Steven G. Lester, MD, FACRO
Maneesh Gossain, MD
Richard J. Lee, MD

Testimonials – Sharon R. Anthony

Since I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer almost a year ago, I’ve read many magazine stories written by people with various types of cancer. Ninety-nine percent of them describe their “journey” as uplifting, spiritual, enlightening, and other such adjectives. When reading these missives I can’t help but question if these people are living on the same planet as me. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m an extremely positive person and always have been. I’m strong, intelligent and have rarely in my 62 years ever been ill. Consequently and luckily, my lifelong contact with the medical profession has been limited to once a year exams and blood work, other than treatment for an ongoing problem with arthritis. Say what you will, when your doctor comes into the cold exam room and says, “You have cancer,” you’re gripped with the overwhelming first reaction of gut wrenching fear. Fear of pain, fear of death; fear that you won’t face this fight with dignity and the grace that has been taught you from childhood. For those of us with breast cancer the next step is the removal of the cancerous tumor by lumpectomy or mastectomy. In my case, I had a single mastectomy where one of my breasts was removed. By the time you get to the actual surgery you’re pretty numb. After the first visit to the doctor, six to eight weeks have elapsed, and you have been sent hither and yon for tests upon tests, none with good results. You have so many things scheduled while trying to get things set up at your job so that all will go smoothly during your absence. You are pretty sure that your insurance company has your picture up in their office and they are praying daily for your death to stop the cash outflow. It seems to you as though no one uses common sense anymore, you must put aside your feelings of letting the doctors handle things because wrong tests are being ordered, incorrect information is being given to you and while all you want is for this to be over, you have to force yourself to be proactive in your illness. Finally, you have the surgery. I, myself, decided to deny that this was really happening to me. While I have a large (it has gotten definitely larger in the last year) mirror in the bathroom, I’m pleased to announce that I was able to completely avoid looking in said mirror at the ruin of my chest area for over three months. The many, many doctors, nurses, and assistants who viewed my “healing” chest all remarked on how well it was healing, but I never looked.

That worked very well for me! The next step was chemo, which is nasty, nasty stuff. After the first treatment I spent five lovely days vacationing in the hospital. The hospital was an interesting place and during my stay I had little taste for the cafeteria food. I craved my idea of comfort foods such as: salads, cottage cheese, real eggs, bacon, sausage, macaroni and cheese, and meatloaf with real meat. My chemotherapy progressed and after each chemo session I received blood transfusions that nearly sent me over the top. My hair started to fall out, which I can safely say that losing my hair was one of the low points of last year. Intellectually, you reason and tell yourself, “It’s only hair, it will grow back, in the vast cosmic scheme of things it’s not a big deal, life is certainly more important than your hair.” All very reasonable and true but, for a woman, particularly one who has passed the “pretty” point, it’s crushing. One may be able to avoid looking at one’s chest, but facing an unattractive bald person in the mirror every morning is shockingly hard, at least for me. Following the head hair were eyebrows, eyelashes and all other body hair. On the plus side, those nasty little hairs which grow on your chin and face as you age (which appear from nowhere) were also gone and I considered that a plus. Chemo went as it goes, up and down, around and around, sometimes feeling pretty good, sometimes bad and sometimes really bad. Overall it was doable. At this point, I’m at the end of the radiation portion of my “journey.” After the surgery and chemo, radiation is a walk in the park. I’ve discovered that patients truly have a tough time with the treatment process and getting everything accomplished with convenience and peace of mind. I’ve been called, by complete strangers, more frequently than I can tell you, “dear”, “dearie”, “honey”, “sweetheart”, “sweetie” and who can figure, “Mama.” I found this a little annoying, but I’m sure they thought they were being “nice” so I try very hard to ignore it. I used to be very private about my body and now I spend an inordinate amount of time, it seems, ripping off my clothing “from the waist up only dearie” and presenting the ruin of my chest to perfect strangers who rarely even look at my face. I thank God the hard part of my journey is coming to an end. I thank God that I have supportive family members (husband and brother), and wonderful friends to rely on, to laugh with, to commiserate with and to share the annoyances of my life with. I hope that I will beat this disease and, if not, I hope that I can put one foot in front of the other with dignity and grace until the end.

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