Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I was sitting on a sofa watching as my children who were a few months shy of their second and fourth birthdays race to see who could reach my lap first. My daughter, Tabitha pushed her brother Jordan aside and jumped feet first onto me. She was wearing a tutu and cowboy boots. I put a hand up to protect myself and felt a lump the size of an acorn in my breast. It was 1994 and I had just turned 34 years old Dec. 30th 1993. I was lucky the staff of the doctor I went to see had just attended a conference where emphasis had been placed on not ignoring younger women with lumps in their breast. He sent me to a surgeon for a biopsy, the in- office needle procedure did not work, and he scheduled a surgical biopsy. He told me he didn’t think there was a thing to worry about at my age. One doctor even told me that flat chested women were prone lumpy breasts! I went home to recover and called my surgeon a few days later to ask about the results, he said, he had not noticed anything suspicious and I had nothing to worry about. So I proceeded to call everyone I knew to tell them the good news. In 1994, for my family, and many others, any surgical procedure was a big deal and the word cancer was synonymous with death. I had just hung up with the last person on my call list when the phone rang and it was my surgeon. He was sorry, but the pathologist report said, I had breast cancer.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
Thanks to Betty Ford and other breast cancer survivors of that era I did not immediately think of breast cancer as being life threatening. Then the surgeon told me how sorry he was and the gravity of his tone is what made me realize I could die. I was lying in bed recuperating when he called and my children had been playing beside me. The realization that I might not live to see them grow up was unbearable. I broke down and cried in front of them. I’ll never forget how my daughter took care of me, bringing me a fresh cool damp clothes and asking if all the tears were cried out yet. That was my first and final pity party. I decided if someone had to have cancer I was glad it was me and not one of my children. In hindsight this was the moment I became a grown up.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I was told I had a choice between a lumpectomy or mastectomy. The odds were about the same, but after consulting with my new surgeon, a woman doctor that specialized in breast cancer, I opted for a mastectomy. After which I was prescribed the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
It didn’t just affect me, but my entire family and everyone who knew me. My family and friends were upset on my behalf, but opting for a mastectomy was the easiest decision I have ever made. All I had to do was look at my children’s faces. More than anything I wanted to watch them grow up and nothing that has happened since has given me reason to regret my decision. My experiences while on the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen are how I came to author a children’s book cancer. It pictured the mood swings and other issues families coping with cancer face. After it was published Nutcracker Publishing was awarded an endowment to help with marketing expenses from the pharmaceutical that manufactured Tamoxifen.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Cancer is curable! Trust your own instincts. If anything at all bugs you about your doctor find another one, or get a second opinion. If people want to help you, let them. If you have children talk to them ASAP and be truthful. This is an easy time to turn your attention inward, but your family will need reassurance and attention too. Be wary of who you allow to take care of your family and especially very young children during this time. Remember people will look at you for clues on how they should treat you now. So do you want positivity and optimism or pity?
6. How long have you been cancer free?
19 years and counting! I was diagnosed in Jan. 1994.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Cancer did not just affect me, but everyone you knew me and especially the people who loved me most. Even though I was surrounded by people who loved me they would not be tagging along if I died. I had never felt so alone and was very grateful I was brought up to believe in a God. I did not regret any of the embarrassing things I had tried and failed. They were the things I looked back on and laughed about. This lesson about cancer was the catalyst that gave me the courage to begin my career as a children’s book writer.
I would never take my good health for granted again.
Time is precious.
How intuitive, intelligent and brave small children can be, unfortunately they take their cues from adults who sometime are not as intuitive, intelligent or brave.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Be grateful for the stressful, mundane, moments of your extraordinarily precious ordinary life.
Amelia Frahm is an award-winning author known for taking contentious, difficult topics and putting them in a format children of all ages understand and find interesting.
She helped pioneer resources for families coping with cancer when, in 2001, her company released the award-winning Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy. In 2003 she launched Crack Open a Book!, a cancer awareness curriculum for elementary students.
In 2011 she forged another genre with the release of the controversial, award-winning children’s book Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works! January 2014 marks her 20th anniversary for surviving breast cancer.