestly could not have felt more love or support than I did from my work family.
Spring of 2024 will be 10 years post-surgery for me. I don’t often think about this journey, but looking back reminds me that I can do hard things. Cancer might not care, but the people who love and support you do.