How did you first find out you had cancer?
The clerk at the center where the biopsy was done called me at my office and told me OVER THE TELEPHONE. She also told me the type I had and said, “If you have to get breast cancer, this is the type to get.”
How did you react when you heard the news?
Initially, I was too stunned to react. The word “CANCER” flashed in my head, like a neon sign. The assistant director at our agency is my best friend and I told her the biopsy showed cancer. That led to conversations with my family and close friends. It’s like astral projection; you stand by and watch yourself interacting with others.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
A mastectomy, radiation and five years of anti-cancer medication. My second opinion confirmed the diagnosis, but offered more surgical options.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
I chose the Cancer Treatment Center. The most impeccable care, the compassion, the training in self-advocacy surprised me. The inclusion of my husband, my caregiver, in treatment decisions meant a lot to me. They actually trained and nurtured him as a caregiver.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
GET A SECOND OPINION. Get a third opinion, if you want it. Do research; ask hard questions of medical professionals. Know the decisions are your decisions. Pray, lean on family and friends when you need to, give yourself permission to feel everything you’re feeling.
How long have you been cancer free?
Two years, six months.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
There’s life after cancer. It feels great to buy a blouse that buttons and doesn’t gap. It’s OK to fire a doctor.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Learn to do self-exams and DO THEM. Get your mammograms. Early detection saved my life.
Shirley Lewis has fought for the rights of the underdog, for equal rights for women and fair housing in a city that was run by the “good ‘ol boys” for many years – Fort Worth, Texas. She worked for and retired from HUD, learning how to raise federal funds for community development. In 1999, she formed the Near Southeast Community Development Corporation Inc., and she won federal Community Block Grants and Department of Justice funding to create a neighborhood safety committee, awarded land to build affordable housing and reduced crime in her southeast Fort Worth neighborhood by 88 percent. After a double mastectomy, she decided she wanted to fight for impoverished children with poor diets, poor health and skyrocketing health care costs, and launched the KEEN Group – Kids Environmental Education Network.
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