How did you first find out you had cancer?
The cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram. An example of how “routine” mammograms are not so routine.
How did you react when you heard the news?
It was a beautiful, sunny, September day. The news felt like I had been hit out of the beautiful sky with a lightning bolt that sent me whirling. When the doctor told me, I saw stars, nearly passed out and had to lie down for a minute.
Then I stood up and declared, “I’m not going to miss being with my niece and nephew as they grow up. I will beat this. Cancer will NOT beat me.”
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Treatment commenced immediately. Eight rounds of chemotherapy (every other week) to reduce the size of the Stage 3 tumor. And then there was a lumpectomy followed by 37 rounds of radiation treatment.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
When the doctors and nurses told me the effects of the treatment are cumulative, they were not kidding. When all the treatment is over, the effects linger… some forever. Losing my hair was not such a big deal; turns out I have a pretty cool shaped head and the wigs are fantastic!
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Breathe deeply and slowly. Gather information. Get referrals from doctors you trust. Make a plan. If you have a network of kind, caring people, LET THEM HELP YOU. They want to. They need to.
I am so incredibly blessed to have an amazing family, wonderful friends and an outstanding extended network. I couldn’t have done it without them. In fact, their acts of ongoing kindness led me to write a book, For Family and Friends….39 Things To Make A Cancer Patient Smile. It was written to thank them all, and to help others. I wish for everyone facing this rotten disease to have people around them like the ones I have.
How long have you been cancer free?
Since January 22, 2007.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I was too stressed and working too much. My work/life balance is now in much better proportion. There’s very little that scares me anymore. Because really, there’s not a whole lot of things to be scared about after you’ve battled cancer. The little things that used to stress me out or upset me, mean nothing now. Time is precious, and time spent with family and friends is priceless. Never underestimate your impact on the world.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Get a mammogram and take a friend!
Susan Reif is a writer, speaker and award-winning trainer. She went on the journey of a lifetime through breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatment, and with the help of thousands, including family, friends, and the doctors and nurses from New York University–who she thinks are the best people on earth–is still here to share the amazing things her support network provided along the way.
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