Whenever you hear, “You have breast cancer,” it’s a huge shock! The first time I heard those words, in 1995, I was 41 years old, married for eleven years and raising a young son. I saw my life pass before my eyes and thought I was going to die.
Twenty years later, in August 2015, when I heard those dreaded words again, I took it much more in stride. It was still very upsetting, but I didn’t feel the intense fear like before. Possibly because I was already a long-term survivor? Or, maybe because with age comes wisdom and perspective? Or, because I know so many cancer survivors who are living healthy, normal lives?
My first diagnosis was Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), Stage 0, and I chose to have a left sided only mastectomy. I wasn’t comfortable with the option of lumpectomy and radiation and didn’t want to worry it could come back. This time around, my diagnosis is Invasive Breast Cancer (IBC), Stage 1. I chose to have a right sided mastectomy and finally got evened out, because I was wearing a prosthesis on just my left side all of these years.
Both times I was grateful for “modern medicine,” but the immense strides made in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment came into focus when I compared my biopsy experiences. Twenty years ago, I needed two biopsies before surgery and they were each done as outpatient surgery under general anesthesia. This time, the biopsy was a brief procedure, and I was numbed locally but awake the entire time. It’s truly amazing how far diagnostic tools have come! Now we are able to get so much more helpful, detailed information about our unique breast cancer via mammography, ultrasounds and MRI’s.
Back in 1995 the internet was in its infancy and social media didn’t even exist, so there wasn’t much information about breast cancer available to read online. This time around, there is so much information out there, but I choose NOT to web surf to avoid reading something written by unreliable sources. However, via Facebook this year, I found AnaOno Intimates and ordered comfy post-surgical bras to wear, along with hand-crocheted Knitted Knockers. I never would have found these great products 20 years ago, so thank you, Mark Zuckerberg!
My wonderful husband, Jeff, is by my side, involved every step of the way, and keeps me laughing more than crying through these health challenges. The hardest part of my breast cancer journey, both then and now, was telling my other loved ones.
My parents were in their mid-80’s when I had to break the news to them in 1995, and I was truly terrified they would fall apart. But they took the crappy news very calmly. Silly me for not realizing how many of the ups and downs in life they’d experienced already, and how very strong they were. (Didn’t I just write, “With age comes wisdom and perspective?”)
Since then both of my parents have died, so the hardest part was telling our 25-year-old son. He was six-years-old in 1995, so we explained breast cancer to him as simply as possible, only telling him what a child his age could understand. Because he lives in another state now, we had to tell him by phone and couldn’t give him reassuring hugs, which made the conversation even more difficult. He was clearly upset by the news, but when he came home to be here for my surgery, he could see I was, and am, going to be fine.
Another thing that’s the same as the previous time is the uncomfortable, overnight flip-flop in my identity. Aside from that one “blip” of DCIS 20 years ago, I have been fortunate to be an extremely healthy woman. Suddenly, now I’m thrust into a world of surgery, tests, medicine, needles, and doctor appointments. As much as I fully appreciate these resources, I keep thinking, “This is not who I am!” But, I’ll get used to it and embrace it gradually.
I am four weeks post-surgery as I write this, healing well and scheduling oncology consultations now -- a different journey than last time. Chemotherapy is possibly in my future, and I am definitely feeling fear of the unknown about that.
A quote I plan to read daily to help me get through whatever may lie ahead is this:
“One day she finally grasped that unexpected things were always going to happen in life. And with that she realized the only control she had was how she choose to handle them. So she made the decision to survive using courage, humor and grace. She was the Queen of her own life and the choice was hers!” - Lupytha Hermin
Ed. Note: Linda underwent four rounds of chemotherapy after writing this piece. She's very happy to be done with it.
Linda Abbit is a freelance writer and two-time breast cancer survivor who lives with her husband in Irvine, CA. Her motto is, “I’m little but I’m mighty!” You can find her on Twitter @
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You are not going to look like you used to, and that is OK. With a little ingenuity, anything is possible.